Our Staff

Joe Summers, Rector

I have been the pastor of the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation since 1987. I became a pastor because I was inspired by the base-community movement and drawn to the vision of the Beloved Community as the community of those who understand themselves as beloved of God and work to see that all receive what they need to know themselves as beloved.

I moved around a lot as I was growing up, but my most formative years were spent living in St. Louis Missouri. This was during the era of segregation, but my family attended Trinity Episcopal Church, an inter-racial parish. One day during a service a group of kids was playing tag outside when one of the young teenage boys named Clanton ran out into the street and was hit by a car. I and the other kids ran into the service to let people know what had happened. The largest hospital in St. Louis was only a couple of blocks away but they would neither treat the young man nor provide an ambulance to take him to the county hospital which was located fourteen miles away. Clanton died in the back of the choir director’s car while being driven to that hospital. That kind of searing experience meant that the whole congregation strongly responded to Martin Luther King’s vision of the beloved community and the congregation sent something like three busses of people for the march on Selma including many high school aged students like my older sister Mary.

From St. Louis, my family first moved to Oxford England, then to East Lansing Michigan, and finally to Rochester New York where I attended an inner-city High School. I was devastated by the inter-racial violence I encountered there. Thankfully, during this period I also became involved in the Episcopal Youth Council, a group of about sixty, or eighty, High-school aged youth who were involved in the anti-war movement and anti-racism work as part of their commitment to working for a “just and loving society for all men and women.”

After graduating early from High School, at aged 17 I moved to Ann Arbor Michigan where I had become involved with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Not long afterwards I became involved in the Catholic Worker Movement and under the guidance of Dorothy Day began recovering so many of the things that the theology of the Charismatic renewal had demeaned. I studied English Literature as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan and afterwards got a Masters in American Culture. During my student years I was involved in a wide variety of social change movements including: the ant-war movement, the United Farmworkers Movement, the movement for Human Rights in Latin America, the student movement, and the anti-apartheid movement. It was during these years that I first encountered the Latin American Liberation theology movement and was particularly influenced by the work of the Brazilian educator and social change theorist Paulo Freire. Later I was able to participate in a six-week seminar with Freire for social change activists from around the world. Freire’s comment that the United States would never be a free country until its religious sphere was transformed was one of the seeds of fire that ultimately led me to go to seminary after dropping out of graduate school. I had also been very inspired by the work of the Rev. Jim Lewis whose work at St. Andrew’s, my home parish, did so much to make it a center for justice work in the broader community. Not long after I went to seminary Jim went onto become Incarnation’s first pastor.

Between 1984 and 1987, I got my Masters from Yale Divinity School, where I was honored to work with people like Cornel West, Lee McGee, Letty Russell and Margaret Farley. I also studied for a semester at The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, which at the time was the world center for Feminist Theology, and where I was able to study with people like Carter Heyward, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Katie Cannon, and Fredrica Thompsett. A major part of my focus in Divinity School was striving to understand what a liberation theology for middle class people might look like. It was during this period that whenever I was back in Ann Arbor for for winter or summer breaks that I began to attend the new experimental congregation- The Church of the Incarnation which had begun the same fall I went to seminary.

After Divinity School I moved back to Ann Arbor where I became the pastor of the Church of the Incarnation in the fall of 1987. A congregation started by lay people who wanted to create a different kind of church, I had come to see its value when in seminary professors would say to me you could never do such an such in a congregation and I was able to say—I know a congregation where they are already doing that! However, the congregation had been through rough times and when I arrived only about 20 members remained. Over the years the congregation has very slowly grown. It’s been striking to see how even a small community connects you to almost every problem our country and world are facing. Beginning with a focus on reforming our criminal legal system and reaching out to people who are incarcerated, through the years different members of the congregation and I have been involved in all kinds of justice work and have been able to have an impact in a wider variety of areas. This work has ranged from establishing one of the most successful prisoner re-entry programs in the country to helping to launch an organization dedicated to moving our county from a punitive justice system to a restorative justice system, to working to establish housing for those living with chronic mental illness, to helping to launch Friends of Sabeel North American (Sabeel is a Palestinian Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem), to developing a sister church relationship with an American Baptist Congregation in Nicaragua, to advocating for LGBTQ rights and inclusion, and more recently in participating in the Poor People’s Campaign efforts to address the interlinking evils of racism, poverty, militarism, environmental devastation and the twisted moral narrative that sustains them all.

Donna Ainsworth and I have been married for over thirty years and we have three grown children: Ruby, Kate and Dylan. These days, in addition to my work at Incarnation and in the community, I am writing a book on Christian and the Practice of Freedom: The Bible and the Paradigm of Domination about how and why various Biblical texts uphold the paradigm of domination and others challenge it.

At Incarnation, I’ve found a place where people take seriously the attempt to discern where and how the Holy Spirit is speaking to us individually and collectively. Here I experience the fullness of life that comes with living in community and going through all of life with a group of people sharing our lives and struggles. Here is a place from which I can continue to work to realize the beloved community in the broader world. I’m very, very grateful.

If you would like to contact me you can e-mail me at jsummers@umich.edu.

Brian Buckner, Music Director

In addition to serving as Incarnation's Director of Music, Brian is an award-winning composer., musical director, and pianist in the Ann Arbor area. Brian's musical direction credits include Give Me the Simple Life (a cabaret show co-authored with Tyler Kent and Karen Carpenter), which toured in China, Forever Plaid, Rent, The Music Man, and Guys and Dolls.

You may reach Brian by email at bebuckner@gmail.com

Tasha Pohrt, Bookkeeper

Tasha has been handling all of our bookkeeping duties since 2010. Her hours in the office vary, but you can find her there most every Sunday during and after service. You can catch her then with questions or email her at episcopalchurchaa@gmail.com.