I met Bambi Koeniger with an email exchange about harvesting produce from the Quechee Community Garden. She and husband John were away and their tomatoes were abundant and very ripe. I had taken on the job of assuring that excess produce gets to The Haven—the homeless shelter and food bank in White River Junction. She asked that I go ahead and pick those tomatoes. I learned that she had been the primary Haven deliverer the year before and that her connection was even closer. The Haven is located next to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and the two organizations often work together. Koeniger, a Quechee resident, is an Episcopal priest who attends and enjoys the St. Paul’s community and has celebrated and preached there.
Koeniger was raised an Episcopalian, in Red Hook New York, until she was 13; then in New Haven, Connecticut at Trinity Episcopal Church. After years in all-girls schools, she was ready for a change of environment when she went to college and chose the University of New Mexico where she majored in Art, Art History and Music. The environment in New Mexico has been a big influence in her life. As she describes, “The land is hauntingly spiritual and beautiful with the ethos of the Native Americans in the land and air…this was the beginning of my adult call to live and experience more of the divine. I was very involved in meditation and spiritual education groups in church that kept drawing me to follow the call to seminary and then ordination to the priesthood. This began to reveal itself and was hatched in my experience outside the church, first in the expansive land of enchantment, New Mexico.”
Her path to becoming ordained
Following college, she worked in educational publishing as a freelance photo and project manager. She and husband John were married in 1976 and have three children— Crawford, Cole and Charlotte—all in their 30s. In the mid-1980s, she participated in an interfaith meditation group, which triggered her decision to attend Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey, for her Master of Divinity. She was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1995. The first women were ordained as priests in the Episcopal Church in 1974, only 21 years before her ordination. It’s interesting to note that Koeniger has uncovered that there have been seven male Episcopalian priests in her family history.
After several years as associate rector at St. Paul’s Church in Chatham, New Jersey, with a very collegial rector, she “realized that I was not called to be a rector, and could not be an associate rector again. I spent several years as a hospice chaplain and am a priest through the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, New Jersey. The church is a wonderful place of community but it limits the ministry to which I am called. I kept sensing that the church may not always be able to meet people where they are, and there is a broader, perhaps more flexible and expansive way to reflect the light in each of us. This is the call I have and do follow.”
To reach this call, she studied non-dual Kabbalistic healing—based on a school of thought from the Jewish mystical tradition—over six years, and also attended a three-year psychology certificate program through the Center for Intentional Living (CIL). This program focuses on the study of psychological theory and spiritual growth and transformation.
She now spends time with her healing practice, providing counseling that incorporates her religious, spiritual and psychological background. As a priest, she celebrates weddings and funerals and fills in at church services. When asked to do a wedding, she requires at least five counseling sessions with the couple before they marry. She finds that many young people describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. They “haven’t yet discovered the divine in themselves or the universe.” She makes a major effort to personalize the wedding for the couple using the basic Episcopal service structure. To include the religious, the stole (a wrap that means the Holy Spirit is pouring down over you) is placed around the couple’s joined hands, which represents the blessing or their union in marriage.
A well-lived life
Both Bambi and John are very interested in photography—in fact she considers them both to be photographers at a professional level. John makes photo books and has had two exhibits in New Jersey. Maybe he would be willing to exhibit in Quechee! Koeniger is working on what to do with her large collection of photos from years of taking them.
They began to travel in 2008 with the realization that they could in fact live the dream of “getting to places all around the world.” They have been to Africa, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Bhutan, Myanmar and Iceland. During my visit with them, John showed me a spectacularly beautiful book of his photographic study of people in Ethiopia.
The Koenigers split their time between their home in Quechee and apartment in Summit, New Jersey. They bought their house in Quechee in 2007 after searching for a home near mountains and water with lots of recreational opportunities and the cultural richness of a college. “We wanted a place to relax and be with friends and family in a sacred intimate home space. It has been just that, a welcoming wonderful environment we call home. It is a quiet retreat place for us with the opportunity to be in a community that offers many benefits. We enjoy especially the fitness center, swimming, skiing, hiking, Upper Valley offerings and….John could not live without the golf courses.” There were already some family and friends in the area when we moved, but we are happily expanding our community here in Quechee.”