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Seeing the Church in a New Light

Katie Helen Hays on connecting with spiritual refugees

As the planter-pastor for Galileo Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on the outskirts of Fort Worth, Texas, Rev. Dr. Katie Hays, DMin '10, says her current role is the work she was born for. After 20 years in traditional ministry, Katie launched Galileo Church with its primary mission to “seek and shelter spiritual refugees” — those who consider themselves spiritual but with no institutional connection to organized religion. Galileo is nontraditional in terms of its liturgy and infrastructure and is inclusive of LGBTQ+ people.

“In the Bible belt lots of folks who were raised in conservative churches are not part of that anymore,” she says. “I grew up in a fundamentalist denomination that couldn’t recognize my call to ministry because I’m a woman, and it was a long, painful journey to answer the call and find the institutional support to actually do the work.”

Her studies at Princeton Theological Seminary were “immensely” helpful in preparing Hays for her current role, as they helped her question her assumptions about the traditional church’s trajectory.

“PTS made me curious about new possibilities,” she says. “It pressed me to never take anything for granted about my faith and always ask why of myself so I can talk with people who are skeptical of institutional religious life.”

Hays’ original plan after attending MIT was to become an engineer. She was drawn to ministry the first time she saw a woman in a pulpit at the Brookline Church of Christ in Boston. “I had not even imagined that possibility. It was the 1980s and women could do anything — except in the church.”

Writing is Hays’ other love, and she recently published We Were Spiritual Refugees: A Story to Help You Believe in Church, a memoir of Galileo Church’s first five years. She hopes it will spark conversations about the future of the church and bring optimism to Christians who despair about the decline of the church in general.

“I’m hoping folks will feel hope that young adults, while not in traditional pews, are deeply invested in Christian faith; and that spiritual refugees will see that communities of belonging are out there wherever people on the margins are building community in Jesus’ name.”

Her advice to current Princeton Seminary students and recent graduates? “Learn all you can in every setting where you get to do ministry. Stay curious about places where God seems to be working outside of traditional institutions.”

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Lindsay Clark, Class of 2018

“Trenton Psych was a fantastic place to work and learn, a seminal part of my Seminary experience and the most important thing I did at Princeton.”