Liz Simmons, St. James the Fisherman Episcopal Church pastor, considers herself a citizen of the world, and since moving to Kodiak, her world has gotten bigger.
“My soul feels more alive here than any other place I’ve lived,” she said. “I’m loving the diversity of Kodiak.”
She also loves Kodiak’s natural beauty – the wooded trails and the water, which she enjoys even more when she travels in her new kayak.
Within a month, Simmons joined the Rotary, attended the Flag Day ceremonies and participated in the fishermen’s memorial service on Crab Festival Sunday.
Simmons bears the distinction of being St. James’ first full-time priest in four years. Before her arrival, the parish had been served by interim priests.
Her self-ascribed title of “citizen of the world,” was earned, in part, by her family background. She is an “army brat,” who lived in a lot of places, including Japan, Germany, Colorado, Virginia and North Carolina.
“I liked moving,” she said. “I thought that was the way everybody was until I went to college and met people who had known each other since they were in kindergarten. That seemed weird to me.
“I think what I gained out of moving around so much is that I make friends pretty easily.”
The military is a big part of Simmons’ history. Her husband, the late Ernie Simmons, was a retired military man and her stepson is in the Army.
When Simmons attended college, she began to consider being a priest, but her bishop discouraged her. He told her that the Episcopal Church was ordaining women, but not giving them jobs. “The churches weren’t accepting (women in the priesthood) very well, especially in eastern North Carolina” where she lived at the time.
Graduating from the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill,) with a degree in journalism, Simmons got a job reporting for a weekly small town newspaper.
“It was a great experience,” she recalled. “I got a chance to cover all the different beats, write features, and do lot of different reporting, including sports, which is big there.”
She lived in the vicinity of Southern Pines, home of the famous Golf Resort.
She interviewed Lee Trevino, the first player to win the U.S., British and Canadian Open in a single year and Jack Nicklaus, who is regarded as the most accomplished golfer of all time.
Simmons was also called upon to cover stories that were grim and controversial. “I got jaded with the news focus on tragedy and the dark side of things,” she said.
Looking for other employment opportunities, Simmons found a job in an Episcopal home for the aging in Southern Pines, North Carolina. “I got chance to meet wonderful people and become comfortable with seniors,” reflected Simmons, admitting that, at first, she felt awkward, because she had not known her grandparents very well.
She started out as an activity assistant and became a social worker designee and patient advocate.
Clinging to her dream of becoming a priest, Simmons led church services at the home.
After working four years there, Simmons got a job in the addiction/treatment field. In recovery herself, Simmons understood the struggles of those who were trying to free themselves from the bondage of alcohol and drug abuse and how those addictions affected their families.
For two years Simmons worked with adult children of alcoholics at an outpatient treatment center in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
After that, Simmons was ready for seminary. She enrolled at the General Theological Seminary in the middle of Manhattan.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Simmons said. “I got to see a lot of different kinds of Episcopal churches. I loved the city.”
Simmons was active in campus life, taking on such jobs as editing the school newsletter.
Simmons’ first parish was in Buffalo, New York, a downtown church that “had a vibrant adult education program,” she said.
Through the course of 12 years, Simmons served three different parishes in Arizona. Her first was in Tucson, where she served a “huge church that had all kinds of ministries (for) different age groups.”
She moved to Phoenix and later returned to the Tucson area, ministering to a parish in Oro Valley near Tucson.
While in Tucson, Simmons married Ernie Simmons, “a really wonderful guy,” she said. He worked as a human resources manager in a copper mine.
Two-and-a-half years after the Simmons married, Ernie died of colon cancer.
Simmons served in Boulder, Colorado and then became priest for a downtown parish in Racine, Wisconsin.
While at Racine, Simmons considered the possibility of serving a different parish. One that caught her eye was Kodiak, which was interested in hiring a fulltime priest. “But Kodiak was moving slowly,” she said.
At the end of 2012, Simmons went to Jamestown, New York to take an interim position.
When her year-and-a-half stint was coming to an end, Simmons once again contacted St. James. They were still looking for a priest and Simmons was ready to come.
Simmons, who moved to Kodiak in mid-May, said that pastoral care and counseling are the trademarks of her ministry.
“I tend to preach out of the prophetic traditions, so I challenge congregations to live out their faith, to show evidence of their faith on a daily basis. Daily practice of our faith is what I call ‘spirituality.’ I’d love to see the level of faith in church people that I see in recovering people.”
Simmons is inspired by social justice leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr., and Desmond Tutu. She draws inspiration and insight from theologians such as Thomas Merton and Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar who founded the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati.
Simmons said she likes to participate in interfaith circles with people of other faith traditions, such as Islam, Judaism and Hinduism.
The Dali Lama, whose picture is posted on her wall, is one of her heroes, she said.
Simmons said she is looking forward to getting to know the people of St. James and those outside of the church as well.
She would like her church to live up to its name by taking a more active role in serving and ministering to fishermen.