Dirty Sexy Ministry: an interview with Mary E. Koppel

I'm pleased to be able to share with you an interview with Mary Koppel, one of the women behind the blog Dirty Sexy Ministry, which is all about having an authentic faith rather than conforming to the "proper" image of spirituality. I mean, c'mon, it's called "dirty sexy ministry." You don't do that if you're not willing to take some risks!

Mary and her partner in blogging, Laurie Brock, have written a book, Where God Hides Holiness: Thoughts on Grief, Joy, and the Search for Fabulous Heels, due out later this fall.  

Just the basics: who are you? OK, so that’s a bit deeper than I mean. Meaning, what are your names, where are you from, and where are you now?

Dirty Sexy Ministry is the blog of The Rev. Laurie M. Brock and The Rev. Mary E. Koppel. Laurie and I are originally from the south (with all that entails in a Flannery O’Conner kind of way). Laurie serves as rector of St. Michael the Archangel in Lexington, Kentucky. I serve as the priest for mission at The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Austin, Texas.

How did you get to know each other? What made you think, “This is a person I need to know”?

Laurie and I officially met at a clergy conference in the diocese that we both were serving. At first, I thought that she was brash, and that I did not want to be friends with her. Part of me was totally jealous of how confident she was. We really became friends at a diocesan convention. We went to dinner with a group, and she and I started talking. I realized just how great a person Laurie actually is, and I realized that I wanted to be her friend. We have been talking, eating at Cracker Barrel, getting each other in hot water, and writing the blog ever since. I am so glad God brought me this friend. 

How would you describe your ministry? How has the church helped you – or hindered you?

Our ministry is to love God, to love people no matter what, and to tell the truth for the Glory of God. Surprisingly, the institutional church can become threatened, like any human organization. When the church trusts that God is in control, when it trusts the movement of the Holy Spirit, the church can do amazing things for the Glory of God and the service to our brothers and sisters. 

Your blog is famously called "Dirty Sexy Ministry." What kinds of reactions did you get from people, positive and negative, when you put those three words together? 

Who knew when we put together the words: dirty, sexy and ministry that there would be such a reaction? Most people comment: “That is an unusual name, a little shocking,” but at the same time, they are willing to read what we have written, and they appreciate what we are trying to do. We are saying that faith in God, serving God, living a life of faith and ministry can lead you into dangerous, new and exciting places. Serving God can be messy and dirty and controversial especially if you really are going to try to love everyone.

Some people have said they would never read the blog because of the title. One person told me that his boss would not read it for fear that he would get a porn site on his browser. Ugh, more like the most disappointing porn site on the internet. The idea was to catch people’s attention and push people to reflect on their faith life. 

One of my favorite blog posts of yours compares “Sexy Ministry versus Dirty Ministry.” You write that “Sexy Ministry says catch phrases and important sounding words that often confuse the listener so as not to disappoint the listener. Dirty Ministry speaks the truth even when the truth is not safe, even when you will be punished for the truth.” What do you think are some Sexy Ministry words or phrases? And can you share a time when you have spoken an unsafe truth? What happened?

Sexy Ministry words are those big words that get thrown around and sound like a great sound bite: “We really need reconciliation here,” but when you say that, you know you have no idea what that might mean and frankly you are just trying to get out the door. To tell the truth might mean that you have to admit first that there are some serious problems, you probably participated in causing the problem, that you are not sure how to solve those problems, but that you do not want to lose the relationship, if that is possible.

A few years ago I was at a clergy conference where the group gathered was supposed to be talking about family systems and dynamics in the diocese. It felt like we were tip toeing around the obvious: the group did not get along. I wanted to know why. So, I asked, opening the floodgate. I am not sure that was really appreciated.

Tell us a little bit about the book. What do you want people to take away with them after reading it? What did you learn about yourselves? 

Our book is “Where God Hides Holiness: Thoughts on Grief, Joy and the Search for Fabulous Heels.” The book is about our experiences with grief, sorrow, anger and joy serving in the church and in our lives. We tell the story of about three or four years in our ministry, and also when we met, and how that moved us through grief to joy. 

We hope that our book will offer hope and healing for others who are on the grief journey. We want them to know that they are not alone, maybe through what we learned about ourselves and our experience will help others through their experience. I think that we learned that through writing about grief, we realized that perhaps grief was not done with us. Similarly, writing about joy, we realized that joy was not done with us either.

If there was one thing you would change about the church, what would they be? What’s one thing you want to keep? How can the church help its members to have a dirty sexy ministry?

I think that we would encourage the church to greater courage. The church is at its best when the church is courageous in love. We serve an awesome God. We serve a God who loves the whole creation without exception. We can strive to reflect that love in serving every one of God’s children, no exceptions.

Finally, where does God hide holiness? Or are you allowed to tell?

Ooh, you will have to buy the book, but you might be surprised how very close we are!

Thank you so much, Mary! I'm looking forward to reading the book. All the best.