by Jack Silbert
You no longer see her tooling around town in a hearse—she traded it in for a Nissan—but Jil Bucceroni is still quite the presence in Hoboken. You’ll find her at the corner of 3rd and Bloomfield, at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. John the Baptist. Bucceroni is the Parish Administrator — a virtual Jil of all trades. (Or if you’re in Bogota, NJ, you might run into her lending a hand at Lola’s Tattoos, but that’s a story for another time.) Meet Jil Bucceroni, punk-rock future pastor.
Tell us about your role at St. John’s.
It’s extensive. I hung the speakers, I got the U-Haul and the shrubbery when we changed the garden, I serve the altar. I have a cassock—the long, black, dressy thing—and a white “alb” that goes over that. I run our Facebook page and created the website. And the few times when our pastor, the Reverend Triffel Lee Felske, needs to leave town, I’ll say the Mass. I’m not ordained yet, so we’ll use bread and wine that has already been consecrated.
Where did you grow up, and what were your early interests?
I was born and raised in Dumont, in Bergen County. When I was in 3rd grade, we did a school play, and I got to be a male character. I got to wear a mustache and a man’s suit and tie. I thought, this is how I want to dress every day! But I was also the comic relief; I was supposed to blow my nose really loud and I did a great sound effect. I got a lot of fan mail from the lower grades! So that’s what I wanted to do. I was a terrible student, but I was successful in theater.
Were you in a religious household?
No, no, no! My parents were divorced, and my mother took us to Catholic school, and I did get confirmed. But I had an absolutely terrible religious education. My father married an evangelical; I think the first gay Episcopal bishop in New Jersey was in their church. That was around the same time I came out, at 16. And my stepmother left that church, because she didn’t think it was right. I went on being that person who said I was spiritual but not any particular religion.
You ended up at Bergen Community College, but it didn’t stick right away….
I wanted to be a theater student. I tried to go to college, hated it; several years later tried to go back, hated it; two years after that tried again, hated it. By the fourth time, in my early 30s, I wanted to pursue journalism and write theater reviews professionally.
How did you make the switch to religion?
I wanted to finally pass that damn Religions of the World class! I’d failed out every time before. The professor, Dr. David Kievitt, walked in, and I loved him. Within two weeks, I changed my major to theology. After that, there was barely a day that I didn’t see David for two and a half years, until he passed away. We were the best of friends. He taught me so much about religion, and art, and music, and food. I have a portrait of him tattooed on my arm.
How did you end up at St. John’s of Hoboken?
I had decided to go back to a church and see if I got something different out of it. That was St. John’s in Harrison. I didn’t miss a Sunday after that. We “church-hopped,” and David found St. John’s of Hoboken. We became members in April 2007.
What was your progression from congregant to church staff?
Every Sunday, there are readings from the Old and New Testament lessons. Anybody can come in and read, so that’s how I started. Then they said, do you want to serve the altar? I said yeah, but I didn’t know anything about it. So this amazing woman Audrey taught me everything I needed to know. I had decided I wanted to get ordained, so I started coming really early in the morning to help set up the altar. That’s alone time for the pastor and myself to discuss things I’ll learn in seminary, but I’ll go in already knowing it. I try to get there as early as I can—to get a parking spot, and that’s where my training comes.
Does your theater experience inform your work in the church?
It helps to have that when you get in the pulpit, and tell people, “Repent!” or whatever your sermon is for that day. It’s good to have a theatrical background: People are always looking at you, and you have to remember your lines.
What is the St. John’s congregation like?
We have a motley crew of folks. On the altar, there is Italian-American me, German Pastor Felske, and Nicaraguan Kay Sanchez, who often serves the altar with me. And the Hoboken Shelter is downstairs. So we have rich, homeless, in-the-middle, and people who stop in to look at the architecture; we’re the oldest church building in Hoboken.
What else would you want people to know about St. John’s of Hoboken?
One of the major things that I love: They keep to the liturgy, how the Mass is intended to go. It’s a Confessional Lutheran Church. We are very, very conservative, with the bells, and incense, and vestments. We have an organist and sing old Lutheran hymns. But we’re also extremely liberal. Nobody cares that Jil’s tattooed and gay. All are welcome; you don’t have to dress nice—I don’t.