Hi Kim! Thanks so much for joining this awesome group of women! Who are you and what makes you excited to get up in the morning?
Thank you! It’s an honor to join these amazing women! I’m wife to Dave, dog mamma to Newman and Sophie, and chaplain at St. Peter’s Health. I was born in Texas and have lived in California, Georgia, New Jersey, Wyoming, and Montana. I love chocolate, red wine, lattes, and pie with friends. I adore flaky pastry (I’m now literally brushing croisstata crumbs from the keyboard) and bakeries. I love football (Dallas Cowboys) and baseball (Angels). I’ve worked for the National Archives at the regional level. I love the ocean and the mountains, quiet evenings at home, theological conversations, and learning something new.
I am very interested in your faith journey, as I know it plays such a large role in your life. Tell us about it.
I was baptized in the Methodist Church when I was a baby. Busy family life eventually swallowed up church life, and my faith was in hibernation until my mid-30s when I had an existential awakening. Having accomplished many of my goals, meaning was still wanting. I began the search for something deeper. For me, that meant turning back to God through church. I began attending a Presbyterian Church. From the moment I walked in, I was changed. The pastor preached about God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and constant, steadfast love for us. I had never heard preaching like it, and the words were a balm for my soul. I was home.
I was scooped up by this loving congregation and very involved in the life of church. I was ordained as an elder and served on the church’s governing board. Meanwhile, the quest for something deeper continued. There were a couple of women in the church who were in the ordination process to become pastors, and I thought, maybe I want to do that. After eighteen months of wrangling and resistance on my part, prayers upon prayers upon prayers from those who loved me, wise counsel from my pastor, and an epiphany on the Mount of Olives, I applied to and was accepted to Princeton Theological Seminary.
The first semester, I hated it. I felt like a fish out of water. I missed my family, my church, my life along the Pacific Ocean. In a come to Jesus, fish or cut bait moment, I embraced where I was. I made wonderful friends (truly an answer to prayer), discovered that I could learn languages and that I adored church history and theology of worship. Three years later I graduated with a Master of Divinity and was overcome; with sadness that this incredible time in my life was coming to an end, and with gratitude for God’s promise to never abandon us, and for showering me with grace, mercy, and steadfast love.
Graduation was just one requirement for ordination. I was also required to do one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (supervised ministry in a clinical setting). I finished with four units, completing a hospital residency. Being a chaplain resident challenged and stretched me in ways beyond what I imagined. While digging deeper into my life and my faith, I entered a dark night of the soul that lasted many months. Looking back, I wouldn’t trade anything for that time. God was especially present with me and I got to know God and myself more deeply. It’s helped me to connect with others who are also experiencing a spiritual drought.
My residency done, I returned to Princeton for a Master of Theology. Then it was time to find a real job. In the Presbyterian Church, this process is like eHarmony for pastors and churches. I accepted the call to be a solo pastor of a Presbyterian church in Evanson, WY. It was exciting and daunting, and once again I leaned into God’s promises and faithfulness. My first year there, I got to know the pastor of the neighboring Presbyterian Church. He and I will celebrate our twelfth anniversary at the end of this month.
I loved being the pastor of this church. The congregation was kind, gracious, and patient. I learned to love them and to love the small church. I loved being invited to be a part of their lives and their joys and sorrows. I grew to love the rhythm and process of preaching and how the Holy Spirit worked through the process from beginning to end. It was like a small miracle every week. I loved my colleagues around the state who became mentors and sounding boards and who were always there to listen and support.
As much as I loved being a pastor, several years later I was feeling called to be in ministry in a different way. Feeling sadness and grief to be leaving people and work that I loved, with anticipation I accepted the position of chaplain at St. Peter’s Hospital.
I was also being called to leave the Presbyterian Church and come into the Roman Catholic Church. I’ve written about this part of my faith journey so I’ll not go into that here, though if anyone is interested I would be glad to email it to them. I’ll summarize and say that through reading, study, and prayer, what I believed about the nature of the church and the Eucharist changed.
