For the past 11 years, ever since The Rev. Esther Poirier arrived at The Church of Good Shepherd, she has devoted her time not only to her congregation, but the community’s disadvantaged as well.
Now Poirier, the Federal Way Mirror’s Citizen of the Month for January, will pursue her mission elsewhere as she will be retiring.
Ordained as a deacon in 2002 before becoming a priest in 2003, Poirier was a middle school teacher in Issaquah for many years during which time she also became involved in prison ministry.
“I’ve always felt called to minister to people who may be more on the margins [of society],” Poirier said. “I think it’s where we find Christ and meet Christ in all people, but especially those in need.”
Poirier has devoted her attention to her congregation and the needs of Federal Way since 2006, when she came on as a priest in charge. In 2008, she became the deacon for the church. Since then she has not only served the needs of the congregation, but she assumed the duties laid out by others before her to carry on the church’s mission to serve the community. That effort has taken many shapes throughout the years, from running a preschool, to distributing school supplies to children in need at Lake Grove Elementary School, to participating in a number of projects serving the homeless and helping a variety of organizations working to that end.
Deciding where the church can help most is a group effort. She said church members spend time “discerning” where God is calling them and then determining how to use individuals’ gifts in the most effective manner. They have also determined what areas they needed to improve in the past, Poirier said.
“One of the things we recognized was that we were not as diverse as the community, so we did anti-racism training,” Poirier said, adding they also completed other training sessions to help become more aware of and “open” to people who are different from them.
The church’s good works in the community did not start with her, however. Poirier said she merely built off efforts done by others before her. She said it has long been the Episcopal church’s mission to be involved in and serve the community’s needs.
“We believe in a God of relationships, and we are a church of relationships, and we have always been in a relationship with the community,” she said, adding the church’s efforts and participation goes far beyond just charity.
Poirier is quick to point out the Episcopal church is just one in a collective of churches and organizations working together.
“And it’s in the partnerships we can reach so many more people and do so much more for people in need,” Poirier said.
During Poirier’s tenure, however, the church has become heavily involved in improving circumstances for the community’s homeless. While she downplays her contributions, when homelessness became a major focus in Federal Way, she became involved early on in the discussion process and helped launch the Reach Out program, which aims to provide shelter to the homeless during the coldest months of the year. She said, while Good Shepherd was too small to serve homeless men, it was just large enough to accommodate a women’s shelter. Now, Good Shepherd hosts up to 20 women every night for six months out of the year and provides them with hot dinner, a simple breakfast and a small lunch they can carry with them. Like other churches, Good Shepherd also serves community meals, offering Saturday afternoon dinners.
“I think one of the real gifts of our church is hospitality,” Poirier said.
That hospitality goes beyond opening church facilities to homeless women. Poirier said the church hosts a number of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings throughout the week. Poirier said on certain days, the parking lot is filled with cars from people attending AA. In return, AA members helped refurbish the church’s portable buildings when they were in need of repair and updating.
“Again, it’s about being in relationships and partnerships,” Poirier said.
After addressing the shelter problem, Poirier said the next logical step was focusing on a day center — a place for the homeless to go during the day, as opposed to the library or the mall — so they could take showers, do laundry, have a place of address for job and housing applications, and just be with other people.
She said it was good timing and coincidence that the day center celebrated its grand opening this week, right before her retirement date.
“I was part of the blessing for the day shelter, and it’s just so good to finally have that open and serving people,” Poirier said.
Poirier said, however, in all of the church’s community works, she has been most active behind the scenes. She said one of her strengths were in two areas. The first was in being providing a voice — attending different community functions and meetings and speaking out about the community’s needs and advocating for different projects. And in keeping the church’s mission of hospitality in mind, her other strength was being a “discerning person,” recognizing congregation members’ strengths and advising them on where their talents could best be utilized.
“So I’m much more of a support role for all of it,” Poirier said, adding her relationships with various organizations and different efforts taking place have served her well when advising people where they could best help. “By being a connection for so many followers, I can help offer that hospitality.”
Beginning next month, however, Poirier will start a new chapter in her life. She said while she knows she wants to keep learning, she’s not entirely sure what her retirement will entail, other than traveling and spending more time with her children and grandchildren. She will, however, continue sharing her gifts of compassion, prayer and being able to listen.
“There’s sharing joy, even in the midst of hard times,” Poirier said.
One thing Poirier is certain of, however, is that Good Shepherd will continue to serve the community by performing good works and partnering with others. She said, just as the groundwork was laid out for her, others at the church are poised to fill her shoes in that capacity.
“My hope is that in the not too far away future, there will be a place not just in the churches for the overnight shelters … but that will fall to other people to work on,” she said.
To nominate a Citizen of the Month, email your name, contact information and why you believe the Mirror should choose your nominee to email@example.com.