When Dee Cooper was a young girl she spend many summers in Colorado with relatives and grew to love the majestic mountains, small towns, the outdoor sports, and the serenity of the woods and forests. She always harbored a secret hope that one day she would be a full time resident of Colorado.
Her early fantasies about living in Colorado were about fly-fishing, hiking, backpacking and skiing; little did she know that her journey back to Colorado would be as the Pastor for the Church of the Hills Presbyterian Church in Evergreen.
Dee’s advanced degree in marriage and family therapy led her to eventually take a position as Assistant Dean of Students at the University of Kansas. A desire emerged to counsel with students and others at a deeper level that included exploration of their spirituality, exploring values, and developing purpose in their lives.
As an intern she worked under a respected and prominent minister in the Presbyterian Church and determined that she wanted to become a minister. Although this man did not actually agree with the relatively new idea at that time of women becoming ministers, he eventually wrote a letter to the church authorities saying he could not stand in the way of Dee’s desire to become a minister because he had gotten to know her very well, respected her deeply, and it was clear that she had a calling to a religious vocation.
As minister at a church in Lowell, Massachusetts, she accepted the challenge of dealing with a very culturally diverse population. About a third of the members were from Cambodia; a third were African; and a third were white, Anglo-Saxon, more traditional Presbyterians. Many of the Cambodians were immigrants who had witnessed horrible atrocities in Cambodia and were victims of chronic post-traumatic stress. Dee’s clinical background was very useful with these parishioners. She loved her work there and embraced the challenge of helping her church become a truly welcoming, inclusive, diverse community. While there her church was recognized as Urban Church of the Year by the national organization of the Presbyterian Church.
In contrast, at a very large church in Brentwood, California, she faced a different kind of diversity: extremely wealthy residents, movie stars and film moguls interspersed with Latin immigrants and working class citizens. When she was hired at Church of the Hills five years ago, living in this beautiful mountain community seemed like her old dream come true!
Dee appreciates the wide range of “diversity of theological thinking” expressed by members of her current congregation. Some members are very traditional in their beliefs while others are more liberal, and some parishioners may not hold many religious beliefs at all or may be struggling to define themselves spiritually. Dee is highly committed to making sure her church is inclusive and offers a welcoming, engaging place for worship and a spirit of community. She is particularly interested in a mission-focused philosophy and is proud of the work that her church members have done in Haiti after the Earthquake.
Dee’s respect outside the congregation is exemplified by her being asked to facilitate a forum with candidates in a recent polarized, heated race for the ERPD. Her well-honed leadership skills helped facilitate a useful and respectful experience. Regardless of one’s choice for candidates, attendees left the forum appreciating her sensitivity to the issues and admiring her expertise in steering the process.
One of the most personally meaningful accomplishments is that she is a breast cancer survivor and has done both a 60-mile and a 40-mile hike to raise awareness about this disease. She is cancer-free.
Dee recently returned from a three-month sabbatical made possible by a $50,000 Lilly Grant given to a deserving religious leader. Dee used this opportunity to explore her deep commitment to incorporating play as an important component of spirituality development. Her sabbatical also included an exciting sojourn to African to study how Africans include play with animals in their daily lives.
Pastor Dee is all fired up about her new insights and is looking for meaningful ways to incorporate her new learning in to her congregation and the larger community.