Coming into the Catholic Church meant giving up my ordination. This, along with not being the pastor of a congregation, were losses that I grieved deeply. I missed the congregation that in many ways had become like family, I missed being their pastor, and I missed preaching. Yet, the call was so strong to participate in the sacramental life offered in the Catholic Church, that I couldn’t say no to that either. I relinquished something I loved, in order to surrender to something I loved even more. It was a time of sadness, struggle, lament, and often impatient waiting to discover what God was doing.
I came through with a deeper understanding of who I am – daughter of God, baptized, loved, gifted, and called. The call changed, but the gifts God gave me, and God’s love and faithfulness, did not change. I no longer carried the title of pastor, but I was still called to use my in my vocation and in the church in new, wonderful, and meaningful ways.
Through my own suffering and experiencing what feels like at times a distant God, I’m able to “suffer with” – the Latin meaning of compassion – with the patients, families, and staff at the hospital. I have learned the power and healing in listening, silence, and holding sacred space. It is ministry that is always for and about another, always respectful of their beliefs and their journey, where I encounter daily grand mysteries. I love it, and there is nothing else that I would rather do.
Kim, your work as a hospital chaplain is such important, holy work. How do you prepare mentally and spiritually for your time with patients and families?
Ideally, before I begin visiting patients, I pray for all who are in need of healing in body, mind, and spirit; for the hospital and the care we provide, and that I will be a resource for comfort and hope. On days when I need to hit the ground running I will pray on the way to where I’m headed first, and I carve out small times during the day for centering, prayer, and meditation. The elevator is a great place, especially if I’m on the run, to catch my breath, center, and say breath prayers.
When you’ve had a particularly hard week at work, how do you unwind and give yourself the space and time to reflect and refresh?
The Irish Christians had a saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in thin places the distance is even shorter. I seek out thin places. Mass is a thin place for me. When I was Presbyterian and now as a Catholic, worship is a place of deep encounter with God. The liturgy of the church has shaped and formed me. To be in worship, where the story of salvation history is retold through liturgy, to be surrounded by others who are singing and praying, to receive the fullness of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, brings me comfort and hope and lifts me to God.
Creation is also a thin place for me, so I get myself outdoors as much as possible. The vast ocean and the majestic mountains remind me that whatever heartache, worry, and anxiety I am experiencing, God is bigger than all of those things and is with me in those things, and I’m able to hold close God’s transcendence and immanence. Last winter, I learned how to downhill ski so I would get out more in the winter, and last summer I took up kayaking as another way to get deeper into creation and the beauty, quiet, and respite it offers from the worries of the world. Dave and the doggies are also a soft place to land after an especially tough day or week.
When I’m having an extended time of low spirits or not finding refreshment, I see a therapist who is wonderfully gifted in helping me to process at a deeper level. Talking to a professional counselor is so helpful when we need additional support through tough times.
I love asking this question – what advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
Don’t worry so much. Be kind to yourself. Be patient with yourself. Step out of your comfort zone every once in a while. Failure is okay. Don’t worry about what other people think or their expectations. Be more adventurous. Travel! Did I mention don’t worry?
Tell us about a woman you admire.
My mom. She was loving, feisty, funny, outgoing, a friend to everyone she met, and a great mom. She always lightened my worries and anxieties. She always made me laugh. My dad was transferred often when I was growing up and my mom always managed to get us settled, connect us to new friends and activities, and nest us in our new town so that it quickly felt like home. I didn’t appreciate until later in life how during these times she pushed through her own sadness of leaving family and friends and made life better for our family.
I hear you’re good in the kitchen. What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever been to or prepared?
Dave cooked dinner for me on our first date. He made steak, Caesar salad, mashed potatoes, and Oreo cheesecake bars. He’d even presided at a funeral earlier in the day. I told him it would be okay if he wanted to postpone our date, but he was determined! He sent me home with leftover cheesecake bars. As I ate one for breakfast the next morning, I thought that he was the one!
Are you more of a savory or sweet kind person?
Sweet, definitely sweet!
Which book dramatically changed your life?
