By the Rev. Deacon Clare Barry
In 1996, Kristi Neal came to the Episcopal Church, although she had attended Christmas Eve services at an Episcopal Church prior to that year. Kristi describes her journey to ordination as beginning with David Nard’s program on the diaconate, when the Holy Spirit said to her, “You need to do that.” Kristi believes the Holy Spirit does not act alone, especially since her husband Jack felt that she should pursue becoming a deacon. Also, when she went to Scott Oxford, her rector, Kristi said, “I think I am being called to the diaconate," and Scott’s response was, “I wondered when you were going to acknowledge that calling.”
In 2001 Kristi began the discernment process, however; she had not identified a ministry area at that point. When asked to describe her path to the diaconate, Kristi replied, “curvy.” She missed being part of a cohort by six months, since at that time one needed to attend two Commission on Ministry meetings. Kristi faithfully waited as a Postulant for Holy Orders for three years for an opportunity to attend deacon school. Bishop G. Porter Taylor ordained her in 2006.
Kristi’s ministry area is advocacy for children at St. James, Black Mountain where she has served since her ordination. Her ministry has been visible throughout her life, as she has served as a high school teacher and as a counselor to teenage youth. In her parish, she involves the congregation in two big feeding programs to benefit families. She also serves on the Black Mountain Counseling Center board, which St. James supports financially. One of her proudest moments occurred when Kristi spoke to the parish about the need for a counselor at the Black Mountain Counseling Center. Two parishioners stepped up and put together a highly successful holiday crafts fundraiser. She was really moved by their interest and their commitment. When Kristi reminds parishioners about the needs of children, she performs a key diaconal role: empowering the laity to do ministry in the world.
In 2011 Bishop Taylor appointed Kristi to be Archdeacon of the Diocese. As Archdeacon, she functioned as a liaison between the bishop and the deacons. She advocated for deacons by working with the bishop for placements and in involving deacons in diocesan clergy activities. Kristi also provided support and pastoral care to the deacons. She served as a member of the Iona WNC School of Ministry, the diocesan formation program for all deacons and bi-vocational priests, and continues to be connected with this school. One of her major goals as Archdeacon included an update of the deacon’s manual. She accomplished this objective before she retired from her position as Archdeacon in 2019.
Yet, Kristi’s diaconal dedication does not stop within the boundaries of the Diocese of Western North Carolina. Currently, she mentors deacons across the Episcopal Church. She served as the chairperson of the Diocese of Western North Carolina’s deputation to General Convention in 2015 and 2018. Furthermore, Kristi acts on her faith by attending Moral Monday rallies.
It was no surprise when Bishop José awarded Kristi the Distinguished Diocesan Service Award at this year’s Diocesan Convention. Not only does she have a passion for the Church, Kristi has heart for Jesus as a visible beacon to light The Way.