For Kat Spangler Kimmel, everyone has a story to tell and she is happy to listen to them. Those stories allow Kimmel to learn more about the storyteller and to become a better person.
The sign over her office door at University Baptist Church in Hattiesburg says, “Kat Spangler, Associate Minister.” She’s been at the church since 2013, but she recently married Tom Kimmel, a nationally-known songwriter and musician.
Tom Kimmel knows about storyteller, having had songs recorded by many popular artists, including Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Linda Ronstadt, Joe Cocker and Randy Travis.
For Kat Kimmel, the stories she heard as she traveled from her home in North Carolina to South Africa and then back to work as a hospice chaplain were difficult and priceless.
“It can be pretty intense (as a hospice chaplain), but I enjoyed it and I got to meet a lot of amazing people,” she said. “That’s one of those jobs where you get to hear stories and so many people don’t get to meet different types of people. Everybody experiences death at some point, so you get to hear all sorts of stories. There are some incredible people around in this world.”
The stories she heard touched her deeply and gave her an outlook on people that comes from listening.
“There are so many special and sacred moments that you get to be in because of your position,” she said. “So many people aren’t invited into those spaces. I think hearing people’s stories helps you understand them so much more.
A person’s story defines them, Kimmel said.
“I used to say, ‘You can’t hate anybody when you’ve heard their story’ because there is usually something that has led them to who they are,” she said. “When you hear their stories, you begin to understand them a little more and you can work together. You can give love and grace to one another when you know each other. You feel a connection and it makes you a better person.”
At University Baptist Church, located at 3200 W. Arlington Loop in Hattiesburg, Kimmel has been able to make connections locally because of the church’s emphasis on three main areas.
“What we have named as our qualities are inquisitive, inclusive and community-minded,” she said. “Those are the main strongholds that we have said. I think it’s easy to say that you’re inclusive, but that’s not always the case. I’ve heard stories of deacons standing at doors so certain people cannot come in or conversations after the worship or ‘Yeah, you can come, but you can’t be a member.’ Those aren’t churches that I’ve participated in, but those are things I have heard or are historical. We really, really do strive to be inclusive, although we all still have our baggage too.”
“We really strive to be a place that knows our community,” she said. “Again, we have work to do there. We want to know our neighbors; we want to care for those around us. So our local missions and our partnerships in the community are really important to us.”
The church’s mission work includes the Thames Elementary School gardens, Bread Basket, the college ministry, the Southern Miss School of Music, Habitat for Humanity, a prison ministry and the wildly successful Back Door Coffeehouse, which brings in writers and musicians for a monthly concert and also hold an annual series of workshops called Tripod.
David Walker, who organizes the Coffeehouse, mentioned Tom as the perfect person to introduce this arts weekend. So Kimmel was hired along with an actress; she did a one-woman show improv classes and storytelling classes, Kat Kimmel said.
“Then Tom came and did poetry and songwriting workshops and played for us,” she said. “That was my real introduction to Tom; I had met him briefly one time at a show. I was kind of captured by him this time, and I got time to sit down with him and have some conversation with him.”
Kimmel said Walker told Tom that he really needed to get to know her and spend some time with her.
“So Tom came up a couple of times and said, ‘Hey, can we spend some time together?’” she said. “‘I really want to get to know you a little bit. You hired me and I want to know who you are.’ He was playing in the service the next Sunday morning, so we decided to go to lunch after the service and get to know each other a little bit better. And we did; we spent two hours at Tabella’s telling stories and stories and stories. We came back to the church and we had an art show in the gallery. We looked at all of the art there and I guess there were no more excuses to keep him here. I walked him out to his car and he said he wanted to give me a CD like he had when he performed here. Then he gave me six, so I felt like I had an ‘in.’”
Kimmel asked Tom if she could give him her phone number so he could call her later and he did.
“That was the beginning,” she said. “What I love is that he said he never would have asked me for my number because here was here as a ‘professional.’ I said I don’t let those things stop me. I love to say that I guess I’m just not that professional.”
It’s the kind of story the Kimmels love to tell.