by Erika Marksbury
“Where are you from?”
It’s a simple enough question for most people, a getting-to-know-you sort of conversation starter. But Mary Beth LeCroy, M.Div. junior, says, “I never know quite how to answer that question, and it always leaves me feeling sort of homeless.” Having moved from place to place as a child, following an Army dad, and heading to boarding school at age 15, she’s never really found a place to call home.
But throughout her transient childhood, she says, one thing remained constant: “If I can point to one thing and say, ‘This is where my home is,’ it’s music.”
Singing before she was talking, LeCroy grew up with music. “My mom always sang to me when I was little,” she remembers, laughing, “but my dad avoided singing to me in order to spare me from off-key notes!” After exploring viola and piano as a child, she discovered guitar in high school and a few months ago picked up the banjo. Folk and, more recently, bluegrass have found their way into her heart; they speak not only to her musical sensibilities but also to her faith.
“I think there’s a lot we can learn about Christianity through this music,” she says. “There’s a humility and a common-people feeling that I think Jesus would dig.” She’s drawn to the social-action orientation of folk music, and to love songs that “speak very clearly about the human spirit.”
LeCroy isn’t sure where her faith and commitments will lead, but admits the idea of pastoring is intriguing. She knows pastoral work is done in many different ways, and expects hers might not be typical. Her imagination—evident to any who see or talk with her (she has arguably the most colorful wardrobe on campus, as well as the fastest, most animated speech)—will undoubtedly inspire and shape her ministry. Sensing a call to work in low-income communities, and feeling “pulled” by the prophets’ cries to work with widows and orphans, LeCroy hopes to be a “creative pastor” who uses her musical talent in ways that help people experience healing.
A foreshadowing of that creative pastor emerged during her senior year at Yale University, when she was elected director of Tangled Up in Blue, an independent 22-member folk choir made up of fellow students. Coaching soloists for the group, she encouraged a new confidence of expression that enabled them both to sing better and to enjoy it more. However, she denies responsibility for the development of individual singers, humbly saying, “I just really cared about them.”
A 2000 Yale graduate and French major, LeCroy has herself experienced the healing power of music. It was during her junior year abroad, in southern France, that writing music became a restorer of her own spirit. Speaking French all the time, she remembers, was a challenging learning experience that at times proved frustrating because her communication was limited by how much of the language she knew. So she found her creative outlet in music; writing songs gave expression to feelings and thoughts she couldn’t articulate in a foreign language.
After college, she deferred her acceptance to Princeton for a year “to grow up.” That year, she served Broadway Presbyterian Church in New York City as parish administrator and Sunday school director, and once again, in a new place, music served as her familiar grounding. Though she’d always wanted to live in the city, she arrived with no ready-made community and was forced to take the initiative in finding friends and music partners. So she did. But she also began to discover how to be alone with herself and how to invite God into that quiet space. While music grounds her, then, perhaps it is silence that allows her to grow.
She may get a chance to explore that quiet space more this summer as one of 45 recipients of the ecumenical Fund for Theological Education (FTE)’s $5,000 Ministry Fellowships. (PTS juniors Carmen Berger and Gregory Green were also recipients of this award. It is given by FTE—an organization promoting excellence in ministry by inspiring, recruiting, and supporting gifted students in their theological formation—to entering M.Div. students “who embody the highest intellectual and spiritual qualities essential for Christian leadership as pastors, educators, and citizens.”) LeCroy attended last year’s four-day FTE Partnership for Excellence Summer Conference and this summer can use her stipend for any opportunity that will “enrich [her] experience of theological education.”
“They told us to dream big,” she recalls, but her big dream looks different from what some might expect. While many past FTE fellows have used their awards to host conferences or travel abroad, LeCroy is considering living in a monastery for the summer.
“I need to be quiet for awhile,” says the musician who for so long has nourished her spirit through song. “I have a lot of questions, but my goal isn’t really to answer them. It’s just to learn how to listen better—to God, to myself, and to others.”