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Jan Naylor Cope ’78

Turning the Page

Many of us have defining moments in our life when doors open, enabling us to take extraordinary action, but how many times are we really paying attention?  The Rev. Jan Naylor Cope, who received her bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from Trinity in 1978, now is Vicar of the National Cathedral in Washington D.C.  Life’s tipping point for her arrived eight years ago as she awaited treatment for breast cancer.  She noticed that other patients gravitated to her and began chatting.

By Donna Parker

“It was weird.  There I was going through radiation, sitting in my gown, and people I absolutely did not know approached me to sit down next to me and share their stories,” says Jan.

Of course, this was long before Jan was a minister.  She was, in fact, the owner of an executive search firm, who had also served as deputy director of Presidential Personnel in the White House during the George H.W. Bush years. 

“People thought I was a good listener, so I spent a fair amount of time in prayer and distinctly got the sense that God was saying, ‘I have more for you to do.’  I think that God is pretty good at getting people’s attention.”

“In Biblical stories, people encountered God.  Were there people before them who had just missed the connection?  God will try over and over again to make a connection, pick us up and dust us off when we falter.”

So, Jan left her productive personnel career behind and went through the ordination process.

“I was ordained in the Cathedral.  I had been here for many national events – inaugural prayer services, state funerals and the like – but of course, never imagining I would one day serve as the Vicar.”

Pretty heady stuff for Jan, who loves to run and now does so every morning in the shadows of the Cathedral in her NW D.C. neighborhood. She never realized, though, that one day she would be the one preparing liturgies, providing pastoral care, and leading Evensong, as well as one or more of the five services the Cathedral conducts each Sunday.

“It is a robust preaching schedule,” laughs Jan.  “Well in advance of standing in the pulpit, I read Scriptures each day, formulating my words which then evolve over a period of time.”

Jan, who earned her master of divinity degree at Wesley Seminary, is married to John, a former attorney who also changed paths midlife to work with the poor in Honduras, has a stepson and daughter-in-law, and an adorable old Labrador named Mugsy.   She and John love going out to eat in the district which has been her home for 29 years as well as seeing movies with her goddaughter who makes sure she’s up to date on the latest popular films.

“I drag her to films like Doubt and she, in turn, took me to No Country for Old Men, but she had to tell me what was redeeming about the movie at its conclusion!” jokes Jan.

Jan remembers fondly her time on the Trinity campus with inspirational leaders like Coleen Grissom, department of English and former dean of students.

“I liked her for a whole host of reasons.  She was smart and cared deeply about her students.  Dean Grissom was a stickler for our writing and our thinking.  I continue to get her wonderful reading list.  In fact, I just got her e-mail not long ago with the books and movies that she believes have redeeming qualities.  She just gave so much of herself.”

“Also, Professor Dave Oliver in the sociology department.  He was willing to take risks, such as a course in human sexuality that explored issues that were not regular mainstream conversations at that time.”

“Trinity was so unique for me.  My most enduring relationships are with my close friends from college days.  My Chi Beta friends are scattered all over the globe but we’re still in touch.  We stroll down memory lane sometimes—remembering times spent talking on the balcony, going to Bombay’s — even the Crystal Pistol!”

“Trinity was just the right choice for me.” 

You may contact Jan at jcope@cathedral.org.


After reading this story if you feel strongly about any Trinity alumni who the Alumni Office should profile in future AlumNet issues, please submit your suggestions.  We are looking for suggestions in these four categories:  1) recent grads, 2) grads who innovate, 3) grads in business, and 4) grads who serve the world. Feel free to nominate yourself if you fall in these categories. -- AlumNet Moderator