The Rev. Kaji Spellman Douša is Senior Pastor of the Park. In the congregation’s 206 years, she is the first woman called to this role.
About her public witness, Pastor Kaji says: “I’m realizing that it’s time for the church to repent. We’ve let the name of Jesus get away from us, get misused, twisted and turned into something unrecognizable by the religious right. In the meantime, how many generations of people are being harmed by oppressive teachings from church? All because those of us who knew better have been too afraid to stand up, or we’ve been ineffective in spreading a message of liberation. That day is over. There are lives at stake, for God’s sake.”
A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and of Yale University, Pastor Kaji is a prolific writer and a celebrated and awarded public speaker. She preaches nearly every Sunday at The Park and is invited as a keynote speaker across the country. Her often fiery media appearances reflect her deep thinking, faithful perspective and quick wit. She is on the editorial board for the United Church of Christ’s Stillspeaking Writer’s Group and the Alumni Board of Yale Divinity School.
Before entering the ministry, Kaji developed new products for a large financial services company on Wall Street. She also has a political background, having managed and staffed several successful campaigns.
The Reverend Sydney Marie Avent has a passion for social justice ministry that is grounded in her belief in God’s unconditional love for all people. She is ordained by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Northeastern Region and was licensed to preach the Gospel at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York. She continually seeks to discern God’s will in her life and understands her call is to fight for systemic changes for justice for all marginalized and oppressed people; to envision, teach, and work for the manifestation of the Beloved Community; and to seek individual and communal healing through spiritual practices and discipline.
At The Park, in addition to her ministerial duties, Reverend Sydney is an Elder and a member of the Ministry Council. She is a member of Northeastern Region’s Anti-Racism/Reconciliation Team and served as Co-Chair of the MissionFirst! Workshop for the 2016 Northeastern Regional Assembly.
From her childhood to the present, Reverend Avent has been active in churches for which social justice and civil rights are core ministries. Her home church is United Institutional Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. She served as Vice Chair of the Trustees Board at Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and was a member of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington, DC before moving to Manhattan.
Reverend Avent earned her Masters of Divinity degree at Drew Theological School, her Juris Doctorate at UCLA School of Law and her Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a licensed attorney and continues her career as in-house counsel for major international corporations and non-profits.
Reverend Sydney has a love for the arts and welcomes opportunities to partner with artists and to use the many manifestations of art in the pursuit of understanding, healing, forgiveness, justice, and reconciliation.
Rev. Cartagena Zayas holds a B.A. from City College New York, a M.Div. from New York Theological Seminary where he received the President Award in Ministry, and is a Micah D. Min. candidate at New York Theological Seminary.
At The Park Rev. Cartagena Zayas serves as the Pastoral Presence each week for the Saturday Community Lunch Program, a Greeter, a Translator for Immigration Clinics, is a member of the Hospitality & Fellowship Team and the Prayer Team.
In his role as Outreach Pastor he serves on the Jeremiah Leadership Council, NY/NJ Crop Hunger Walk and the Micah Institute. An activist he participates in many actions dealing with Housing Justice, a Living Wage, the elimination of Racism, Poverty & Hunger, LGBTQ, Transgender Justice, Immigration Issues and National Hispanic Hepatitis Awareness Day.
He serves on the Northeastern Anti-Racism/Pro-Reconciliation Team, the Northeastern Regional Response Team, and is the co-Moderator for the Northeastern Region for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Along with serving the congregation of The Park, Rev. Cartagena Zayas is the Director of the Modern Languages Language Laboratory at the Borough of Manhattan Community College/CUNY for the past thirty years, is a member of the LGBTQ Month Committee as well as the Hispanic Heritage Month Committee.
Rev. Dr. Peter Goodwin Heltzel is Pastor of Evangelism and Discipleship at Park Avenue Christian Church. An Auburn Senior Fellow, Pastor Heltzel teaches theology at New York Theological Seminary. An anti-racist/pro-reconciliation prophet from Vicksburg, Mississippi, Pastor Heltzel is passionate about providing opportunities for members of the Park to “know God” (Discipleship) and “make God known” (Evangelism). Shepherding a Soul Food Fellowship on the Westside, Pastor Heltzel is committed to equipping disciples to follow Jesus through deepening our spirituality, theology and revolutionary friendships.
