The Rev. Christine Paules, an openly lesbian pastor who served several congregations in Philadelphia, died March 31 at Bryn Mawr Hospital after a battle with breast cancer. She was 53.
At the time of her death, Paules was pastor of St. Luke’s United Church of Christ in the Northeast, a position she held for the past eight years.
Known as “Pastor Chris” to her congregants, Paules graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1985 and was ordained that year by the Presbyterian Church (USA) of Pluckemin, N.J. From 1988-95, Paules served as the pastor of Mayfair Presbyterian Church and, before coming to St. Luke’s in 2002, worked for several years as a pastoral associate of Chestnut Hill United Methodist Church.
A native of Red Lion, Paules graduated from Red Lion High School in 1974 and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration from Lebanon Valley College four years later.
After college, Paules was working at her father’s business in Red Lion and attending church at a Presbyterian congregation in nearby Crossroads when she first considered a career in the ministry.
“They had just gotten a woman pastor at the time and that was a real eye-opener for Chris,” said Dr. Carol Radich, Paules’ partner of 15 years and a professor emeritus at West Chester University. “She got to know this woman and she gradually discerned a call, basically.”
After graduating from Princeton and serving seven years at the Mayfair church, Paules stepped down because she felt limited by the Presbyterian policy of not ordaining out ministers Radich said.
“She worked very hard in the Philadelphia Presbytery during the early ’90s, when they were voting on whether openly gay and lesbian people should be ordained. She worked to advocate for that position, and since it still wasn’t bearing fruit, she felt that she could no longer be a pastor if she couldn’t really show and be all of who she was. It was a matter of integrity.”
For six years, Paules worked in the mental-health field for such agencies as United Behavioral Health, where she started as an intake worker and moved up to become the manager of a regional providers’ network.
Paules had attained her master’s degree in pastoral counseling from La Salle University in 1994 and still felt drawn to that field even during her lay work, Radich said.
“Even in that setting, she still felt like she had the call to be a pastor, so she applied to the UCC to switch her denomination and was accepted, and then was called to be the pastor of St. Luke’s.”
Radich said Paules blossomed at St. Luke’s and brought a renewed sense of acceptance to the church community.
“She always felt the church, of all places, should be a place of wholeness, and if she couldn’t be all of who she was, then she couldn’t function as a pastor, so when she did find that possible at St. Luke’s, she just really opened up. The whole theme of her ministry was ‘widening the circle,’ so she worked to draw in all kinds of people who were looking for a church home and who for one reason or another had felt abandoned by their church of origin. She really made it a very inclusive place.”
Outside the church, Paules was an avid golfer and gardener and even enjoyed such tasks as mowing the lawn, anything that would allow her time outside, Radich said.
She added that her partner’s “vibrant spirit” permeated all facets of her life.
“People could immediately sense her goodness and her kindness, and they opened up to her. She had an inexhaustible energy: She wasn’t a half-measures type of person. She put her whole self into whatever she was doing.”
In addition to Radich, Paules is survived by her father, Elwood Paules; brother Ken Paules; sister Nancy Kauffman; three nephews and one niece.
A life celebration will be held at 2 p.m. May 15 at St. Luke’s, 11080 Knights Road.
Memorial gifts can be made in Paules’ name to the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, a national breast-cancer agency, at www.drsusanloveresearchfoundation.org , or to Habitat for Humanity, www.habitat.org.
Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].