Nearly two years after receiving her master’s degree in divinity from the Boston University School of Theology, Rev. Joanne Hus still marvels at the fact she’s wearing a clerical collar.

Her resolutely non-religious parents never even celebrated Easter, Ms. Hus told the Gazette during an interview at the parish hall of the United Methodist Church in Oak Bluffs, where she became pastor last July.

“It’s so weird to me that I’m here,” Ms. Hus said, smiling as she recalled the journey that led her to Christianity in her early 30s, the theological seminary in her late 50s and a Martha’s Vineyard pulpit for her first appointment.

“When God called me to the ordained ministry, [I said] ‘Dude, I’m almost 60, are you kidding me?’” she said. “And He said ‘Yeah, Jo. So what?’”

Reverend Hus began her new position in July 2023. — Ray Ewing

An artist and illustrator who dropped out of the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York City to marry and start a family, Ms. Hus thought she’d better heed the call.

“When God has told me to do some things in my life and I’m ‘Yeah, not feeling it,’ it’s better to go along. It just seems to work better when you do,” she said.

Conferring with her United Methodist pastor in Connecticut, where she and her second husband were living at the time, Ms. Hus discovered that she could study tuition-free at the Boston University School of Theology, which is affiliated with the church.

There was just one hitch: She never graduated from Parsons.

“I talked to the [Boston University] admissions director, and I said... ‘Let’s cut to the chase. I don’t have an undergraduate degree.’ And he blanched,” Ms. Hus recalled.

“He said ‘I don’t want to tell you no. I will say it’s very, very, very rare,’” she said.

“I said, ‘That’s fine. God can work with that. Because God wants me here.’”

She started seminary just shy of her 60th birthday.

“It was hilarious, because it had been 40 years since I had been a full-time student. There were many nights when I was up at three o’clock in the morning trying to write an essay, because there wasn’t a lot of essay writing in art school.”

At first, she tried to hang on to her existing job at an artists’ agency, but soon realized divinity school was a full-time commitment. Partway through her master’s degree, in 2020, she was appointed by the church as a quarter-time lay pastor in Hamilton, an affluent community north of Boston and not far from Beverly where she and her husband were living.

“[It] was in the middle of lockdown. That was like leading a church in a room with no windows and no lights,” she said.

She also took a job with the university’s religion and conflict transformation department to make ends meet. She earned her master’s degree in 2022 and is now closing in on a doctorate in divinity from the same school.

“I just finished all my coursework [and] I’m writing my thesis now,” she said. “Its title is Healing Our Sin-Sick Souls.”

Her thesis places anti-racist work in the context of a spiritual practice, with non-hierarchical gatherings similar to 12-step meetings.

“One of the brilliant things about Wesleyan [Methodist] practice is this idea of accountability,” she said. “It’s built into everything we do at the local church, because no one’s going to go off and do whatever they want.”

But agreeing on church policy has proved difficult for many United Methodists, Ms. Hus acknowledged. Each church determines its own direction, which has led to controversy, she added.

“There’s a schism happening in the United Methodist Church as a denomination here in the United States,” she said. “We are wrestling hard and publicly with the whole question of human sexuality. And it’s been exceedingly painful... I know that has a lot to do with why the folks in Chilmark left.”

The Chilmark Community Church recently ended its United Methodist affiliation, a long-contemplated move spurred in part by the denomination’s policies banning support for LGBTQ+ causes. While the Oak Bluffs church remains part of the United Methodist denomination, Ms. Hus said its congregation has rejected anti-gay prejudice.

“We’re changing our polity to be more inclusive of queer folk,” she said. “Our church has already taken steps [and] formed a leadership team . . . years before I got here.”

The congregation is also exploring membership in the Reconciling Ministries Network, which promotes full participation for United Methodists of all sexualities, Ms. Hus said.

“We want folks to know you’re safe, we want you here, we celebrate you, we’re your allies. We just feel very strongly that inclusion is important.”

Ms. Hus and her husband, licensed therapist Phil West, live in the Vineyard Haven parsonage that formerly served the Methodist church on William street, which the United Methodist Church now rents to other congregations. The Oak Bluffs parsonage was sold, she said.

After previously visiting the Vineyard on a family vacation in the early 1970s, Ms. Hus is seeing the Island with new eyes as she settles into her first appointment as a full-time pastor.

“It didn’t take a lot of effort to find that there’s a deep Black history on this Island, and that Dukes County, until recently, was the poorest county in the state,” she said.

“There’s homelessness here. There’s poverty. There’s the housing crisis,” she added, as a volunteer sorted garments for the church’s Clothes to Go charity in a corner of the parish hall.

Ms. Hus has also found a strong feeling of solidarity among Islanders.

“There’s just this a wonderful sense of community here,” she said, noting the tradition of winter community suppers, which at the Oak Bluffs church take place Saturday nights, and the monthly meeting of Island pastors from all denominations.

“Especially this time of year, I feel as though the folks who live here are more in tune with the natural rhythms,” she added.

During her first winter on the Island, Ms. Hus plans to bring her art practice to her ministry during the season of Lent that begins Feb. 14. She is also holding open office hours at the parish hall on Fridays from 1 to 4 p.m., and welcomes anyone with spiritual concerns — or just a need to vent.

“If you want to shake your fist at God in a safe place, I’m your gal."