By Erica Cohen-Moore
When I was young, I remember being drawn to Thomas Merton’s prayer that read: “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.” I have found these words to be true throughout my lifelong attempt to trust God and discern well.
When I was 17, I was excited to one day move to New York City and be a stockbroker. God, it seems, had other plans. Today, nearly 30 years later while living 25 miles outside of Seattle, I am the executive director for the National Association of Catholic Chaplains. How on earth did that happen? Merton’s prayer was clearly accurate!
I was born into a dynamic, diverse, and biracial family in Worcester, MA. My father was Jewish and my mother a devout Catholic. I was the youngest of four children, two biological and two adopted. I had aunts and uncles from India, the Philippines and Israel. My father was a doctor (who still practices today) and my mother volunteered for our schools, the hospital, and many other local organizations. We eventually made our way to Omaha, NE, where most of my family resides today.
I grew up profoundly influenced by my faith. I was surrounded by family, friends, teachers and mentors who were always there to provide support, direction and a gentle nudge when needed. I always wanted to learn more about Judaism and Catholicism. I never found it odd that one grandmother was showing me how to pray the rosary while the other was giving me books from the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. Admittedly, the rosary was easier to understand at the time!
But I remained committed to my perceived vocation as a stockbroker. I started college with the added hope of a minor in piano performance – but I needed to face my fear of playing in front of people. A friend encouraged me to become the accompanist for a local prison ministry team and I agreed. Never could I have imagined that this seemingly small commitment would establish a completely different trajectory.
As I walked through the maximum security prison in St. Cloud, MN, I wasn’t so much worried about being in a prison as I was about making mistakes while playing with the prison church choir. Somehow, I managed. A single hour passed and my life changed forever. Listening to men who would be in prison for most, if not all, of their lives was profound for me. Within a month, I formally changed my major to theology, and my call to ministry began.
Shortly after college, I found my way to Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry for graduate study. Within two years, I was working as a pastoral minister at the Pierce County Jail, but I spent more time creating processes and trainings for volunteers than providing direct service. Given the tug away from direct chaplaincy, I began to experience some confusion about my vocation to ministry. Was this actually the right path for me?
Thankfully, I was blessed with incredible mentors who helped me process my feelings. I got a part-time job at the Archdiocese of Seattle in a more administrative role with the Prison Ministry Program, and I soon realized that my real vocation was as a ministerial administrator, to be the person who gives the chaplains and pastoral ministers the support they need to provide quality care for others. My role as a minister was being redefined, and once I finally allowed myself to be guided by the grace of God instead of my own stubborn plans, my ministry blossomed.
For the past 21 years, I served in various leadership roles with the Archdiocese of Seattle. I had the honor of working with three archbishops, four auxiliary bishops, and many diverse groups, including chaplains, clergy, deacon candidates, healthcare patients, prison residents, seafarers, immigrants, refugees, multicultural communities, and youth and young adults living with behavioral health issues and various kinds of disabilities.
I live in Woodinville, WA, which is home to over 100 wineries. I have three amazing children. Madeleine is 14 and a freshman in high school. She is an incredible artist and has taken interest in the Japanese language and culture. Tommy is 12 and in 6th grade. He is an aspiring chef and hopes to travel to Paris someday. Tyler is 9, in 4th grade and is a gamer extraordinaire. All three kids enjoy piano lessons, and my youngest hopes to take up the drums soon. (God help me!)
I love to travel, garden, and am an avid classic rock fan. I am known to travel to any part of the country, even overseas, to see some of my favorite bands in concert. In some of our subsequent Zoom meetings, you may hear my dog, Calvin, who likes to capture the attention of anyone who is willing to listen.
I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to lead the NACC into its next stage of development with my vocational call to support chaplains and ministers who serve on the margins. I want to express profound gratitude for David Lichter and his many years of service to NACC! In addition, I offer my deepest thanks to the dedicated and hardworking staff, to Bishop Hying and members of the Episcopal Advisory Committee, to the NACC board of directors and the CPMC Executive Committee, to the many commissions and committee members, and to the entire NACC and CPMC family.
I look forward to our work together, supporting an organization and community whose mission is centered on outreach, racial equity, inclusion, formation and education.