During a freezing winter quarter in 1988, most of Jarrett Kerbel’s Northwestern peers likely dreamed of spending spring break on sunny beaches.
Not Kerbel. Instead, he made plans to visit Holy Cross Monastery, an Anglican Benedictine community in West Park, N.Y.
Even for Kerbel ’89, who had changed his major from journalism to the history and literature of religions, it was a strange move. “My mom was pretty freaked out,” he says, “because what junior in college wants to go to a monastery for spring break?”
Earlier that winter, Kerbel had a dream about the monastery’s ivy-wrapped brick building — a place he’d only visited once before, as a young child — and followed his intuition to return.
At Holy Cross, Kerbel went to worship services and prayed and discussed faith with the monks. Then, during the ritual of the passing of the peace at the last worship service of the week, he had an epiphany. “I was so overwhelmed by the love of God that I just melted down, and all my defenses fell away,” he says. “The faith made complete and utter sense to me from that moment forward.”
Ever since, Kerbel has devoted his life to the Christian faith. After graduating from Northwestern, he went to seminary at the University of Chicago and Union Theological Seminary in New York and eventually became an ordained Episcopal priest. Throughout his career, he has served several communities, including St. Paul & the Redeemer Episcopal Church in Chicago, St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Philadelphia and, most recently, All Angels’ Church in New York City.
For Kerbel, a crucial part of his ministry is fostering relationships between churches and their surrounding communities. During his 11 years at St. Martin’s, he helped host SUPPER at St. Martin’s, a program that offered free meals to more than 100 people each week and that later expanded to three other churches in Philadelphia. Kerbel also served as a movement chaplain during Black Lives Matter marches in Philadelphia in 2020. In Chicago he created a partnership between St. Paul & the Redeemer and a nearby public elementary school to provide rehearsal and performance space for the school’s music and theater programs. “It became this way to build up the whole neighborhood using the resources of the church,” he says.
In June 2022 Kerbel became priest-in-charge at All Angels’ Church on New York City’s Upper West Side, where he serves as senior pastor and oversees the parish’s worship and the Pathways program, which offers resources to people experiencing homelessness and hardship, including respite care, mailboxes, meals, showers and assistance from medical professionals and social workers. Founded in 1999, Pathways now serves around 185 people each week.
Kerbel, whose mother ran a similar program in Trenton, N.J., when he was growing up, says Pathways participants are active in all parts of the church, including worship services, retreats and Bible studies. Some participants become members of the church as well.
It’s about building relationships with people, he says. “There’s a really cool atmosphere here of total respect for and equality with our unhoused neighbors. That means so much to me.”