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Kelle Brown becomes Plymouth’s senior minister

By Mary Stamp

With new leadership, Plymouth UCC in Seattle is becoming a laboratory in how to dismantle white supremacy. 

Kelle Brown at the 2019 Annual Meeting

When Plymouth UCC in Seattle voted in February to call the Rev. Dr. Kelle Brown as senior pastor, they were acknowledging that she had been involved in all aspects of the church and its ministry, and they were accepting her leadership to be a radically inclusive Christian community.

The church leaders saw that she “brings innovative approaches to ministry, a heart for social justice and invaluable insights from her lived experience as an African-American woman to help the church become a true representation of God’s Kin-dom here on earth.”

Kelle was already doing  the duties of senior pastor, having started at the church in August 2015, temporarily as an associate pastor, operating on a collaborative ministry model.

Now she is the pastoral leader, she more fully and consciously takes on the roles for visioning, strategy and organizing the congregation, including guiding it as it works to dismantle white supremacy.

She seeks to use her gifts for the benefit of Plymouth and the church universal.

“I am gaining skills and learning that I hope to transfer to a curriculum other churches can use,” Kelle said, “as we are part of the conference through relationships and connections with other churches.

“The church is in a process, seeking to be a church that is faithful, just and honors Jesus Christ,” said Kelle. “We work to be the church ,not known by our size or income, but as one of many churches struggling through the challenges of this time and place to find hope and healing.”

Kelle brings insights from her background to that role.

Her growing up in San Antonio, Texas, and Columbus, Ga., as a “military brat” with a “great home life, nurtured by loving grandparents,” included living near Ft. Benning in housing that was integrated and attending an integrated high school. She did well in school, leading many clubs, such as the National Honor Society, while nurturing musical skills as a drum major and playing flute in the school band.

Although she grew up in a black Baptist church, when her grandfather’s cancer meant he needed to be close to home, they began attending a nearby white Southern Baptist church.

Kelle graduated in 1994 in psychology from Spelman College, an all-black woman’s college in Atlanta, Ga., where she led music for a new church, Amistad UCC, also in Atlanta.

Her daughter, Indigo, was born in 1996. She is a student at the University of Washington.

After working as a mental health provider, she came to Seattle in 2003 to earn a master of divinity degree from Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry in 2008.

In Seattle, Kelle served Madrona-Grace Presbyterian Church in a time of transition, was director of child and youth ministries at Bethany UCC, and worked in group homes and for nonprofits, while beginning a doctor of ministry degree at San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo.

Ordained in 2011 as a Presbyterian pastor, she moved to Richmond, Va., to lead Daughters of Zelophehad, a Presbyterian ministry for families experiencing homelessness.

She returned to Seattle in 2014 as pastor at Mary’s Place, which supports single women and families experiencing homelessness. She led empowerment and spirituality groups.

Kelle was introduced to Plymouth when invited to do the Seven Last Words of Christ with seven women.
The previous associate was leaving, and she was invited on the staff.

When her predecessor Brigitta Remole, the organist and some members left, Kelle stayed, picking up responsibilities and offering stability.

“I had no notion when I started I would become senior pastor. My role changed and meandered,” she said. “I’m grateful the church has made the decision. As I came into the role I recognized the pain I felt functioning as minister of worship, faith formation, pastoral care and lead pastor, but not acknowledged as senior pastor.

“It’s not about a title, but recognizing I was doing the duties of senior pastor,” she said. “I hope it is a witness to the conference and national church.

“Churches of all denominations should be equity churches that are intercultural and intergenerational,” she said. “We are still struggling with inclusion in white dominant culture churches, still in 2021 for churches to be inclusive.”

Kelle believes what is happening at Plymouth is a sign of what can happen, acknowledging that “We have a long way to go, but we can be hopeful.

“There are people in our midst who are ready and able to have the courageous conversations needed to journey together as God’s people,” she said. “We need to be aware, observe and honor those in our midst, and leaders need to be ready to step up into a legitimized, empowered role.”

Her encounter with an African-American man outside Plymouth is an example. He could not imagine she was pastor of the big, white church at Sixth and University. She showed them her business card with a picture of the church.

He told her that growing up in Seattle, African-Americans might not walk on the same side of the street as that church, believing they were not invited inside, but he came the next week and was astounded she was actually the pastor.

“Members are willing to be introspective less concerned about being called racist than being racist,” she said. “In the vein of truth telling, it’s not about blaming or shaming, but about having difficult conversations and seeing vulnerabilities.”

Kelle sees that people in the dominant culture become concerned about racism as they see the impact on people they know.

“The invitation is to be concerned about those who are unkknown,” she said.

“Through truth telling and honoring Black, Brown and Indigenous, queer and transgender people who dare to come in and be a part, we will become more of a vision of what God calls us to be” she said. “Several Black and Brown people recently joined. I believe they care to be part of Plymouth, not as tokens, but as integral to Plymouth’s growth.

“Many people are aware we are doing anti-racism training—reading books, participating in the justice movement in Seattle and in anti-racism change,” she said. “Even if we do not end racism and may not ever solve it, we are in an ongoing process, growing and transforming, looking at power dynamics.”
For Kelle, church healing happens when “justice is our foremost pursuit.”

She told of a woman—a pillar of the church—inviting her to her home and telling her she had never been pastored by a black woman and did not understand Kelle’s style. However, the woman blessed her and sought to honor her leadership despite the challenge.

“The conversation allowed me to realize there was a place for me at Plymouth,” Kelle said. “Still it’s a dominant culture church, though there is and has always been some inclusion.

“As we grow, more racial and ethnic diversity will happen, but the goal is not necessarily to become any one distinction, such as any one race, ethnicity, orientation or identity as being dominant. The goal is to be faithful, to pursue our moral center and to be more culturally inclusive,” she said.

“People are willing to do the work, which takes patience, compassion and love,” said Kelle, who believes in building vision in community and conversations with those of different perspectives.

At Plymouth, her walk is as a shepherd, caring for folks who are grieving, needing pastoral care and celebrating.

“It’s a blessing to have a place to live my vocation,” she said. “Members in covenant are partners who are innovative, creative, compassionate and faithful.”

She believes Plymouth sees the Spirit moving and God at work even in coronavirus.

“The need for churches is pressing as always,” Kelle said. “I pray we understand our gift at Plymouth is to be an example to make the way forward become more clear.”

For information, call 206-622-4865 or visit


Pacific NW Conference United Church of Christ News © April-May 2021


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