The Burnish Interview: The Rev. Elizabeth Bonforte Gardner

E Gardner

Elizabeth and I met through mutual friends years ago. She is exactly the kind of person you want to show up wearing a collar when the going gets rough, or when you need to celebrate. She is also just a great friend. I interviewed her just as she was wrapping up her time as Interim Rector at Church of the Epiphany on her way to a new position as Interim Missioner for Young Adults with the Diocese of Washington.

You have some great stories from your time as Interim Rector at Church of the Epiphany, can you share one? 

Wow. There are so many. One time, while I was preaching, I could see out of my peripheral vision a kind gentleman sitting in the transcept (fancy church word for off to the side). When I started my sermon he looked like everyone else. As I kept preaching I noticed he had fewer and fewer items of clothing on. By the end, he was sitting there with nothing on. All I could see was his smiling face and, thankfully, a row of chairs between us. At the end of the service he put everything back on. I guess he felt he needed to be wearing clothes to come up for communion. He isn’t the only person I’ve brought to nakedness. Unfortunately my job is to bring people to Christ. Not good for the performance review.

What has been the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge is having to say no. We are a poor church with limited resources. We provide a hot breakfast for 200 on Sunday mornings and lunch in Franklin Park every Tuesday; we open our doors every weekday from 10:00 to 3:00 for folks to pray or just get out of the heat/cold; we have a clothing closet; we offer nine different 12-Step programs; and we have a non-profit that rents space from us that gives homeless people opportunities to work and be creative. But sometimes people just want cash and they hate it when you say no.

What do you find most rewarding about your work? 

Relationships. The best thing about being a priest (or pastor or minister) is being with people in those liminal, life-changing moments. Some are good like when a baby gets baptized and or when you marry a couple. Some are tough like when you bless someone just before they die or hear a tragic story that has troubled their soul for years. But in all of those milestone moments, we connect. It is truly a privilege to be invited into those sacred spaces.

What personal or professional achievement are you most proud of?

Hmmm. I worked with an amazing team to write, produce and deliver training to first responders for two hazardous material industries (propane and gas pipelines). It felt really good to help those who rush in when the rest of us rush out in an emergency. Firefighters say they are in the “bad day business.” We were able to give them some tools to make their jobs safer. I’m pretty proud I was able to be a part of that.

What’s the best thing that happened to you today? or this week or this year?

Yesterday a woman, who is not Christian, said she had heard good things about me and asked if we could speak. She shared with me something that had been on her heart for 15 years – something that happened to her as a teenager. It was such a holy moment. We both cried. I couldn’t believe she trusted me enough to invite me in to her life.

Also, I got a big promotion this week.

Whats the worst thing that ever happened to you and what did you learn from it? 

The worst thing that ever happened to me I did to myself. I didn’t believe I deserved the best, so I ended up dating losers who cheated on me and working for bosses that took advantage of me. It was awful. I’m sure there are lots of hours I could spend on a couch trying to figure out why I did that and I should probably do that sometime. Luckily I quit acting like I’m loser and started acting like someone who is smart, cute, and funny. When I did that, I met someone who treated me well and I loved my work. Thinking back, though, it was my girlfriends who helped me make the change. Good girlfriends are the best!

Knowing what you know now, what would you tell your teenage self? 

It comes from VeggieTales: “God made you special and God loves you very much.” The secular way of saying that is, “Be yourself because everybody else is already taken.”

What keeps you up at night?

Money. I don’t need to spend time on the couch to know why that is. Sad but true.

What is your favorite item of clothing and why? Do you have a go-to boutique, store or website? 

I wear a lot of black so I love my high, strappy black shoes. No one expects a priest to be wearing a collar and those shoes. And of course my Lafayette 148 LBD. It might even be considered sexy – without the collar of course.

What’s your go-to beauty product? 

Bobbi Brown lip art stick in Rose Brown with a little gloss over it.

What’s your favorite item in your home?

Tie: My bed – probably because I’m exhausted at the end of the day but also because if it is raining outside or snowy, everyone fits, even the dog.

My kitchen island – because that is where real life happens.




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