Gospel Medicine by Barbara Brown Taylor. She is an Episcopal priest who for a time was a pastor of a small, country, church in Georgia. She then became well-known for her preaching, and was named one of the top ten preachers in the country. One of my pastors gave me the book before I took preaching in seminary. I’d not had many role models for women preachers, so as I prepared to be one, I was only accustomed to one style. When I opened Gospel Medicine, which is a collection of sermons, it was a breath of fresh air and my eyes were opened. She is a narrative-style preacher and has an extraordinary gift for story-telling and evocative language that takes my breath away. She helped me find my voice as a preacher. I met her in real life once, and though I tried to keep my composure, it ended up being a fangirl moment.
Her most recent book, Learning to Walk In the Dark, has also changed my life. It is a gorgeous book in which she strips away the negative connotations of darkness, and beautifully and profoundly explores the multitude of ways that God is found and present in darkness, and how we need the darkness. I often open it to any place and lose myself for a while.
I would love to hear your thoughts on moral character. Do you see us having a moral crisis in our country?
I do, and I think it’s born out of not consistently loving our neighbor. There is sometimes a forgetfulness of how to love one another and be kind to one another. The level of discourse, particularly in the religious and political realms, is laden with personal attacks. People will write comments and make judgements to a stranger online that they would never make (or at least I hope they wouldn’t) if they were having coffee together. Righteous anger at injustice is appropriate, of course. We are losing, though, how to love another in the midst of our political, cultural, and religious differences.
What can we do as average Montanans, some of us in very small communities with small spheres of influence?
A co-worker has a picture in her office that says, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” I call upon this often. Keeping close to our hearts as we are able that we all have brokenness, struggles, worries, fears, hopes, and dreams, makes a difference in how we encounter another. A friend shared a quote by author Daylene Reyburn that says, “Loving each other well pushes back the darkness a little more each day. Just loving each other well changes the world.” I’d like to see more of us sitting down face-to-face with those we disagree with for open, honest, and respectful conversations, in an effort to know and understand them more deeply. I’d like us to be kinder to one another and love one another well, and see where that takes us.
If you could meet anyone, past or present, who would you meet?
The Blessed Virgin Mary. As a Protestant, I heard about Mary on Good Friday and Christmas. Since becoming Catholic, I have encountered her in new and wonderful ways. Because she is venerated – and that not so minor detail of being the Mother of the Son of God – it’s easy to forget that she was a real woman with real emotions. There is so much I would like to talk to her about. I’d love to pull up a chair to the table during her visit with Elizabeth. I want to know what it was like to lose Jesus for those three days when he stayed behind in the Temple, unbeknownst to her and Joseph. Legend has it that after Jesus’ death, she walked the Via Dolorosa daily. As someone who listens to and supports the grieving, I want to ask her what it was like for her to experience the death of her child, and how she got through that.
When do you feel most yourself?
When I’m sitting with someone and helping them to listen to their life; to share their sorrows, fears, hopes and joys, and holding space for them to give voice to whatever is on their heart; or when I’m with someone who is in the final days, hours, or minutes of their life, I feel that I’m most who God has called me to be.
Your answer can be silly or serious, but what is saving your life right now?
Advent! I love that the church gives us the season of Advent. It stands against the hubbub, noise, and busyness of this time of year. Advent invites us to quiet our hearts, minds, and spirits; to sit in the holy hush of anticipation and expectation, and peaceful preparation. I intentionally try to slow down, to do less, to have quiet around me and be quiet.
Also, croisstatas and cruffins from Cotton-Top Pastries.
3 thoughts on “Kim Pepper”
Absolutely amazing faith journey. A woman of integrity, faith, discipline. And friend.
What a moving and Spirit-filled interview. Kim and Dave have been friends of mine, mainly through blogging and Facebook, for over a decade. Kim is the real deal, a role model for Christians of every stripe, and, I am sure, a blessing to the patients and families with whom she walks every day.
Thank you, Kim, for sharing your story. I feel blessed to have known Kim for many years. She is the real deal!