Summerlee Staten stands in front of a room of listening students at the Foundations course

Meet the Ministry: Summerlee Staten, Executive Director, Faith Formation and Education

Our community at Trinity includes our vibrant parish of more than 1,600 members — and more than 200 employees working to support our worship services, programming, and ministry around New York City and the world.

In this series, we’re introducing you to some of the faces you may see on Sundays and at services and programs throughout the week, whether they’re at the altar or behind the scenes. You’ll get to know what their day to day looks like, what brought them to Trinity, and how to get in touch — and get involved — with the work they’re doing inside and outside of the church.

If you have joined the discussion at Discovery on Sundays, considered going on a pilgrimage, or taken part in any of Trinity’s adult education programs, then you already know Summerlee Staten (she/her). As executive director for Faith Formation and Education, Summerlee and her colleagues are continually developing an array of faith education offerings for our community — both in-person at Trinity Commons and with virtual participants around the globe. In this edition of Meet the Ministry, Summerlee tells us about the different roles she has held at Trinity, taking spiritual journeys alongside parishioners, and some exciting programs coming up this year.

Hi, Summerlee! Tell us about your role at Trinity. What's one thing that members of our community should understand about your work?   

I’m the Executive Director for Faith Formation and Education. The Faith Formation team at Trinity loves serving the congregation — our department covers everything from the Children & Families ministry (including the nursery) all the way to formation and education programs for adults. We offer programs for children, such as the annual weekday summer program at Trinity Commons and Children’s Time on Sundays; Bible studies; the Discovery adult education forum that happens every Sunday; faith formation retreats on a variety of topics; and programs related to learning about prayer, contemplative practice, the Bible, and social justice.

Summerlee Staten addresses Zoom participants during a Discovery classroom session
Summerlee Staten interviews biblical scholar Ellen Davis during a hybrid Discovery session.

Tell us about your path to Trinity. What drew you to working within a spiritual community? 

At seminary and divinity school, I focused mainly on biblical studies and faith formation in churches. I originally thought that I might pursue a PhD in Hebrew Bible, but I found when I started working at Trinity that I really love being in a church environment, getting to know parishioners and growing with them on the spiritual journey. At Trinity, I started out in the Faith Formation department working with children and youth, and it was a joy to be in conversation with our teenagers, and experience life in active Christian community. After being in the Faith Formation department for a couple of years, I served as the executive assistant to our Rector, the Rev. Phil Jackson, which gave me an opportunity to have a bird’s eye view of the church as a whole.

In the last couple of years, I have returned to the Faith Formation department to lead the team, and I feel genuinely lucky to get to do this work. The members of the Faith Formation team are truly amazing — each one of them cares deeply about ministry.

My personal passion, and probably the part of this work that I most enjoy, is teaching members of the parish about the Bible. The Bible is both wonderful and complicated, and I’m particularly interested in the reception history of these ancient texts: the ways in which the biblical narratives continue to speak in different places in time, or are reflected in art, poetry, and music. These stories are rich and deep, and I love to help parishioners feel how these texts are alive. I hope they can come to love them as I do.

How do you think your role fits into the life of the congregation?

At the end of the day, the goal on the Faith Formation team is to provide religious and spiritual Christian programs that communicate to others how deeply they are loved by God. Our congregants have deep questions about who God is, and about how they can both grow in their faith and share that faith with others. We hope to strengthen parishioners in their walk with God by providing educational resources and programs that speak to these questions, so they can then go out and love others. We also hope to help parishioners make connections between their Christians beliefs and real-world problems, like climate change and political division, and to bring those learnings back to their personal lives and families, and into the world at large.

The Faith Formation team has many new and returning offerings this fall. Can you share a little about the upcoming season and the rest of the year?

We have several great programs coming up in the fall. Discovery, our main adult education series, will return on Sunday, September 24. I would encourage people to come to the first session and learn more — we have great speakers, theologians, and clergy who come and teach on a variety of topics. It might be theology, it might be spiritual practice, it might be about the Bible, or it might address the social justice issues of our time. And it’s also just a really good way for people to be in community and get to know one another.

If people want to be in a small group environment where they get to really know others, Being With is an online program we are offering where you are invited to explore the Christian faith through sharing stories in community. Fall sessions have begun, but there will be a second cohort in January.

I also want to mention Sacred Ground, a film-based small group discussion series created by The Episcopal Church that focus on the history of race and racism in the United States; you can contact Ruth Frey on our team for more information. And Kathy Bozzuti-Jones hosts online Contemplative Practice with Poetry on Wednesday evenings, which is a midweek meditation using art for mutual spiritual support and growth; that group will return September 27.

Lastly, while next year’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land is fully registered, this is another opportunity we offer to further spiritual growth. You can read here about the experiences of the 2023 pilgrims, who followed the footsteps of the Apostle Paul in Greece and Rome.

Summerlee Staten teaches before a crowd in an outdoor amphitheater in Philippi, Greece
Teaching in the ancient city of Philippi, Greece, during the 2023 Pilgrimage.

How can members of the Trinity community get in touch with you?

You can reach me by email at — or find me in person at Trinity Commons on Sundays!

Tell us something we should read, watch, eat, or listen to.

One of the most interesting novels I have read in the last year is Richard Powers’s Pulitzer-winning book The Overstory, which touches on the life of trees, grand narratives, and climate change. As it turns out, he will be coming to speak at Trinity on November 15 — more information on that event will be coming soon, so mark your calendars.

I am also a fan of the novelists Patrick Chamoiseau, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Michael Ondaatje, Elizabeth Strout, Ben Lerner, Marilynne Robinson, Edith Wharton, and Cormac McCarthy. I also like reading theology and biblical studies. I recently enjoyed David Kelsey’s theological work Human Anguish and God’s Power and read Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love for the first time.

I recently watched the FX show The Bear, which I found to be an interesting study in perseverance, forgiveness, and found family. I also love films by Terrence Malick and Denis Villeneuve, and I’m excited for the next Dune film.

For food, I can often be found at Lhasa Fast Food in my neighborhood, where I get the potato and chive momos. I also love the Birria-Landia taco truck in Queens, and Van Leeuwen mint chocolate chip ice cream.

In my free time, I play guitar, write songs, and visit museums. My favorite museums in NYC are The Met, the American Museum of Natural History (where I am always filled with wonder at the Planetarium), and The Noguchi Museum in Queens, which has an amazing, peaceful courtyard and incredible sculpture. A great day in NYC is a day wandering The Met and then a long walk in Central Park.

What’s your favorite quote, lyric, verse, poem, etc.? Share some words to live by.

The theologian Jürgen Moltmann has a quote that I love: “The freedom to talk with God and of God is being opened by God's joy. It cannot be forced. For true awareness cannot be coercive; it does not come about by either authoritarian pressure or the force of logic. It presupposes liberty. Being aware of God is an art.”

A selfie featuring Summerlee Staten and members of the Trinity Young Adults group
With the Trinity Young Adults group, after teaching at their Thursday night gathering.