Opinion | Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson: A 4-question interview with former Summit County resident, the Rev. Sasha Bilow

Two weeks ago I crossed French Street after the 10 a.m. Mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church and hurried up the steps of St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church just in time to watch the Rev. Sasha Bilow lead a Eucharistic celebration in the church where she sat in the pews, just a few years earlier.

I am thrilled Sasha agreed to participate in a four-question interview because I was curious about what led her to pursue a calling to become a priest in her mid-30s. I also wanted to hear her perspective on how a new generation of faith leaders, such as herself, can reach a younger generation.

1) Sasha, can you tell me about your career background before becoming an Episcopal priest?

I have always been drawn to teaching and learning, and I worked as a teacher before beginning my seminary studies. I studied French and Spanish in college with the intention of becoming a language teacher. After college, I spent a year teaching English in southern France as a high school teaching assistant. After that, I spent two years teaching third grade in English and Spanish in New York City with Teach for America. I planned to take a year off to work as an Alpine ski instructor and ended up living in Summit County for eight additional years after that. During this time, I taught elementary and high school Spanish and coached Nordic skiing at Vail Mountain School. One of my favorite parts of working there was leading students on backcountry trips. During my time in Summit, I also worked as a camp counselor and as a Nordic ski instructor at Breckenridge Nordic Center.

2) What led you to the attend seminary and become a priest?

After a year or two in the county, I stumbled into St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church. Drawn by the hospitality of its clergy and members, I found myself going back Sunday after Sunday. After attending for a few years, my parents visited from Syracuse, New York and came to church with me there. After the service, my dad was so impressed by his experience that he decided to go church shopping back at home and began attending an Episcopal church in Syracuse. One day, when I attended church with him in Syracuse, I looked up at his priest and thought, “Hey, I could do what she’s doing” and that I might even be called to that. After a few months of prayer, our then-assistant priest at St John’s asked me if I had ever considered becoming a priest. I told her that I had and began the long and rewarding process of discerning a call to seminary and eventually the priesthood.

3) You had some interesting internships during your seminary year. Can you share a little about your favorite and how this might inform where you see yourself serving as a priest?

I attended seminary in Austin, Texas at the Seminary of the Southwest. During seminary, students are placed in a church for two years where they learn from the clergy and congregation. For my field education internship, I served at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Manor, Texas. St. Mary Magdalene is a bilingual, multicultural church grounded in God’s love for them and their community. The deep faith of the community grounded me as a new church leader and I preached, conversed and did ministry in English and Spanish. I had the opportunity to try out new things like leading a Bible Study and learned as much from the parishioners as I taught. If given the opportunity, I would love to someday serve in another bilingual and/or multicultural community.

4) What do you feel is the most pressing spiritual matter facing your generation and how might we interest more young people in returning to church or a closer relationship with God?

The most pressing matter that I see facing my generation today is a lack of connection to others and to a higher power. As humans, we are called to be in community with each other, but the messages we get from the media and our society at large encourage us to pursue individual wealth and personal achievement rather than work for the good of a community. It’s easy to feel like we’re never good enough, accomplished enough, or that we have enough things. I see church as a place that can challenge this mindset of accumulation and focus on connecting to God and others.

In communities like Summit County where most people do not attend church, I see value in reaching out to people in the community. While some people may eventually attend church services, creating a space for young adults to connect with God on their own terms is at least as valuable. For many people, going skiing or hiking is a way to connect with God and each other, but we outdoor enthusiasts don’t always seldom take the time to reflect on the power of these experiences or have a place to process deep feelings. 

I see value in initiatives that meet people where they are and create a space for dialog. In Summit County, some of these opportunities already exist, like weekly dinners, coffee shop meetups, or group bike rides. The early church started off in small communities of like-minded people, and I see value in seeking to form similar communities. As humans, we are hungry for connection, and the church will benefit from connecting with people who may never attend church, but who have much to offer.

Sasha will be serving at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Boulder, Colorado, beginning in July.

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