The Rev. Gia Hayes-Martin, the rector of St. Bede’s Episcopal Church in Menlo Park, first heard God calling to her when she was a freshman at Xavier. “I was at Mass at the campus chapel and had this experience of God speaking to me through scripture,” she recalled.
While she was a practicing Roman Catholic at the time, she said she was “very clear that I didn’t want to be a nun, so I spent many years wrestling with how I could answer the call.”
A fellow student she met while pursuing a PhD in history at Vanderbilt introduced her to the Episcopal church. “He told me that while the Episcopal church may have some problems, they didn’t revolve around women’s ordination or the Pope,” she said. “Coincidentally I was focusing on the British Reformation and began to feel the Holy Spirit working in me.
“I started to realize that I didn’t want to be an academic, that teaching and writing were not a good fit for me. It was like I was wearing someone else’s trousers. I knew I needed to come back to who I was.”
Through her participation in a small prayer group in Nashville, she experienced a profound sense of a call to ministry. “I didn’t feel like I was amputating something,” Gia recalled. “As a priest [in the Episcopal church] my gifts and whole self could be accepted in a leadership role.”
She came west to attend the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) in Berkeley and, after ordination, served as an assistant rector at St. Matthew’s in San Mateo. She became rector at St. Bede’s last year, a role she relishes.
“I really enjoy the deep relationship I have with people and seeing how God is working in their lives,” she said. “I’m with them in times of greatest joy and deepest sadness. It is such a gift to be invited into people’s lives in that way.
“I also enjoy preaching and the deep engagement with scripture I get to do every week. It deepens my faith to listen to what God is prompting me to speak about.”
It’s probably not surprising that the life of rector is a full one, particularly in light of week night meetings and weekend church time. Gia is married; her husband is a PK (preacher’s kid) who works at CDSP. They have made the choice to be childless.
“It frees me to love other people’s children,” Gia said. “When people think it’s a selfish decision, I just say, ‘Look what I do for a living!'”
Photo by Irene Searles