The Rev. Ismael Sánchez was born in Nicaragua where he completed a degree in Economics with a concentration in Political Economy and taught at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua. He came to the United States in 1983 and in 1990 he completed his Master of Divinity degree at Houston Graduate School of Theology with a concentration in Urban Ministry. That same year he was ordained by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Rev. Sánchez served as pastor developer of two new Latino church starts (Disciples of Christ) in Houston and Fort Worth, Texas. The Rev. Sánchez was also the pastor developer of a new Latino congregation in Marietta, Georgia for the Episcopal Church. During his ministry he founded three adult education centers offering English as a Second Language (ESL), Spanish as a Second Language (SSL), and a GED program.
Rev. Sánchez served as the Director of the Borderlands Center at Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, which offered a national Spanish-language program of continuing theological education for ministers already working in congregations. He has also worked as a consultant with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, and the Presbyterian Church USA in the area of urban ministries and leadership development.
Rev. Sánchez currently serves as Associate Pastor for Latino Ministries at Park Avenue Christian Church where he is working to create a holistic Latino worship community that can embrace diversity with a spirit of hospitality. He wants this new Latino ministry to reflect the stated mission of The Park, “to share the radical welcome of Jesus so that all people can experience, celebrate and spread the big, bold, beautiful and bodacious love of God.”
Led by Klay S. Williams, The Gathering is a holistic group of young adults interested in creating spiritual pathways to develop/nourish one’s purpose, build community and discovery of wellness practices to live an empowered life.
Curated by Pastor Kaji & Klay, the next program series, Speak, is a space where weekly participants will gather and share intimate personal stories of faith, gratitude, struggle, healing and spiritual exploration. Under the spirit of thoughtful live music, we will share in the lived experiences that connects our faith journey through the power of story. The first night of Speak began on June 15, 2017 at 7 PM and will continue every Thursday until August 17 at The Manse. For more information, please contact Klay.
Klay S. Williams is an author, holistic lifestyle expert and media personality specializing in holistic personal and professional development. Klay has created a lifestyle-consulting firm, Plan A Enterprises, LLC that is a one-stop-shop for the entire person. Whether he is leading a conversation on spiritual progression of the self, supporting clients with closing the gap between their past and present or having a full service image/wellness conversation, it all points towards living what Klay calls, one’s “Plan A”. He is the author of There Is Only Plan A— A Journey Toward Self- Discovery and Renewed Purpose and 365 Plan A Nightly Meditations. A graduate of Kalamazoo College, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Religion with a double minor in Economics and Business, he also holds a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. Klay has appeared/partnered with a host of media platforms, including but not limited to: Fox 5 NY, fyi, NPR, iHeart Radio, Lululemon and ABC. For more information on Klay, visit: KlaySWilliams.com
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Jeanette Zaragoza is an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ (UCC). She earned a bachelor’s degree from Lesley College in early childhood education and obtained an M. Div. from Pacific School of Religion, which included studies at the Seminario Bíblico Latinoamericano in San José, Costa Rica, the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico, and the University of Jerusalem. In December 2011, she graduated from the University of Puerto Rico with an M. A. in Translation. Her graduation thesis title was, “From this Side of the Horizon: Feminist Biblical Hermeneutics,” (a translation of “Capítulo 16: Análisis feminista,” in Para que comprendiesen las Escrituras: Introducción a los Métodos Exegéticos, by Ediberto López-Rodríguez-Rodríguez). In 2016, Jeanette completed all requirements for a Masters in Research in Translation and Interpretation Studies from Universitat Jaume I, Castellón de la Plana, in Spain, the title of her thesis “The Search for a Mendi-court Interpreter in The Amistad Case in order to Challenge the Institution of Slavery.” Presently, she is a PhD (ABD) student in said university in same field. Rev. Zaragoza has worked as a professional translator and interpreter for the last 10 years. She is trained as a professional court, medical and conference interpreter, certified by the NJ and NY State Courts, and CMI and CCHI, both medical interpreting certifications. Her ministerial calling involves multilingual-multi rhythmic worship design and implementation centered in the social justice proclaimed in the Scriptures to cross boundaries in order to establish collaboration and for worshippers to recover their full humanity. During calendar year 2017-2018, Rev. Zaragoza will be also be a PhD Visiting Researcher at Yale Divinity School where she will continue to research the intersectionality among translation and interpreting issues, The Amistad Case, Christian Abolitionists, and liberation.