It’s time for the second installation of our blog series, “Where Are They Now?: NVRDC Edition” (click here to read the first interview with former NVRDC case manager Christa Heilman)! Jenny came to NVRDC in 2013 as a member of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps. Today, we can introduce her to you as Rev. Jenny Peek! Read on as Jenny explains her current role and how her experience at NVRDC partly shaped her journey to becoming an Associate Chaplain at Yale.
NVRDC: Hi Jenny Peek! Thanks for talking to us about where life has taken you after working at NVRDC. Can you tell us when you were at NVRDC and what your role was?
JP: I joined the staff of NVRDC in the fall of 2013 while working as a Lutheran Volunteer Corps volunteer. During my time at NVRDC I worked as a case manager, serving survivors of various crimes. Much of my work was with survivors of sexual assault, who I met when responding to the hospital. But I also worked with a lot of survivors of stalking, domestic violence, and various other crimes who would call our office looking for legal support or other case management services. In addition to loving my work with survivors from all over the city, I really enjoyed being able to work with so many wonderful first responders, nurses, police officers, counselors, attorneys, and more.
NVRDC: Do you have any favorite memories from your time at NVRDC? Are there any accomplishments that stick with you to this day?
JP: It is difficult to pinpoint one favorite memory from my time at NVRDC, because the true joy of the work came from the relationships I built with my colleagues, clients, and the many partner organizations we worked with. My relationships with the staff at NVRDC changed my understanding of what working for peace and justice look like day in, day out. As staff members, we accompany survivors through some of their darkest days. Friends and family would often ask me how I could stay compassionate and hopeful when hearing stories of violence within our city every day. But the truth is, the survivors I worked with showed me what true resilience, grit, compassion, and persistence look like. My memories from my work with NVRDC continue to give me hope and guide the work I do today.
NVRDC: We’d love to know more about your current role. Where do you work and what is your title?
JP: I work within the Chaplain’s Office of Yale University as an Associate University Chaplain. Through my role as chaplain I wear a couple of hats. I am the Associate Pastor of the University Church in Yale, which is an ecumenical community of Christians from all walks of life. The church is made up of undergraduate students, graduate and professional students, Yale faculty and staff, and people who are not associated with Yale but live in and near New Haven.
In addition to serving this congregation, I work with graduate and professional students from around the university, supporting them through life transitions, events, and questions.
One of my favorite parts of my job is also helping to facilitate the group W Queer, which is an interfaith LGBTQ student group on campus.
NVRDC: Love the name “W Queer”! Great name! You started in that role pretty recently; what were you doing previously?
JP: Yes, I have to admit that we are pretty pleased with the name. Puns are quite popular in our office! Before this role I was pursuing my Master of Divinity at Yale Divinity School. While working there I worked with Yale’s Title IX Office, first on their Graduate and Professional Student Title IX Advisory Board, and then as a graduate assistant. While in divinity school I also interned at Wesleyan University, Westminster Presbyterian Church, and Penrose-St. Francis Health Services.
NVRDC: So as Associate University Chaplain, which populations do you mostly find yourself working with?
JP: The Chaplain’s Office serves the entire university community. We are lucky to have a robust staff, which include chaplains from a variety of religious traditions. Each of us serve the students, faculty, and staff of Yale, regardless of whether or not they belong to a religious or spiritual community. I have a couple of roles within the Chaplain's Office.
Through my role as Associate Pastor of the University Church in Yale I work with people of all ages from a variety of backgrounds. Some grew up in the church, others are new to Christianity, and others took a break from participating in a faith community for a time, but are trying it out again.
I also focus on serving Yale’s various graduate and professional students. In this role I support students of all faiths and students who do not identify as religious or spiritual. I love this aspect of my job, as I have the chance to meet with nursing students, law students, architecture students, and more. It’s inspiring and fascinating to see the diverse ways people live into their passions, and it is a joy to support them in their explorations.
I also find myself working with and supporting a lot of people who find themselves on the outskirts of communities. Academia can be a place where it is easy to feel like you don’t fit in or can never be good enough. And unfortunately, religious communities can create this feeling as well--particularly for the LGBTQ community. As a queer person of faith, I understand this. But this is not unique to queer people. Through my work at NVRDC and my life more generally I have also seen how faith communities have let down survivors of crime, women, people of color, and anyone whose narratives don’t align with the dominant forces within communities. This is why being able to help support groups like W Queer is so important and also wonderful.
