Ashley (Bathe) Dellagiacoma’s journey into church leadership began with an interest in business. Although the Social Entrepreneurship major didn’t exist yet, she saw how one could build organizations and cultivate communities that make an impact.
After graduating in 2008 and working several years in nonprofit fundraising, she graduated Luther Seminary in 2015, where she earned her Master of Divinity. She became founder and mission developer of Kindred Church in Houston, where she served for 7 years. Currently, she is the associate rector at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Houston.
Although she wasn’t directly involved with TLU Campus Ministry, Dellagiacoma attended chapel and maintained a relationship with former Campus Pastor Greg Ronning. In May 2008, he invited her to preach at chapel where she spoke about Doubting Thomas—a reference to the Gospel of John’s depiction of the Apostle Thomas, who, in John’s account, refused to believe the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the ten other apostles until he could see and feel Jesus’s crucifixion wounds.
“Greg created room for me, my questions, my being, and for whatever that expression of faith was at the time,” she said. “He never pushed me into Campus Ministry leadership but encouraged me to pursue my gifts. That helped me recognize my call to ministry over time. My women’s spirituality group and the women I met there were also hugely significant in how we explored faith together. We would have deep conversations, but we could also laugh with each other or go to a party.”
Dellagiacoma is very mindful about not segmenting herself or the work of the church within the community she serves. Her experience in nonprofit allowed her to see the creative ways organizations were integrating faith and life beyond traditional church.
According to their website, Kindred Houston is a “reconciling in Christ” community (a formal way of saying that people of all races, genders, gender identities, abilities, sexual orientations, fashion senses, and political leanings are not only welcome, but embraced). Dellagiacoma is especially proud of programs like Kindred Kitchen—a food truck slash culinary training program assisting housing-insecure youth—and Montrose Grace Place, a space for youth experiencing homelessness to share family-style meals with other teens and volunteers sitting side by side.
The first Lutheran to serve as clergy in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, she is now using her passion for community building and outreach in an ecumenical way. In her new role as associate rector, she is focusing on accessibility and openness, especially regarding Millennials and Gen Z.
“The church is in a time of transition and upheaval,” she said.
“As a millennial, my generation has never been able to trust a large institution. The trust people once had for church and in God has shifted, and it’s time to own up to certain things. I hope to offer healing and make amends for harm that was done by the church—like how people were and still are treated. If I claim that God loves all people, that promise must go beyond the church. It’s my role to make that true for all people.”
That accessibility and authenticity is key when connecting with younger audiences. Her Pastor in the Porch project is doing just that.
“I sit outside the church doors with a pot of coffee, my rainbow flag, my dog, and a sign that says ‘open for conversation’,” she said. “People from the congregation and people passing by stop to talk about faith, but we also talk about Netflix recommendations. More churches should be a part of community events, known to the local barista and bartender as much as their acolytes and altar guild. Places people already gather can also be places where holiness and spirituality coexist. To be meaningful, we must acknowledge the ways that younger people do care and can contribute. We must be open to unconventional teachers and preachers right down the street.”