Helen Beasley

The Rev. Dr. Helen Beasley ’66, P’93

Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
Blue Grass, Va.

As the world’s challenges become more complex and divisive, religious values remain a source of solace for many trying to make sense of it all. We turned to the Rev. Dr. Helen Beasley ’66, P’93 to ask:

Q: What is it about faith that helps turn tolerance into action?

A: “All the religions in the world, at their best, are devoted to alleviating human suffering and bringing wholeness and healing to people’s lives. Love is a beautiful idea and you read about it in books, but it really is just an idea unless it’s concretized in human reality. To really love somebody is to take action on their behalf. It’s about them and what they need, not particularly about you and what feels good to you. It’s about them and how they’re suffering and what they need to become whole.

Each of us shares the same needs for belonging in life — the same needs for love and caring and being respected and valued. That’s just what it is to be a human being. You’re always in community even when you may not feel like it. Racism continues around the world and in this country because some of us refuse to recognize this truth, that we all exist in community together. Similarly, we refuse to recognize it when it comes to helping someone with HIV/AIDS. Some of us simply don’t accept that we’re all of us the same at heart. Some of us just need to be different from others to feel powerful, and we need to feel powerful rather than in community because we feel powerless within ourselves.

Jesus didn’t turn his back on anyone who needed him. He healed person after person after person and freed them to be who they were as God’s creation — to be their best selves.

If you really love a person, if you really accept them as they are, it’s such a powerful experience and becomes such a lovely experience, you cannot not help them. You need to help them because you know that you share something at the core of what it is to be a human being, and you have to respond.”

The Core Of A Community

On a drive home in the late 1970s, the Rev. Dr. Helen Beasley ’66, P’93 had an encounter with God that “led me in directions I’d never have thought of before, into different kinds of ministry with different kinds of people. Jesus Christ was right there with me, and I had to pull off the road and just experience what he was giving me. I’ve never been the same.”

The daughter of an Episcopal priest, Beasley was no stranger to faith or duty; her father led the charge for integration at St. John’s Church in Roanoke, Va., a struggle that yielded hate mail and “an attempt on his life.” But her father’s resolve “left an indelible mark on my spirit. I learned firsthand of the particular power of God’s love for the marginalized and how high the stakes can really be in the human search for wholeness and community.”

Though she saw her early career in journalism as a spiritual calling of sorts, Beasley eventually left her job as a reporter, married, had two daughters, and earned her spiritual director certificate and entered Union Theological Seminary, in New York City. When she graduated in 1990, her first job was directing a 240-member HIV/AIDS drop-in center in Peekskill, N.Y., under the auspices of the Episcopal church there. Serving adults and children of a range of backgrounds, Beasley designed the workspace and budget, created the program, gave pastoral care, visited and prayed for clients, and taught clients to pray for each other. For its services — and its success — the center received commendation from the Ryan White Foundation and the New York AIDS Institute.

“The presence of God in the Center was enormous,” she says. “All three of my employees were HIV positive, and all adult clients and staff of the center were addicts in recovery. The majority of the clients had been abused as children. I was extremely drawn to this ministry. It was a remarkable and deeply moving thing to be with them as they experienced HIV/AIDS and fought with such grace to live and create their own community that they clearly experienced as life-giving.”

Beasley went on to establish other HIV/AIDS programs, including support groups, fundraisers, pastoral care, advocacy, and other services in Westchester and other counties. Since her ordination in 1993, Beasley has served as a rector of three parishes and a vicar and associate rector of two others in the dioceses of New York and Southwestern Virginia, and earned her doctorate from Virginia Theological Seminary in 2013.

Now Rector of Good Shepherd Church in Blue Grass, Va., Beasley says she is constantly reminded “how committed people in the world can be toward those who happen to be caught at a particular moment in history in extraordinarily difficult human situations.”

Such committed acts of love — embodying “the best of what it means to be human,” Beasley says — are everywhere. “It takes so many different forms — God’s love,” she says. “And if you have the yearning, you’ll find it. We’re made to find it. That’s who we are.” –Andrew Wickenden ’09


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.