NVRDC: What does it mean to be a “Minister of Word and Sacrament” in the Presbyterian Church?
JP: In October of 2017 I was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. In non-Presbyterian speak this means that I was ordained as a minster. Second only to my wedding day, it was the happiest day of my life. Many of the songs that were sung and the scripture verses that were read during my ordination service are scriptures and songs that resonate with the work I felt called to while at NVRDC. Though NVRDC was not physically present during my ordination service, the ethos of NVRDC rang out throughout the service--as it does in my ministry today as well.
NVRDC: Can you give us more examples of work you’ve done with LGBTQ people of faith?
JP: Of course! Much of the work I do with LGBTQ people of faith involves creating space to process how we as LGBTQ people with diverse identities and spiritualities can live fully integrated lives. Too much of our world tries to put people in boxes, making them choose which aspects of themselves they should suppress or emphasize. A lot of my work involves giving LGBTQ people of faith the chance to connect with one another and realize that they are not alone in navigating the challenge of simultaneously being misunderstood by their faith communities and the LGBTQ community.
That said, in my work I don’t only talk about how things are challenging. I also encourage students to celebrate the gifts and joys of being queer people of faith. Marginalized peoples of various kinds see the world with different eyes--and that is a gift--and it’s a gift I hope more and more of us can recognize as such.
NVRDC: At NVRDC you worked in the hospital as an advocate for crime victims. In 2015 you worked in a hospital as a hospital chaplain intern. Can you compare the two roles?
JP: On the surface, it might seem like both roles are very different from one another. However, I have found that both roles hold much more in common to one another. Both as an advocate and as a chaplain, I had the chance to show up for people when life had taken an unexpected turn. Our society is usually scared of talking about sexual violence, trauma, illness, and death. As an advocate and a chaplain, I was able to be someone who wasn’t scared of these topics, which gave clients and patients room to actually express how they felt without having to worry about saying something wrong or doing something wrong. Through both roles, I learned how valuable it is to be able to give someone the chance to process and share their story on their own terms. Being in the hospital, whether it is following a traumatic event or because of an ongoing health concern, can often bring up bigger questions about life and what is important. Through both roles I was able to support people as these questions arose.
NVRDC: You mentioned working with Yale’s Title IX office. Can you tell us more about that?
JP: Absolutely! One of the best parts of my work with the Title IX Office was having the chance to help expand Yale’s undergraduate bystander intervention training to the wider graduate and professional student community, and now the wider university. A lot of campuses across the US are focused on supporting undergraduate students. While this is important and absolutely necessary, there can be a gap in support offered to the graduate and professional student communities, which are vulnerable to experiencing sexual harassment in particular. The staff within Yale’s Title IX Office have been working for years to shift this and increase their support and outreach to the graduate and professional student communities on campus. It was wonderful to be able to assist them in these efforts.
NVRDC: In what ways did your experience at NVRDC influence and prepare you for the next steps in your career?
JP: Honestly, there are too many ways! I don’t know where to begin. It was during my time at NVRDC that I discerned that I was being called to ministry. Working with survivors, and seeing the lack of support Christian communities provided to survivors of sexual violence lit a spark within me. I had been considering ministry for a couple of years, but it was through my work with clients and my coworkers that I really started to feel called to working within the church and university environments to create change.
The work itself also taught me a number of invaluable skills. For example, through my work with clients and witnessing my coworkers at work, I developed new skills in connecting with people by meeting them where they are, as they are, without judgment or expectation. I also learned about how complex social service systems can be, and how important it is to have advocates there to support people as they seek services. As a chaplain, I use these skills regularly.
The working environment at NVRDC also relies heavily on team work. It was a gift to be able to be a part of a team that cares not only our clients, but also for one another.
NVRDC: Give us some fun facts about your life outside of work?
JP: I still love playing the djembe (a West African hand drum.) It is one of my best forms of stress relief and allows me to completely unplug and relax. I am also always in the mood for breakfast and am constantly on the hunt for good midwestern-feeling diners on the East Coast.
NVRDC: Anything else you want to share with our followers?
JP: Just a big thank you. Christa said this in her “Where Are They Now?” interview, but it rings true for me now. Much of who I am and where I am today is because of the NVRDC family. Thank you for continuing to do and support such important work.
NVRDC: Thank you so much for allowing us to interview you for our “Where Are They Now?” series and congratulations on your wonderful accomplishments!