After a 15-month search delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, in August the Rev. John Kellogg was called by the congregation to lead Christ Church Capitol Hill (620 G St. SE). Kellogg preached his first sermon Oct. 11 online, recorded while he was still under quarantine after his arrival from Louisiana which is still on the list of high-risk states.
Kellogg is an open book, a young man with pink cheeks and a ready laugh who shares easily and makes it easy for others to do the same. After many years in the south, Kellogg moved to Capitol Hill in September with his wife, Tait, their two-year-old son, Alec, and their dog, Maeby. Kellogg had spent the past six years in Louisiana as the Canon Missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana and Priest-In-Charge of the church at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Harvey, LA.
“Our new priest, John Kellogg, is a proven leader and a strong preacher who is well equipped to lead a growing church in these challenging times,” said Jean Denton and Paul Laymon, who co-chaired the search committee. “John welcomes people into his life and church with empathy and humility, and people of all ages want to be around him.”
Kellogg said his whole family feels blessed to be part of Christ Church. “We knew we would be looking for place to begin putting down roots for our family,” he said. “As I began learning about Christ Church, I felt a deep and unique connection with the community.”
Originally from Shreveport, Kellogg was raised in an Episcopal Church built by his grandparents. He said he has always felt the pull to become an Episcopal priest, but it wasn’t until his senior year at Millsaps College in Mississippi that he began officially exploring the path. But after college, he said he wanted to do something different. He spent a year building houses with Habitat for Humanity in Jackson, Mississippi, working construction and living in the community they were building.
“I lived in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in Jackson in one of the most impoverished states in the country,” he said. “The life that I got to live there continues to be so formative.”
Kellogg attended The General Theological Seminary in New York City, where Tait joined him. Afterward, they went to Mississippi, where Kellogg was Rector of The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in West Point, MS and then to New Orleans, where Tait finished her PhD at Tulane and Kellogg took up his position with the Diocesan Office and St. Mark’s. In December 2014, while Kellogg was living in Louisiana, he received news that his father had accidentally shot himself and died. “It was just kind of world-altering for us,” Kellogg said.
Kellogg said he can trace much of his desire to be of service to others, to stand with them when they are in their dark place, to his experiences with his father. When Kellogg was still in high school, his father, a registered nurse, “got in over his head at work” and began abusing hospital narcotics. For the next ten years, his father’s journey to recovery crossed the spectrum of addiction, involving many stints at rehab and the contemplation of suicide. He credits his mother with being a stabilizing force in his life at this time.
But his father had recently found his footing through a 12-step-program, remarried and moved out to the country. Taking a walk around the property with his wife one December day, the senior Kellogg tripped, accidentally triggering the gun and shooting himself.
“We were in the mindset that we were looking forward to his next life, to the well person who would be a wonderful grandfather and, you know, have his feet under him,” Rev. Kellogg said. “and then all that vanished in five minutes on a Sunday evening.”
Kellogg said that as he felt the pull to become an Episcopal priest, he was also living in his family’s own time of darkness, an experience that affected who he is as a person and as a minister. “The whole spirituality of recovery continues to be formative in my life,” Kellogg said.
Kellogg responded to the tragedy by taking up distance running as a practice for meditation and prayer. He gave himself over to it; over the last three years he has completed three Iron Man races and one Ultramarathon.
Place of ‘Radical Welcome’
Kellogg said a feeling of what he calls “radical welcome” is one of the things that attracted him to Christ Church, the feeling that regardless of race, age, sexual orientation or political affiliation, everyone can belong.
“I think in this world that we live in today, where it’s easy to kind of stay in your silo, there’s something so rich about being told that no matter who you are or where you find yourself in life, you’re welcome here,” Kellogg said.
It was also clear right away, Kellogg said, that the church is rooted and grounded in neighborhood and community, focused on how to be a life-giving and affirming presence in the neighborhood. He said that from his first visit, he could feel it.
“The first time that I walked into the building,” Kellogg said, “I could feel the generations that have gathered there, loved there, and prayed there and watched over the Capitol Hill community for 200-plus years. That was such a unique feeling.”
Taking on the role of minister to a new church is a challenge anytime, but perhaps more so in the time of COVID. “We have to come up with creative ways to be together and to connect. I think one of my biggest roles as leader of the congregation will be to help facilitate that,” he said. “What does it mean to gather together, and wrestle with all of life’s big questions, when we cannot actually physically gather together?”
COVID, Kellogg said, reminds us how interconnected people already are. Even when we don’t know one another, he said, we are each entrusted to keep one another safe from the virus. “We have responsibilities to each other, ‘we belong to each other’ —and we can’t escape it. I think one of my roles is to remind folks of that.”
That interconnectedness reminds us that despite differences in political affiliation, people are more the same than they acknowledge, Kellogg said. “In so many ways, we create these different containers. And we tend to want to pretend it’s all black and white, right and wrong. And yet, real life is lived in so much more gray territory than we want to pretend like it is,” he said.
Denton and Laymon said that this interest in bridging divides is one of the reasons Kellogg is a good fit for Christ Church. “He is keenly interested in outreach and in engaging in a bi-partisan way in the political and social issues confronting all of us.”
Still, Kellogg said there is a place where issues of partisanship and justice diverge. In matters of justice and injustice, there is often a right and a wrong, Kellogg said, and faith communities have a responsibility to vocalize that. “A huge part of our tradition is how we treat those who are the least among us and if we are not giving voice to the voiceless and loving our neighbors as ourselves, then we’re not doing any of it, I think.”
Learn more about Christ Church and their rector selection process by visiting washingtonparish.org. Attend one of Rev. Kellogg’s virtual services online at 11 a.m. Sundays by visiting washingtonparish.org/worship/worship-schedule.