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Dancing pastor connects people to God by motion

Kelsey Peterson Beebe’s belief in an all-loving God, embodied Christ and an ever-moving Holy Spirit finds expression in her being a “dancing pastor,” sharing her love of ministry, movement and embodied prayer.

Kelsey Peterson Beebe combines movement and ministry. Photo courtesy of Kelsey Peterson Beebe

While she now lives in Wisconsin, her roots, ordination and Dancing Pastor Ministries are based in the Pacific Northwest Conference of the UCC.

“I seek to help people find safe, embodied ways to connect more deeply to themselves, to others and to God,” she said. “My favorite part of ministry is helping people experience the transforming love of God that moves around, among and within us all.

“God is love in motion all around us, and we just want to join the dance,” she said. “I seek to reconnect people with the movement of God’s love around them.

Kelsey said the goal of her ministry is a world in motion, healed through movement and united in love.

She was ordained in 2018 to a four-point covenant with the PNC-UCC, Wayside UCC in Federay Way where she grew up and her Dancing Pastor Ministries board.

When Kelsey was baptized, Wayside members were her godparents, so they have supported her through her years. Her late mother, Sheryl Peterson, was pastor at Wayside in the 1980s and retired in 1994.  She died in 1996 with complications of multiple sclerosis.

Kelsey, four, began taking ballet lessons after her mother’s death.

“It helped me process and connect with God.  I realized dance is my way to pray and connect to the divine,” she said.

Her father, Norris, continued to take them to Wayside. The Conference let the family to continue to attend after Sheryl retired because of her health.  Later, because his second wife was Lutheran, they attended a Lutheran church as well as Wayside.

Going to camps at Pilgrim Firs every summer helped shape Kelsey’s faith.  She began counseling at camp at 15, and served 10 years as counselor or chaplain with junior and senior high camps..

At camp, Rachel Teigen Brackett introduced her to dance as an expression of faith.

Dennis Hollinger-Lant, pastor after her mother at Wayside, encouraged Kelsey to pursue her call to ministry. He also invited her to do liturgical dance on Sheryl Peterson Memorial Butterfly Sunday the week after Easter.

In 2010, Kelsey went to St Mary’s College at Moraga, Calif., where she earned a bachelor’s degree in dance with a minor in theology and religious studies in 2014.  On a full scholarship, she went to Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, where she earned a master of divinity degree in 2017, while completing a master’s in dance at St. Mary’s in 2016.

During studies, she was minister of youth, family and community life at the Orinda Community Church and also became accredited to teach yoga and participated in a four-week yoga training in 2017 in Costa Rica.

“I felt called to spiritual direction connected with movement and ministry,” said Kelsey, who met her husband, Kevin Beebe, an ELCA Lutheran, while at seminary.

During his one-year internship in Missouri, she served two rural churches there. In October 2018, she started the Dancing Pastor Ministries as a nonprofit ministry to unite body and soul, dance and religion, movement and faith.

Board members for Dancing Pastor Ministries are all from the PNC-UCC. They are Amy Johnson, Janet Ash, and Elizabeth Gregory of Wayside, Ron Patterson of Tacoma, Kristen Almgren of Fauntleroy, and her brother Kevin Peterson, who is music minister at Normandy Park UCC.

Through Dancing Pastor Ministries, Kelsey, who is executive minister, has taught yoga and led workshops on embodiment for UCC, Lutheran and United Methodist conferences, synods and churches. She had led retreats and workshops in the U.S. and abroad.

Kelsey also writes devotionals that focus on how people embody faith in their lives and brings professional liturgical dance into worship spaces.

“I seek to help people experience God in a new way, reconnecting body and spirit by experiencing prayer as movement,” she said. “As people reconnect to themselves and to God, they also more deeply connect to one another.”

With her husband now serving a Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Kelsey now is also three-quarters-time pastor for two churches south of Milwaukie—Union Grove Congregational and Raymond Community Church.

Pre-COVID, one church worshipped at 9 a.m. and the other at 10:45 a.m. Now on Zoom, she leads one service for both churches, which have been yoked for 30 years.

“At the churches, I teach children hand movements and invite adults to join in,” she said.  “Singing ‘Spirit of the Living God’ we move hands to embody prayer. 

“In workshops, I help pastors and lay leaders incorporate movement in ministry, giving them tools to incorporate movement organically in prayer, in daily life and in yoga,” she said.

The first week of January 2020, Kelsey led a yoga retreat in Costa Rica.

In February, she led a workshop on Zoom with Carthage College, and another one with Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma.

For Carthage College, the workshop was on arts and conflict resolution, so she guided participants in using movement to move through conflict.

Kelsey had people stand in postures to represent feeling angry, defeated, stressed out.

“Working with conflict, we need to pay attention to body language,” she said. “If tension is high, it also helps to stand up and move.  The motion of walking, shifting right to left, helps people process conflict.

“It’s not easy to do movement on Zoom,” said Kelsey, who helped Margaret Irribara Swanson lead a youth summer camp, doing yoga movement prayers while seated in chairs.

Through Dancing Pastor Ministries, Kelsey writes weekly and seasonal devotionals, including ones for Advent 2019 and 2020, and for Lent 2020. 

Because she enjoys listening to podcasts, she started a podcast called Lady Preacher, inviting more than 30 women pastors over time to have one-to-one conversations online.  They have reached people on seven continents.

“I interview pastors on their theology and what they have found about faith in the midst of the pandemic,” she said.

The podcast helps her build connections with pastors across the U.S. As it reaches 10,000 people, it has been a way to spread the word about workshops and virtual retreats.

“I learned there are many of incredible women doing ministry in the world,” Kelsey said, noting that many conservative theologians have podcasts, and thinking a podcast would be a way to spread her progressive lens for sharing love of God and Christ, rooted in a theology of justice and inclusivity. 

“God loves everyone and there are no caveats to that,” she said.

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Copyright © December 2020 - PNC-UCC News


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