BY JOSEPH COTTON
As the 2012 fall semester is beginning at Xavier University, a former Presbyterian pastor pulls her car into the parking area behind the academic mall to begin her first day as the Protestant Campus Minister.
Thinking back to her first day, Rev. Abby King-Kaiser, the newly appointed Director of the Center for Faith and Justice (CFJ), recalled interacting with parking ambassador, Jack Smith, who asked her how she found this job.
“My dad?,” she responded nervously. “I was thinking, ‘It’s not as bad as it sounds, I promise I’m a real adult who is qualified to be here.’”
King-Kaiser’s journey to Xavier was indeed a bit more complicated. After seminary, she worked as the pastor at a church in San Francisco for three years until the church closed.
Her dad, wanting her to return to her hometown, sent her a job listing from Xavier for a protestant, multi-faith minister. She ended up taking the offer and has worked at the university since.
King-Kaiser was born and raised as a Cincinnati local. She attended Finneytown High School where she first became involved in faith work through the school’s service program.
From an early age, King-Kaiser found herself thinking about how her choices would impact the world.
“The teacher who started (the service program) was good at not only taking us into the community but having us ask hard questions about why the needs are present,” King-Kaiser said.
After high school, she attended Miami University in Ohio, where she majored in art and interdisciplinary studies. As a part of a semester-long internship in California, she worked with an after school arts program through a church. It was there that she realized a faith-based community could be an avenue for change in the world — a way to build community.
“Those opportunities challenged me to ask the same vocational questions,” King-Kaiser said. “How could what I do matter to the world? And what could my best gifts be?”
King-Kaiser eventually went to the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif. where she earned her Masters in Divinity and became ordained as a Presbyterian minister.
Becoming ordained wasn’t the original plan, however.
“I went to a theological school that mostly trains pastors but was like ‘I don’t really want to be a pastor I just want to study theology’,” she said.
“But I ended up becoming a pastor because I found that those same questions I was asking, of how could I build a community that mattered to people and how I could address people’s needs, really lined up with what I was seeing from churches in the Bay Area,” she said.
As the new director of the CFJ, King-Kaiser hopes to expand the Center’s ability to reach students in their individual traditions while continuing to follow the multi-faith model they have adopted.
“The next five years is about learning how to (run the multi-faith model) well,” she said. “Both in how we do interfaith programming and share resources and inform each other to serve a wider variety of students from a diversity of religious traditions.”
King-Kaiser also expressed excitement over the Catholic campus ministry team and the work they plan on doing in the coming years.
“Catholic campus ministry has been happening since 1832 so it’s not new,” King-Kaiser said. “But the people we have on-staff now have a chance to make it address 21st century concerns.”
She went on to emphasize the importance of the justice component integral to the CFJ.
“It’s really clear, when you look at the world, that we need people concerned with the common good,” King-Kaiser said. “We need people concerned about justice and solidarity.”
King-Kaiser began her new position on Aug. 1. Students can follow the CFJ on EngageXU and Instagram for future programming updates.