Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Reverend Rachel J. Bahr is an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ, serving as a minister in the Church for over eleven years. Rachel received their Masters of Divinity at Chicago Theological Seminary. Afterwards spent six years building up the youth and family ministry in Glen Ellyn, IL, from a handful of kids to among the largest in the Chicagoland area. During this time, they mentored under the Reverend Doctor Lillian Daniel, author of When “Spiritual but Not Religious” Is Not Enough (2014) and Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To (2017). In 2013, Rachel moved to Maine, serving as associate pastor for a community of fisherman, craftspeople, artists, and leaders of the local tourist industry. During this time, they became engaged to their now wife and mother to their children, Doctor Gabrielle M.W. Bychowski, Ph.D. Subsequently, Rachel received a call as associate pastor in Connecticut, where they pioneered a racial justice ministry, LGBTQI ministry, Family Promise ministry, and developed a successful network of social media ministries including online Bible Studies and a new lecture series on faith in pop culture, “Christ and Comics.” In recent years, they have gone on pilgrimage through holy sites in England, sitting in the anchorite cell of St. Julian of Norwich, as well as hiking the Olympic Rainforest, the Appalachian Trail, and the Adirondack Mountains.

In a previous era, Rachel worked in theater performance and arts, receiving their Bachelors of Fine Arts from Catawba College in North Carolina. In “the windy city,” they worked primarily in Theater of the Oppressed circles, a form of social justice performance ministry that set their down the path towards ordination into the Church. While Rachel is no longer headlining shows, they bring singing and character voices to their ministry, creating a Broadway sermon series, hosting church talent shows, and adapting the life stories of Church leaders into monologues to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On a smaller stage, they used the gift for song to propose to their wife, Gabby, with a rendition of “the Origin of Love” and would sing again at their wedding, this time performing a duet with her father, “the Rainbow Connection.”

Ministry really is in Rachel’s DNA, following in the legacy of their father, a retired pastor ordained in the Assemblies of God Church. As a youth, they were baptized by “the Power Team,” a group of weight-lifting ministers whose talents of preaching while ripping phone books in half by hand would demonstrate for Rachel the various types of strength required to be a leader in today’s Church. Today, while they don’t destroy books in their ministry, Rachel does still enjoy exercise that involves strength training.

In addition to their sermons and social media ministry, Rachel maintains a routine of writing. They produce a blog,, and is actively developing a book on ministry and social justice. An avid reader, a few of their recent favorite books include Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander which became the focus of church book groups.

Rachel’s family is full of strong women. As mentioned, they are married to Dr. Bychowski, a full time faculty member in English, teaching seminars on ethics, diversity and social justice, including, “Queer Christianity,” “Beyond Male and Female,” “Women of the Civil Rights Movement,” “Intersectional Traditions of Feminism,” and “Histories of Disability.” Gabby serves on the Executive Board of the United Church of Christ’s national Mental Health Network. She has written over a dozen academic articles on disability and transgender in the Middle Ages, as well as regular pieces reflecting on theology, her life as a trans woman, and pedagogy.

Together, Rachel and Gabby raise two willful and creative children, Clementine (12 years old) and and Elanora, who often goes by Nora, (8 years old). These kids fiercely approach the world and all its wonder, reminding their moms that as difficult as the world can be that life is full of joy, play and laughter. Clementine has just finished her first year in a School of the Arts, where she developed her passion for theater, singing, and the visual arts. Nora just received her green belt in Karate, but wants everyone to know that she also loves rock n’ roll, people, science (especially chemistry), and people. The tuxedo cats Frankie and Mustache complete the family.

With her family and in her downtime, Rachel likes to laugh, think, and eat yummy food. Coffee is one of their closest friends and cheese is a frequent house-guest. Among human friends, Rachel prefers sitting and talking while a brisket smokes or sitting for hours together at a Thai restaurant. At home, they watch zombie films, the Handmaid’s Tale, and Parks & Rec.

Above all, Rachel has a deep and abiding faith in God, keeping their eyes full of hope and their heart full of passion for the building of Christ’s Church. They will tell people: the God who I experience is closer to me than my breath, who is my constant company beckoning me closer, who reaches back to me in the depths of my moments of loneliness and despair, and the one who sees all of God’s children as beloved. As a young adult, they fell in love with Jesus again through the faith communities that compelled them to see Jesus again with new eyes. This Jesus stood in solidarity with all oppressed people, and breathed new life into my soul. This is when their call to transformational leadership emerged: when they were learning alongside black civil rights activists, church leaders, and mothers. Rachel believes that as followers of Christ, now more than ever, we must listen and respond to the voices beyond the walls of the buildings who have been ignored and excluded, offering hope to people that are desperate to witness good news. We need to remind ourselves that we have many collaborators still to come who will help us broaden our boundaries. A commitment to justice is at the heart and soul of Rachel’s ministry and faith. This means standing up for the least of these and being a pastor for all people. When we gather together around the communion table, it is a reminder that each of us matters equally, and that we need one another to thrive. All people are welcome, affirmed, and valued in Christ’s table and that is the spirit that Reverend Rachel J. Bahr follows in their ministry.

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