Community Q&A: New Rector of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church Brings Enthusiasm, Spectacular Singing Voice | Local
On February 1, Rev. Colby Roberts assumed office as rector of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Yakima. Roberts will be officially installed as rector of the ward on Sunday24.4. Bishop Gretchen Rehberg of the Spokane Episcopal Diocese will lead the service.
Born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, Roberts was baptized and confirmed in the Methodist Church his family had founded six generations earlier. At the age of 14, Roberts began singing in various churches around the city. He graduated from the New England Conservatory in Boston with a degree in vocal performance and worked as a professional singer in New York City for five years. In New York, Roberts married Katherine McKee, a professional singer and conductor and a friend from his college days.
The couple moved to the West Coast in 1992 for his job as a member of the San Francisco Opera Chorus. Roberts, a tenor, retired after 30 seasons. In San Francisco he joined the Episcopal Church.
Roberts was ordained a deacon in December 2020 and a priest in June 2021. He served as deacon and assistant priest at St. Francis in San Francisco before coming to St. Timothy’s, his first congregation, as rector.
He and his wife Kathy, an alto singer, will sing at a concert the church is planning on July 16.
Here are some questions and answers with Roberts. Some of the answers have been slightly shortened.
When did you become a singer and what made you decide to make it your career?
I’ve sung all my life. … from the age of 4 I did solos in church and school. I realized pretty early on that a professional baseball career was never going to happen and I turned to music, and music has been a part of my family my entire life. It was early high school that I really thought I would try to find a career in singing. I also played the viola but wasn’t good enough to become a professional violist. I geared my activities towards singing and was quite successful. I got a scholarship to the New England Conservatory and, as I often say, a degree in singing prepares you so well to enter the musical community that I spent the next five years working as a cook and pastry chef.
Tell me more about your roles as a chef and pastry chef.
I was a pastry chef and line chef at a nouvelle cuisine restaurant in Cambridge, Mass. And then I helped open and run the graveyard shift at a resort hotel in Orlando, the Hyatt Grand Cypress. I was part of the crew that opened it. It was fun developing and being involved with some of the recipes, but baking is a lot of work.
I went to Florida because my dad needed financial support so I went down and helped him out and when he got on his feet I actually went back to Knoxville for just a few months because I was soon hired to do this singing group to join in New York City, the Gregg Smith Singers. … There was a tenor opening. They were traveling in central Tennessee, so I went there, auditioned, and got hired. … I sang with this group for four years and then worked freelance in New York for another year before being hired by the San Francisco Opera as a full-time chorister.
How were you inspired to become an ordained minister?
It was a long process. I had been thinking about ordained ministry for most of my life, and for much of that time I was telling God I thought I could do more ministry through my music. And basically God said, OK, that’s okay now. But the calling kept growing stronger and stronger, and eventually I decided to take a course at the seminary and see if I was up to the academic demands. Coming from a music conservatory, I had never written many essays or done much research. Did I have the skills at that academic level? I started in Spring 2009 (attending Church Divinity School of the Pacific part-time) and received my Masters of Divinity in 2014 and my Masters of Arts in Biblical Languages in 2016 (from the Graduate Theological Union).
Why a Master of Arts in Biblical Languages?
i love languages I’ve worked and sung in opera in French and German and Italian and Russian and even Armenian. I understood from a musical background that a translation can only take you so far in understanding. The (biblical) text that we have in English comes as close as possible to that. I really wanted to get a little closer to the older text in the Bible. Learning how to read (Scripture) in Hebrew and Greek was important to me just to better understand Scripture and God’s Word.
What are you looking forward to serving here?
I’ve always said that God would put me where God wanted me to be, and I have no doubt that God put me here because I was called. I look forward to growth. I look forward to many wonderful activities together. I plan barbecues, concerts; I would like the church doors to be opened more often with community events. I don’t want anyone ever to say, “Where is this church exactly?” And I say I will, but it can’t be done without the support of the congregation. The church – we do that together. It’s not something I do alone. Celebrate God’s love and joy and have a great time.