Meet Our Moderator

Feb 20, 2023

This Thursday, February 23rd, the presbytery will install its 2023 moderator, Teaching Elder, Gail Stearns. Gail is The Irvin C. and Edy Chapman Dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel and Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Chapman University. Her latest book is Liberating Mindfulness: From Billion-Dollar Industry to Engaged Spirituality (Orbis Press 2022). With Professor Julye Bidmead, Dr. Stearns is editor of Invest Your Humanity: Celebrating Marvin Meyer (Wipf & Stock 2015) in honor of Meyer, the renowned Gnostic Gospel Scholar. She is also the author of Writing Pauline: Wisdom From a Long Life (Hamilton Books, 2005) and Open Your Eyes: Toward Living More Deeply in the Present (Wipf & Stock, 2011). She holds an interdisciplinary Ph.D. from Washington State University, with emphasis in gender theory. She is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Peace Studies, and has previously taught university courses on world religions, ethics, spirituality and gender.

Gail sat down with us to share more about herself and her hopes for the church and the world.

The Presbytery of Los Ranchos: Gail, tell us a bit about your family.

TE Gail Stearns, 2023 Moderator: I have two amazing Young Adult kids. John is a film-maker and urban designer; he works with Arup, a Los Angeles urban design firm. My daughter, Jeana, splits her time between Seattle and Prague, and devotes her time to work in university Women’s Centers. I adopted my dog Ryder just prior to the COVID 19 outbreak. We rode out that time together as pandemic pals.

PLR: Tell us a bit about your work.

Gail: I have been the Dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel and Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Chapman University for the past twelve years. I am also a certified mindfulness teacher. In August I will be leaving Chapman to devote my time and energy to my new business, Mindful Spirituality. That will give me more time for my presbytery commitments and will also free me to choose what else I might want to do with my time.

PLR: What might you choose to do with that free time?

Gail: I love to hike and to travel. And I hope to do more of both.

PLR: What did you do before coming to Los Ranchos?

Gail: After graduating from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, I was pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Franklin, Wisconsin. I then moved to Washington, where I was the director of The Common Ministry at Washington State University for twelve years. While there I worked on my Ph.D., studying both gender and theology. I also taught in the university’s Honors Program.

Since coming to Los Ranchos I have served on the Committee on Ministry and have made First Presbyterian Church of Orange my home base. As the Dean of an interfaith center, I often find myself in places like a synagogue or a Buddhist temple.

PLR: What prompted you to say yes to the invitation to serve as moderator?

Gail: Actually I surprised myself! I suppose there were two things that influenced my decision. My mother had passed recently; her life-long commitment to the church was an inspiration. In her role as a ruling elder, she served not only on the Session, but also as the moderator of her presbytery. She and my father were part of a church start and started the first youth group. Mom later became an ordination exam reader while also pursuing her career as a nurse and nursing instructor. She was a better presbyter than me! I know she would be proud of me, and I am proud to honor her.

I also felt called to get to know the people of this presbytery better and to be of service to the community. Change is coming to the church and I want to be a part of that change.

PLR: What are your hopes for your year as moderator?

Gail: A year is a very short time. This is just the beginning of a long process of transformation for the church. I know from my work with young people that they have very different needs from past generations. They have new ways of meaning making. We must meet those needs.

I hope to support our mission work, as well. The PCUSA has made clear its commitment to disaster relief, racial and gender justice, creation care and sustainability. I want to be part of this work in the church – a place where this work is grounded in faith, rather than the issue of the moment.

The presbytery also needs to work on its methods and means of communication as well as take a hard look at its management and structure. I think I can be helpful in this time of discernment and decisions.

PLR: is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

Gail: My interfaith work has expanded my understanding of what it means to be Christian and deepened my faith. I have learned that I can work with people of very different faith traditions. We don’t always agree, but that’s OK because we find ways to work together for the common good. Because we all want to help people, we can agree to disagree. We acknowledge our different perspectives and we come to have deep respect one another.

Our dialogues have helped me know and articulate what I believe. Allowing myself to be in these relationships has been a blessing.