Marek Zabriskie: Spiritual Seeker, New Dream Leader

Rev’d Marek Zabriskie is the new minister of Christ Church Greenwich. (Anne W. Semmes photo)

By Anne W. Semmes
Sentinel Correspondent

The Rev’d Marek Zabriskie, the newly arrived minister of Christ Church Greenwich has big dreams for his historic new church. “We’re going to invite the entire parish to be a part of that process to gather with us in meetings to dream big. This will be a huge part of this first year. The potential here is remarkable.”

“A lot of people have reservations about church,” he says. “They say, ‘I don’t come to church because they exclude people or they have too much focus on doctrine or they’re not open to other religions, or they’re all wrapped up in themselves, and they’re not serving the world.’”

Zabriskie sees, “the biggest challenge facing every mainline church is how to attract, equip, and serve young families with children and teenagers, and help chart their way spiritually and find a spiritual community that feeds them, challenges them, nurtures them and equips them to use their gifts and talents and their time and energy to serve God.”

He believes, “Church is the ultimate community. It’s about developing a generous spirited, inclusive, welcoming, hospitable, faith-centered, compassionate community. It doesn’t mean you have to be part of something massive. We all find community in something smaller. So this is a community of many communities. But we’re all aware we are part of something greater than ourselves, than our small group.”

Zabriskie, aged 58, arrives having found a winning way to engage the entire church community. During his 20-plus ministering years at St. Thomas Church in Whitemarsh, Fort Washington, PA, Zabriskie developed “The Bible Challenge,” a study guide to reading the entire Bible in a year, now used the world over. Along with his congregation of 1,400 (in a town of 10,000) Zabriskie’s Bible Challenge also drew people from outside the church. “My previous church was 320 years old,” he says, “and in over three centuries we’d never had 100 people from outside commit to doing anything with us for a year.”

Zabriskie spoke of how he devised the “The Bible Challenge” in a talk he gave years ago as a guest of the “Faith on Fire” series that takes place at Christ Church. He took inspiration from John Adams, “who read through the Bible every year of his adult life, Thursday through Sunday. That shaped his character. His character shaped our nation.”

“This is a prayerful way of reading scripture,” he tells, “to help guide and transform each day of your life in a spiritual way, for the rest of your life.”

Zabriskie’s spiritual path did not begin in his hometown of Weston, Massachusetts, he likens to Greenwich. He took a road less traveled as a high school grad, signing on via the internet to play semi-professional soccer in Scotland. “All I wanted to do was chase a little black and white ball.” In Scotland he received his first spiritual or mystical pointers, while watching a sunset off the northwest coast, while gazing at “sheep grazing by the waterside. “It was as if God lifted a veil and I could see every painful thing happening in our family’s life [divorce], in the community where I had gone to high school, and in the world. I could see each little strand leading to something very good. It gave me this great sense that all shall be well.”

“I’ve found that people have a much greater spiritual hunger than we often give them credit for,” says Rev’d Marek Zabriskie of Christ Church Greenwich. (Anne W. Semmes photo)

At Emory University he studied philosophy “to seek truth and a purpose for life” and devoured Plato, Aristotle and the Neoplatonists. But he was “looking for a truth that’s much deeper than just one individual…I was looking for something that was absolute, that preexisted me, that I could commit my life to,” and “maybe religion had something to say to this.” He began his spiritual journey reading Thomas Merton’s autobiography, Seven Story Mountain.

In his senior year he wrote in his journal, “ I think God is calling me to become a priest,” but, “that would mean celibacy.” The next day he erased the entry. “That was the stupidest idea. I don’t want to be celibate.” For the next four years he “fought the call…living and briefly starving in Paris.” He would return to Atlanta to become a journalist working for a weekly newspaper.

It was while working for the Nashville Banner newspaper that Zabriskie darkened an Episcopal church, St. Ann’s in Nashville. “ I started going there faithfully and got involved in all sorts of ministry, prison ministries, homeless ministries, youth ministries…I thought this is not what I want to do with my avocation. This is what I want to do 24/7!” A mentoring minister, who shared, “everything he knew about the priesthood…made all the difference.”

But journalism confirmed Zabriskie as a people person. “I loved asking questions. I love gathering information. I love meeting people. I love learning. I met so many people, ranging from people in death row to presidential candidates…But what was really drawing me was serving people and serving God.”

Zabriskie sought out a seminary where he could “get a really intellectual understanding of Christianity,” and found it at The Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University. “I was super happy there. It was three of the best years of my life. It is one of the reasons I accepted the call here at Christ Church -Yale is 45 minutes away. We want to develop the strongest possible relationship with the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and the Yale Divinity School by bringing great speakers to address our congregation, challenge our thinking and expand theological outlook and stimulate us both spiritually and intellectually.”

Zabriskie is a devotee of walking the spiritual path of the Commune de Santiago de Compostela. “ I’ve been there four or five times and hope to go back every year of my life. It’s a great place to connect with God and clear your head out. The principles that I have learned there have impacted my ministry and my life so much. You kind of need regular reminders. You realize you don’t need much at all to live. You’re supposed to carry no more than ten percent of your body weight…And walking is a spiritual activity.”

Zabriskie serves as president of the Friends of the Anglican Pilgrim Center in Santiago, with its initiative to create a center for Protestants to celebrate the Eucharist “or worship in their own tradition. We’d like to have a place where people can come and experience the genius of the Anglican tradition, a very open minded, inclusive, hospitable expression of the Christian faith. We hope to raise five million dollars to create that center.”

Zabriskie attributes the brightness of his three daughters, including step-daughter, Emily, 31, and daughters Marguerite, 23, and Isabelle, 20, to his lawyer wife Mims’ brain, he says. “She’s a partner of Morgan, Lewis, and Bockius.” Rounding out the family is their Corgi, “Winston.” “He’s the son we never had. He’s my pastoral associate. He just nestles up to people who are grieving or going through a hard time. He, like me, is a real people person.”

Two persons involved in choosing Zabriskie include George Belshaw,  junior warden at Christ Church. He cites Marek’s “Bible Challenge” ability to “engage whole parishes and communities,” as having resonated “deeply with the search team.”

“What was remarkable during our interview process,” says Senior Warden Randy Schwimmer, “was how imaginatively he detailed the steps we can take together to grow our parish and energize our parishioners. I can’t tell you how many times Marek would describe a potential issue to be addressed, and I would turn to George and say, “How did he know that?”

About Author: Anne W. Semmes

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