Image above: The Rev. Deacon Shelly Banner has served St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Liverpool since 2010. She will be ordained to the priesthood in a service this Sunday, July 26th at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Liverpool. In accordance with diocesan COVID-19 guidelines, in-person presence at the service will be limited. All are welcome to participate via livestream.
Will you be online this Sunday to welcome our diocese’s newest priest?
Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe will ordain the Rev. Deacon Shelly Banner to the Priesthood on Sunday, July 26th at 10:00 a.m. We interviewed Shelly over email as she prepares for her new ministry as a priest in the Diocese of Central New York. She is currently serving St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Liverpool alongside the Rev. Paul Frolick, and working closely with the diocesan transition ministry to discern where God is calling her to serve next. Please keep her especially in your prayers this week, along with all our clergy and all those discerning a call to ordained ministry.
Can you tell us about your background?
I spent most of my youth on my parent’s farm, where everyone had daily chores to contribute to the well-being of the whole family. It was a large family, with 9 natural-born siblings and 5 foster/adopted siblings spaced out over 24 years. Church was a significant part of my family’s social life, and everyone sang and played instruments. There was no holiday without a lot of music-making.
My public education took place in modest town schools in Homer and Tully, New York. My undergraduate college years took place at SUNY Oswego where I focused on biochemistry and music; I did advanced work at Penn State in performance and musicology, later finishing an additional degree in music education. I did further work in musicology and taught voice in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Most of my working life has been spent in classrooms of one sort or another. I have taught music from preschool through college levels, and spent a few years as an elementary classroom teacher. I have a passion to learn, and I have enjoyed helping others learn, too.
In 1994 I married my soulmate, Leon Carapetyan, and we have had the privilege of sharing our home with his three grandchildren through the years. They are all now in their twenties.
How has your vocation as an educator and musician informed your sense of call to ordained ministry?
For me, science and music are just like breathing; they are an integral part of my being. Each are a community activity. Though you can sing and make music alone, it is more fun and rewarding when you come together and collaborate in the music-making. Though you do parts of the research in science alone, the best results happen when you can collaborate with others.
Although it caught me unawares, the turning point probably developed when our Diocese began promoting Education for Ministry. Like the drip, drip, drip of melting icicles, gradually accumulating into a flow of water, all of these things came together, creating a great flood defined as “servanthood.” That led me to attend the Diocesan School for Ministry from 2003 to 2006, leading to my diaconal ordination at the annual Diocesan Convention of 2005. The kinds of curiosities I found and used in performing music and teaching in the classroom are the same ones I found and continue to find woven through my sense of call to ministry.
What has been your favorite thing about ordained ministry as a deacon? What are you most looking forward to in your priestly vocation?
Relationship, in a word, is what caught me and what has fed my ministry for the past 15 years: listening to stories, praying together, and turning stories and prayer into productive action and witness. Being present as a pastor for the person to whom I am listening is an amazing life-giving force. And truly, I love to proclaim the Gospel.
In a rather unusual development, several years ago I felt this nudge toward the priesthood which truly became a push. As it became a force unto itself, it left me praying the famous Thomas Merton prayer, which begins “Lord, I do not know where I am going…”
It is also relationship, I believe, which will bring great joy in my continuing and new role as a priest. Many things, like more responsibility for designing and carrying out worship, may stretch me, but in faith and in grace, I know God’s presence will provide guidance.
Where have you been ministering in recent years? Where have you glimpsed God in that ministry?
In the last 15 years I have spent time with three parishes, each unique. I spent my internship year in Marcellus at St. John’s Episcopal Church. I helped build a safe after-school place there for youth to hang out, get a snack and homework help, and build relationships that encouraged a sense of personal value. Then I was sent to the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Oswego, where I built an outreach ministry of gathering and distributing items not covered by food stamps, taught Sunday School, and did some preaching.
In 2010, I was sent to St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Liverpool in the midst of their merging with St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in North Syracuse. I’ve been at St. Matthew’s ever since, and have assisted in building food distribution and meal programs and teaching adult forums and Church School, along with providing some pastoral care and occasionally preaching.
What has been your favorite thing about serving as a deacon? What are you most looking forward to in your priestly vocation?
The power of the diaconate is one of observing and reporting injustice of all kind, of connecting our busyness of life to those people who are underserved and to point to what needs to change to get one step closer to the kingdom of God. It is Love in action. Like all ministry, it is a combination of connecting the head and the heart of a parish and doing something to institute change for the better. For me, the relationships that grow through that kind of work brings forth a kind of passion that is shareable, and I get excited about that.
I hope, with God’s help, to be able to integrate some of that same passion into my priestly ministry.
Do you have a favorite story or moment from ministry in the past year to share?
One thing that I have learned about being a deacon: you will be ministered to in abundance, even when you think you are doing the ministering.
I was studying for the required General Ordination Exams, a timed and comprehensive essay test that takes place over three days. Preparation was stressful for me. It’s not quite like defending a doctoral thesis, but not too far from it. Often I carried a couple of tomes with me, and would do some reading in between the active parts of Sunday worship.
One of my Church School students came into the room, noticed me intently reading and said “Deacon Shelly, did you forget that God is going to be with you and you’ll be okay?” Whoosh—a smile, a tear, and stress dispelled. It was a wonderful reminder that ministry is always a two-way path.
With COVID-19, ministry is very different than it was when you first began discerning a priestly vocation. How has the pandemic shaped your sense of call? What has been constant or sustaining throughout?
Surprise and wonder, as Zoom and Acapella have taken worship out of our parish buildings and into our homes, where we can sing and praise God and be together through the digital world. This has exponentially expanded what and who we define as “our parish.” Though our buildings are no longer the physical hub of our shared ministry, our ministry efforts grow ever stronger through the love and passion we share in proclaiming God’s love for this world. Lay leadership has expanded; people are stretching beyond previous confines and learning new skills. And the Church, who may look differently, grows stronger.
How will you be engaging the Diocese’s Vision, Mission, and Rule of Life in your priestly ministry?
Our diocesan Vision Statement has the brilliance of simplicity while encompassing a whole lot of energy: A world healed by love. I focus on it in my morning prayers, not so much as a reminder, but as a driving force behind things done and left undone, or words spoken and unspoken.
What if, before I do or say anything, I apply that as a litmus test: in any way will this heal the world with Love? It is heady stuff, yet truly it is at the heart of all that matters. Each opportunity within the diocesan Rule of Life buoys the efforts to ultimately be able to answer, “Yes, this is one more thing that will heal the world with Love.”
May God continue to give me the strength and will to do so.