Meet Paula Gravelle '78

By Helen Edelman, manager, Exchange

September 24, 2013

Paula Gravelle, Lutheran Minister and Alum(From the by Jennifer Patterson)

The Rev. Paula Gravelle '78, at left, a Lutheran minister, is the newly appointed executive director of the New York State Council of Churches, a statewide network of Christian denominations. Gravelle is an Empire State College graduate with a B.S. in Community and Human Services earned at the Northeast Center.

She was born and raised in Niagara Falls and moved to the Capital Region in the 1970s. She also holds a master's of divinity from Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia, and a doctorate of ministry from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. She lives in Latham.

Why did you become a minister?

I was born into a Lutheran family and have been Protestant all my life. I've always had this ecumenical heart, in terms of feeling that even though we have different denominations, we all worship one God. When I was little, the Lutheran Church didn't ordain women, so I never thought that serving the church would be possible. After graduating from college, I was working for a nonprofit and felt there was something more I could do. It was after reading a magazine article about a seminary that I realized this was my calling, and I've been ordained now for 29 years. When you love your job after nearly three decades, that says it all.

What is the New York State Council of Churches?

It's a group that was started back in 1889, when a number of organizations merged after realizing that they could accomplish more together than they could alone. We focus on three areas: social justice, institutional pastoral care, and ecumenical cooperation in education, worship and action. This is such an ecumenical ministry, with people of very different faith backgrounds working together so that our collective voice is heard in the public arena. 

When did you take on the role of executive director?

I've been on the job since July 15, facilitating conversations in churches of all Protestant denominations throughout the state. For me, it's really about justice for all people. Justice is an expression of God's love, which is something I'm compelled to be a part of.

How do issues of social justice relate to your faith?

 the Lutheran system, you can be called to be a pastor in a church, which I have done, or to ministry outside of a congregation, which I've been doing for a number of years. I served as director of Clergy for Choice, the education arm of Family Planning Advocates of New York State, as well as director of pastoral care at St. Peter's Hospital, and in the same capacity at Ellis Hospital. Advocating for justice for all people was a common thread throughout. Part of my work now involves institutional pastoral care. The New York Council of Churches has a responsibility for the Protestant chaplains in our prisons. I think why I like institutional work so much is because it's so open.

What does the council hope to accomplish in the future?

Each day I'm learning and becoming more committed to the goals of this organization. There's always a discussion about separation of church and state, which there can be, but what there can't be is a separation of people of faith and institutions of government. It's really about asking how can we, as human beings created by God, live in a world that has morals and values. There's a call to be God's love in the world — that's what it all boils down to.