We first met Rev. Carolyn Patierno in December 2007 when she was the Woman of Grace for that issue. In Grace Revisited, we check back in with former cover subjects to see how they are and what's new in their lives.
In her eighth year as pastor of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in New London, Rev. Carolyn Patierno needed a break. So with the support of her congregation, the New Jersey native embarked on a five-month-long sabbatical in early 2009.
"It changed my life," she says, a little more than a year later. "It gave me time and space to deeply reflect on my call to the ministry. And it helped me think about what I wanted to do differently upon my return."
So when she returned to the church, giving her first sermon that first Sunday in June 2009, Patierno was able to see with clarity.
"I became a lot easier on myself," she explains. "I know that every day, a few balls will drop. But I just do the best that I can and hope that those aren't crucial, life-threatening, make or break balls."
Although she's learned to let some things go, Patierno remains committed to her role as president of the Homeless Hospitality Center, a drop-in facility that serves the city's homeless population.
"We have gained members because we are living our mission," explains Patierno.
Formerly part of the parish center on Huntington Street, the center is now part of a two-building campus that occupies space on nearby Jay Street.
"Taking on such a commitment requires the congregation to make adjustments. Ninety people on average go through the center a day, which makes more work for the staff. But it's also an interesting learning experience for all of us," says Patierno. "We've always seen work with the homeless as central to our mission."
The new campus also has served as a welcome mat of sorts to the community. Several area groups - from Habitat for Humanity to the Hygienic - have used it to host meetings and events.
"We try to be good neighbors in that way, and in turn, they have helped us spread our reach," says the pastor.
Now in her ninth year as All Souls pastor, Patierno is also celebrating some personal benchmarks in the coming year.
Her daughter, Lily Jun, is a high school senior; Patierno and her partner, Kate Stafford, will celebrate the 20th anniversary of their relationship in November; and in October, Patierno will turn 50.
"This is a big year for us as a family," she says, with a smile. "These are all positive, triumphant things, and all of these accomplishments take a lot of work."
And so does serving the community. Still running on a high from her sabbatical, Patierno says her renewed excitement and energy has rubbed off on the congregation, and is almost palpable during Sunday morning worship.
"There's a spirit in the room and there's a lot of engagement afterward," she explains. "Sometimes the services are challenging and hard, sometimes the sermons are tough. But we have tissue boxes under the seats at All Souls because this is a place where you go a lot of places.
"And that's all good," Patierno says. "If you can't do that in your faith community, where else can you?"