The Rev. Alice M. Bassett-Jellema, the longtime pastor of the Episcopal Church of the Guardian Angel in Remington, died Nov. 2 of glioblastoma at her Homeland residence. She was 62.
“Alice was the quintessential city priest in my estimation. She really was a saint,” said the Rt. Rev. Robert W. Ihloff, the 13th Episcopal bishop of Maryland, who served from 1995 until 2007.
“She had a heart for social justice and great compassion for people from all walks of life, covering a vast socioeconomic spectrum,” said Bishop Ihloff, a Locust Point resident. “She cared about drug addicts, pregnant teens, pregnant mothers and alcoholics. And the programs she instituted at Guardian Angel were just marvelous.”
“I grew up attending the Church of the Guardian Angel, and I was very pleased and supportive of Alice when she went there,” said the Rev. Van H. Gardner, the dean of the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation for 21 years before retiring.
“She was an Old School street priest, and all the people in the neighborhood knew she was the pastor with the red tennis shoes,” said Dean Gardner. “She knew how to meet people where they were and was very down-to-earth.”
The Rt. Rev. John L. Rabb, who served as bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland from 1999 until retiring in 2011, worked closely with Rev. Bassett-Jellema.
“Alice was something of a holy eccentric with her high top red sneakers, but she could relate to people. She knew how to talk to them,” said Bishop Raab, a Tuscany-Canterbury resident. “She established a compassionate ministry and relationships with the most vulnerable and high-risk people. She had a beautiful and effective ministry."
The former Alice Moore Jellema, the daughter of Lyman I. Jellema and his wife, Alice Roelofs Jellema Simril, was born in Buffalo, New York, and raised in Clarence Center, New York,
After graduating in 1974 from Clarence Center Senior High School, she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1978 from Colby College in Waterville, Maine.
Her faith was firmly established early in life after she began attending and joining St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Williamsville, New York.
She earned her master’s degree in divinity from the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York City and was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1992.
After serving as an assistant rector at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Hampton, Virginia, she moved to Baltimore when she was named assistant rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Ruxton.
Since 1997, the Rev. Bassett-Jellema has been pastor of the Episcopal Church of the Guardian Angel in Remington, where she was affectionately known as “Pastor Alice.”
In addition to her own church work, Rev. Bassett-Jellema actively reached out to the community through through her work with the Episcopal Housing Corporation and St. Mary’s Outreach Center of Hampden.
“Alice was the center of Remington and was a great advocate for the people there. Her church was a place where they could gather and get support,” said Dean Gardner, a Locust Point resident.
"She would say, ‘God wanted me here and do all the good work that we can,’ ” Bishop Rabb said. “She was committed to all the people in the neighborhood, and this was before gentrification.”
“She wanted to hear everyone’s story. You were her focus,” said her wife of six years, Christine Bassett-Jellema, a Mercy Medical Center pediatric nurse practitioner. “That’s what made her good at what she did. She was incapable of walking down a street and not talking to people.”
Rev. Bassett-Jellema resigned her position as vicar at Guardian Angel in August because of failing health.
“There are no words that can express what Alice has meant to the entire community. And we are also mindful of the leadership and service she has given to the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, our parent organization,” said a statement from the Guardian Angel vestry announcing her resignation.
“Backpack Day, Reading Camp. the Food Pantry, and Soup-er Bowl Saturday are just some of the programs Alice led at Guardian Angel. In the broader area, she was involved with Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, DreamBuilders, the Diocese’s Exploring Baptismal Ministry program, and other efforts to empower individuals and small groups to exercise their values by making concrete contributions to the issues facing our society," according to the statement.
“Alice was an amazing fit for the unusual nature of our congregation and mission, and no one could step in to do all the things she did in the way she did them. The vestry is working with the Diocese on plans for continuing the work of the church in Remington at Guardian Angel. Alice is a hard act to follow; God’s work must continue and, with God’s blessing, it will continue at Guardian Angel.”
Jeffrey P. Ayres, chancellor of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and a partner at Venable LLP, worked closely with Rev. Bassett-Jellema as a member of the Diocesan Discernment Group.
“Alice was earthy, impactful and authentic,” said Mr. Ayres, a Lutherville resident. “She always manifested a lust for life and compassion for all creation. Her passion for social justice and the Gospel was and continues to be legendary throughout the Diocese.”
“Alice could laugh, and yet be very philosophical about the world,” Bishop Ihloff said. “I visited Alice when she was dying, and she knew that she was dying, but was a real trouper to the end. She was a faithful Christian and a faithful priest.”
Rev. Bassett-Jellema enjoyed reading, traveling and cross-country road trips.
A celebration of life service for Rev. Bassett-Jellema will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation, 4 E. University Parkway, Baltimore.
In addition to her wife, she is survived by two stepsons, Jordon Moore of Rochester, New York, and John Moore of Los Angeles; a stepdaughter, Jasmine Peters of Richmond, Virginia; a brother, Lyman M. Jellema of Cleveland, Ohio; a sister, Joanna Kleppinger of Williamsburg, Virginia; two aunts; two nephews; and many cousins.