Sarah Quinney - A Priest Since Childhood

Sarah Quinney - A Priest Since Childhood

By Sophie Smal, Communications Coordinator

When little Sarah Quinney played priest in her childhood bedroom in Jacksonville, Florida, she never actually thought she'd become a priest later on in life. Yet she felt drawn to the liturgy as a child and even carried her own miniature prayer book to church with her.

"From that point on, it stayed in the back of my mind that I'd become a priest," the Rev. Sarah said.

As she became an adult, her focus was on pursuing vocal studies at Florida State University until she realized that the culture surrounding music performance was not a good fit for her personality and preferred way of living.

She was able to find a balance for her love of music and meaningful work through her eventual degree in music therapy.

In 2007, after she completed her degree, Quinney moved to California and now runs her own private practice, called Sarah Quinney Music Therapy in Rocklin. Her start-up business grew quickly, drawing upwards of 30 clients a month.

The majority of her clients are children with autism and special needs, and Quinney spends her time with them singing and playing her guitar.

"In the beginning, some kids are nonverbal, so I try to help them find their voice. I loved it because it's truly fulfilling and a lot of fun," Quinney said.

At this time as well, Quinney began attending St. Augustine's, Rocklin, which was where her discernment process truly began.

In 2011, Quinney was a part of St. Augustine's Search Committee, as the congregation was in the process of finding a new rector (who later became Liz Armstrong). During the search process, she noticed that several female clergy were applying for the position, one of which was her same age, 27 (at the time).

Quinney was struck by this realization, and for the first time, Quinney said she could see herself being a priest full-time.

At the same time, Quinney struggled with the thought of actually doing it.

“I’ve seen some priests who don’t do their job well, so I kept thinking, ‘Why would I want to be one of them?’ It was especially tough seeing how negatively some clergy back east reacted when homosexuals became allowed to be ordained in the Church, and my home diocese split because of this (back east),” Quinney said.

“I would come home from church and argue with God. I’d tell him, ‘This isn’t a good time; I still have student loans to pay off, and I don’t need more. My business is thriving, and I really don’t want to leave my kids (at work).’

“It was a very frustrating time because I couldn’t believe God would tell me to quit the job I loved so much, only to work at a Church that didn’t make space for the kids I was working with,” Quinney elaborated.

After two months of arguing with God, Quinney was at church one Sunday when she went up for an anointing for discernment. The song “Here Am I Lord, Send Me” was playing, and Quinney said she spent the service praying and crying out to God.

After the service, Quinney went home and sat down to work on her computer, which at the time, showed a blank screen. Then, in her own voice, she heard and saw the following words appear on the screen: ‘Sarah, accept yourself. You are and always have been a priest. This is what you want! GO.’

“After this, all of a sudden, I wasn’t angry anymore; I felt zero doubt and a happiness I’ve never experienced before,” Quinney said.

One year later, Quinney started seminary at Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) and graduated in 2015. At this time, she was also ordained a priest in The Episcopal Church.

“None of my friends were surprised when I started seminary because they joked, ‘Sarah, you made us play priest with you when you were a little girl!’” Quinney said.

In 2015, Quinney became the assistant rector at St. John’s, Roseville, where she spent a 2 years serving. Last fall, St. James, Lincoln, asked Quinney to help put on a special needs Christmas worship service, which Quinney said was a wonderful experience.

Even though it was her first time at St. James, Quinney felt a pull towards them. When St. James started their search for a new priest-in-charge this year, Quinney knew that’s where she needed to be, and behold, there she is!

Since June 25, Quinney’s first day, the congregation has experienced substantial growth. Some families have found St. James through the outreach and community they’ve experienced through their ‘Special Needs Welcome’ ministry.

“These new members are people who are new to The Episcopal Church and have floated in and out of church, but at St. James, they feel a strong connection, so they’ve committed to attending. They’re attending every Sunday without drop-off, and I think this has to do with the fact that the people at St. James are so welcoming.”

“As far as the ‘Special Needs Welcome’ ministry, the goal is to create a safe space for them to participate in worship and have fellowship with each other and with other people within the community. Some of our young adults with special needs have even taken up leadership positions; one is serving as a Sunday school teacher and the other is considering joining our choir,” Quinney said.

In general, Quinney said she’s so thankful that “God was so faithful in keeping his promise. We didn’t have a space for kids with special needs, so God said to make a space!”

This August, St. James, Lincoln, hosted a back-to-school event, which is especially important for kids with special needs because starting school is very stressful for them, Quinney said.

St. James will be hosting more events like this, including a Trunk-or-Treat this October, a baptism in November and more. You can find out more about these events by connecting with the ‘Special Needs Welcome’ Facebook page.

The Rev. Sarah will be officially installed as priest-in-charge by the Right Rev. Bishop Barry Beisner on Sept. 30 at 5 p.m. More information can be found here.

In July, the Rev. Sarah also became the Office of the Bishop’s Missioner for Youth Discipleship and is helping the diocese develop youth discipleship.

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