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20 Questions with St. John's United Church minister Miriam Bowlby

Rev. Miriam Bowlby of Cochrane Street United Church explains why she’s on sabbatical to pursue a master’s degree in business administration, and how she hopes it will make her a better minister.
Rev. Miriam Bowlby of Cochrane Street United Church explains why she’s on sabbatical to pursue a master’s degree in business administration, and how she hopes it will make her a better minister. - Juanita Mercer
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Rev. Miriam Bowlby is swapping preaching notes for class notes.

She’s on a year-long sabbatical from ministering at Cochrane Street United Church to complete Memorial University’s new master's in business administration (MBA) program in social enterprise and entrepreneurship.

Bowlby said it was a fascinating experience establishing a not-for-profit to run the church building a couple of years ago.

The transition turned much of the space into 10 affordable housing units for people on a limited income and needing support, as well as community meeting, rehearsal and performance spaces.

Not only did the redevelopment relieve the small congregation of the growing costs of maintaining and heating the large, old building, it will also benefit the community for years to come.

“I’m interested in the interplay between how you can use business tools in a way that’s helpful to the community — instead of using it to have people buy more stuff, have it used to be generating community, and hope, and help.”

“I think a lot of people are interested in having their community be a better place, and the mission of the church is to make the community a better place.” — Rev. Miriam Bowlby

Bowlby believes completing an MBA will help her be a better minister in a changing world.

“I look at the future. How are we going to redevelop buildings that churches own for the good of the community when churches aren’t as popular? They won’t be used necessarily as churches anymore, but they could still be used for some kind of community good. 

“I think a lot of people are interested in having their community be a better place, and the mission of the church is to make the community a better place.”

Bowlby began ministry at Cochrane Street in 2011. 

Before that, she served the Newtown-Lumsden pastoral charge from 2001-07. 

In the years between, she filled in as minister at Gower Street United Church and George Street United Church, and served as acting personnel minister for Newfoundland and Labrador Conference.

1. What is your full name?

Miriam Anisha Bowlby.

2. Where and when were you born? 

Hamilton, Ont., in 1973, and grew up in Nova Scotia.

3. Where do you live today?

Mount Pearl, NL.

4. What’s your favourite place in the world?

We have a summer house out in Dildo which has become very popular lately, but my husband’s family have had a house out there for many years and we go there every summer. It’s beautiful. In the morning before all the tourists come is my favourite time. 

5. Who do you follow on social media?

I follow a whole bunch of friends and family, but also some funny theologians.

6. What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I have no idea (laughs). I like to read. I live a pretty normal life. Maybe they’d be surprised that my life is normal. I’ve got two kids, a husband, I clean my house, all those things.

7. What’s been your favourite year and why?

I think it’s always the year I’m in because there’s always something interesting. Right now, I’m going back to school — I’m super excited about that. The year my kids were born was fantastic, but every year they grow, and I see them change — those are also fantastic years. So, I just couldn’t pick a favourite. 

8. What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?

I would say it was the years when we were planning at Cochrane Street to do the redevelopment and making those decisions, but then also the year when we were under construction and we were worshipping at the Seventh Day Adventist church, and I had no office per se, but St. Thomas’ (Anglican) would let me use their space, and Gower Street (United) printed our bulletins. There was a lot of moving parts, and it was challenging. Keeping people together when we were used to having one space where you could come together, and then all of a sudden, we’re scattered everywhere. That was a hard year. And every time it got harder, I would go, 10 people will have a home because there’s going to be apartments, and that made it manageable.

9. Can you describe one experience that changed your life?

Becoming a mom, definitely. It’s like there’s pre-being a mom, and after being a mom, and they’re both great, but I wouldn’t go back to not having kids. They’re just joy. 

10. What’s your greatest indulgence?

Cheesy movies (laughs). In particular, Hallmark Christmas movies. I love them. They are fabulous. They make you feel good. I could watch them forever.

11. What is your favourite movie or book?

The Harry Potter books. I don’t think I have a favourite movie.

12. How do you like to relax?

I like to read, and I crochet. This year I’m not, but I’ve always been doing a dance class, or a yoga class, and I always enjoy that. So, I did belly dancing for a while, I did adult ballet for a while. Last year, I did yoga. I always pick one thing like that.

13. What are you reading or watching right now?

School books. They’re all pretty interesting. Right now, we’re reading one by Tim Jackson called, “Prosperity Without Growth,” talking about how we can live sustainably. 

14. What is your greatest fear?

I have an irrational fear of snakes. Can’t watch them on a movie screen, don’t like reading about them, and it’s totally irrational. When I’m watching movies, the kids tell me when it’s OK to watch again.

15. How would you describe your personal fashion statement?

Comfortable. Professional when I have to be out doing professional things, but I’d say comfortable and classic. I’m not trendy. 

16. What is your most treasured possession?

I have a Bible that belonged to my great-grandfather, who was a Methodist preacher before the United Church came into being. It’s got his name engraved on it, my grandfather’s name engraved on it, my dad’s name engraved on it, and mine. It connects me to my history, and to my past. It’s got his preaching notes in it that I can’t read because it’s really old-fashioned handwriting. My dad gave it to me when I was ordained. 

17. What physical or personality trait are you most grateful to a parent for?

Stubbornness and determination. It’s gotten me through a lot. It’s the women in my family, mostly. My mom also went back to school when I was probably in Grade 5 or something like that, and trained as an occupational therapist. Both of my grandmothers were just fierce, determined women, and I think they’re really good role models.

18. What three people would join you for your dream dinner party?

Nadia Bolz-Weber, who’s a Lutheran pastor in the United States, and Barbara Brown Taylor is a preacher who I think is amazing. And just someone I run into on the street. Throw in a conversation about faith and spirituality — that’d be interesting. 

19. What is your best quality, and what is your worst quality?

I can roll with things pretty well. It’s hard to get my temper to rise up. I’m pretty laid back most of the time, until I get really mad, and then that’s my worst quality. I’m laid back until I get pushed too far, and then it’s not pretty. 

20. What’s your biggest regret?

I don’t really have a lot of regrets. It’s not that bad things haven’t happened, but I look back, and overall — the great scope of things — I’ve done interesting things, I’ve gone to interesting places, I like what I do. So, I don’t have any big, huge regrets along the way. 

Twitter: @juanitamercer_


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