Published April 2013
For some 30 years, no matter where he is—whether in West Harlem or Barre, Vermont—the Rev. Earl Kooperkamp has focused on pursuing justice for all of God’s people while enabling others to do the same.
A 1985 Episcopal Church Foundation Fellow, Kooperkamp has been on the forefront of social justice issues. Snapshots of his ministry while rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in West Harlem would include images of Kooperkamp:
- Teaching a year long course in Church History and Christian T
hought to 25 inmates at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (a course he taught for seven years)
- Conducting outdoor worship services for the poor and homeless in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park
- Jumping the fence at Trinity Church Wall Street as part of Occupy Wall Street protests
- Leading non-violent civil disobedience at the 28th Police Precinct in Harlem to put a stop to the NYPD policy of "Stop & Frisk”
- Protesting for the rights of restaurant workers and tenants.
While rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, in 2005 he also founded the New York Intern Program,a one-year service learning program for five young adults based at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, affiliated with AmeriCorps. Through this initiative, he became a founding board member of the Episcopal Service Corps, a national network of 30 young adult intern programs.
He credits the ECF Fellowship Partners Program with his desire to mentor others. Because ECF believed in him, he wants to help others believe in themselves.
“One of the things about the Episcopal Church Foundation was that they were really willing to make an investment in me and my ministry and my leadership in the church,” Kooperkamp said. “That made so much sense to me, and I realized that that’s what I should do—make an investment in others. It challenged me to set up the New York Intern Program.”
Episcopal Service Corps has grown to a federation of about 30 young adult service programs across the United States that provide a year of service and spiritual discernment.
“It includes a lot of formation for young adults,” Kooperkamp said. “About eight or nine of our alumni from the New York program are moving toward ordained ministry in the church. Some of them went to law school or social work, but also kept doing great work in churches.”
Kooperkamp has excelled in scholarship, as well as in parish and social ministry. In 1979 he received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Hampshire College, Amherst, MA; a Master of Divinity degree in 1983, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 2002 from Union Theological Seminary.
In addition to founding the New York Intern Program, he founded, among other organizations, the South Bronx Clean Air Coalition in 1991 and in 2009 the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force,a multi-congregational effort to reclaim, preserve and commemorate a colonial era burial ground.
Kooperkamp has been Priest in Partnership at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Barre since 2012, after spending most of his ministry in at churches in New York City, beginning in 1984 when he served as an associate deacon and priest at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in West Harlem until 1990. He then became the interim pastor at St. Ann’s in the South Bronx for one year before serving from 1992 to 2000 as assistant minister of the Church of the Intercession in Harlem. He then returned to St. Mary’s to serve as rector until 2012.
Under Kooperkamp’s leadership, St. Mary’s began describing itself as the “I am not afraid” church, standing up as a community of faith in West Harlem to pursue justice and peace for the poor and oppressed, to pray and care for the sick, lonely and at risk and to put into practice the message of the Gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit. “Do not be afraid.” Luke 1:30.
Now in Barre, Vermont, Kooperkamp said he plans to start another Episcopal Service Corps program. He goes back to the importance of the ECF grant to his ministry and his desire to invest in others.
“The investment in dollars helped with my graduate education, but the real care and concern ECF showed was for my formation in the church. That served as a model for me.”
To learn more about how ECF Fellows have been changing the church for generations, check out the list of fellows since 1964, where you’ll recognize the names of many leaders.