Between the bar and the church, attorneys find spiritual strength through ministry
photo by: Kathy Hanks
For the past 28 years, John Bullock has been an attorney, but he recently added another vocation to his life’s work.
On weekdays, he’s in his sixth-floor office at Stevens & Brand LLP, 900 Massachusetts St., helping clients resolve conflicts. On Sundays, he’s the curate at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church in Olathe.
As a curate, Bullock assists the parish priest. On Jan. 11, 2020, he will be ordained as an Episcopal priest, but he has no plans of giving up his law practice.
“What I find satisfying as a lawyer is helping people and solving problems,” Bullock said. “People come to me with problems, and my first objective is to find a solution.”
Bullock, 53, feels the two vocations overlap. While he will also be solving problems as a priest, he will be helping people get to a spiritual place.
“In the 21st century, new models of ministry are emerging,” said Bishop Cathleen Bascom of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas, in Topeka, who spoke with the Journal-World by telephone.
“We’re at a time when there is a lot of diversification,” Bascom said. “Within the Diocese of Kansas, there are people on a more traditional track in terms of formation and training. They tend to be younger people. We send three to six people to residential seminary any given year.”
photo by: Contributed photo
However, with diversification comes the bivocational piece that Bascom said is very interesting. She recently met with 17 students enrolled in the slow residency training at the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry in Topeka. Some of those students will become bivocational priests, like Bullock, who continue with their careers and serve on Sundays and evenings.
Students becoming bivocational include not only attorneys but also social workers, psychologists, educators and sometimes health care workers. This is a trend Bascom has seen throughout the Midwest.
Leaving the law behind
Though Bullock plans to keep his law career, the newest rector at Lawrence’s St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church left his former vocation to enter the ministry.
The well-tailored pinstripe suit is evidence of the Rev. Marco Serrano’s past life as a New York City attorney. However, instead of a silk tie, Serrano now wears a clerical collar.
photo by: Kathy Hanks
Serrano, 41, was ordained in the Diocese of West Missouri in May and has been the rector at St. Margaret’s, 5700 W. Sixth St., since August. He practiced law for seven years, during which he worked at several large New York law firms. His work included the liquidation of Bernie Madoff’s investment firm, working on the recovery of assets for the benefit of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme victims and trying to understand the structure of Madoff’s firm.
At the same time, Serrano was finding fulfillment volunteering with youth at All Angels’ Church on New York City’s Upper West Side.
Six years ago, though, the burnout became all-consuming.
One day, at 11 a.m., when he typically should have been at work, he stopped in at his church to speak to the rector.
“I started telling him how frustrated I was and that I wasn’t feeling satisfied in my career and I was looking for guidance,” Serrano said. “He asked me, if I could start fresh, what would I do? The one thing I wanted to do was study theology.
“He asked, ‘Why don’t you do that?’ My mouth fell open. He was challenging me, and the paradigm shifted. I never had thought of it seriously until he asked me,” Serrano said.
When he was in high school in Overland Park, Serrano had thoughts of entering the ministry. He earned a master’s degree in philosophy and was even leaning toward a doctorate in philosophy. He said he might have been influenced by his mother, an attorney. Instead, he entered Yale Law School.
Serrano and his priest talked about what it could possibly look like for him to make the major switch in his life. He talked with his wife, Corrine, who thought it was a great idea. He and his family moved to New Haven, Conn. They had one young child when he entered Yale Divinity School. They now have three young daughters.
“The stars aligned; I was able to support my family,” Serrano said.
Before coming to St. Margaret’s, Serrano served as the associate for young adults at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral, in Kansas City, Mo., designing and launching a young adult program.
While the students at Bishop Kemper School for Ministry in Topeka come from a variety of professions, Bascom said attorneys make a good fit with the church.
“Attorneys and clerics have gone hand in hand forever,” Bascom said. “Biblically, when the Old Testament speaks of the Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes, it’s the scribes who were attorneys; they wrote and interpreted the law. They had a specific skill set.”
The skill set of an attorney in the 21st century includes the ability to work within systems and to work for the common good, she said.
“Wordsmithing is another skill,” Bascom said. “Being a priest, you do a lot of writing — sermons, newsletters — and attorneys are people who are good with words and persuasion.”
Led by faith
Unlike Serrano, who felt a desire to be a minister at a young age, Bullock never dreamed of pursuing ordination, despite being active in the Episcopal Church all his life.
That changed five years ago, during one of his many talks on matters of faith with Mother Susan Terry, who was serving at Trinity Episcopal Church at the time. Bullock was surprised when she told him she could see him as a priest. His response was that he liked being a lawyer. However, she explained that he could be a bivocational priest. As she explained the program to him, they both experienced a moment he described as grace.
“I have never felt anything like this; it was as if God was present in the room,” Bullock said.
It didn’t make the decision any easier. But the more he thought and prayed, the more he felt God was preparing him for the next step.
He attended classes at Bishop Kemper once a month. Even as he was studying at the school, he wasn’t convinced he would go through with it. Some months he thought he might not go back the next. However, the more he got into the three-year program, the more committed he became.
As time went by, he began developing a deeper faith and a stronger relationship with God and became 100% committed.
“Sometimes, when you are going through a discernment period, it might become a wilderness time,” Bullock said. “That’s OK, because God is forming us to be something different than what we were before.”
Life has become more of a mystery, and it’s something he has grown comfortable with.
“I am not sure what God has in mind for me in this work,” he said. “I feel God is superintending this, and if I just have faith and trust in the process, God will use me the way I can be the most useful.”