Denver MA Juggles the Nembutsu with Paramedic Job

Updated: Dec 27, 2020

Rev. Kaitlyn Mascher-Mace is a Minister’s Assistant at the Tri-State/Denver

Buddhist Temple (TS/DBT) who wants to become a Kaikyoshi minister

someday.


But she’s much more — repeat that, much, much, much more — than just

a devout follower and practitioner of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. And she

takes on life and living head-on — with her own characteristic high energy

level, commitment, thoroughness and passion.


The Institute of Buddhist Studies student is a full-time paramedic working

two 24-hour shifts, serving part of one of Colorado’s largest counties, Weld

County (about twice the size of the state of Delaware). And the paramedic

job takes her on occasion to Wyoming.


Before she became a full-time paramedic, Rev. Mascher-Mace worked in

oil fields around the world in production enhancement — aka fracking.

During the 12 years in that field, she served as vice president and as

managing director for companies, and has published papers and several

patents.


And she’s an avid athlete, too, as a member of team USA in 2014-15 for

the Australian Rules Football and played in the World Championship in

2014 in Australia.


“I think I keep myself so busy as I just really do not like to sit around,” she

said of her peripatetic resume. “As my wife tells me, there’s a very short

amount of time and a lot to do, so let’s do it.”


Rev. Mascher-Mace grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she

attended a Catholic junior high and high school. She would attend Mass

during the week and a Lutheran church on Sundays. She credited the

Christian Brothers at the school with sparking her interest in religion, but

she found “their belief system never really made sense to me.” She recalled, with crystal clarity, the exact days — Aug. 9-10, 2005 — when she became interested in Buddhism.


The place was Motsuji Temple, a Tendai Buddhist temple, in the small town

of Hiraizumi (approximate population of 7,500) in Iwate prefecture. (The

temple has since been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in

2011.) She ended up there during a two-week trip to Japan as a college

student who was studying mechanical engineering and Japanese language

at the Colorado School of Mines. There was nowhere else to stay for

visitors in Hiraizumi other than the temple, so she spent the night there. In

the morning, she participated in the service with the priests at the temple.

“I can tell you the exact moment that I felt like something changed was

lighting a bundle of incense and staring at the Hondo of that temple,” Rev.

Mascher-Mace recalled. “The brazier for the incense is outside, under a

small roof, and the smell of the sandalwood and that exact moment still

makes me feel something inside … it’s moving.”


Later, she learned that her maternal grandmother, whom she was close to

and who helped to raise her along with her late grandfather, had passed

away in the United States — on the same day she was at the temple.

“I think it was a realization that life was finite,” she said. “I had lost one of

my main anchors, and I think it was something that is ineffable, more than I

actually understand. I know that sounds superstitious, but it’s been a

motivator for me.” She also witnessed the complete dedication from the priests during the

service.


“The fact that they got up every morning to chant the sutras, that they

welcomed strangers into their temple, and that they wanted to share the

teaching of the Buddha with all that came into the temple,” she said. “That I

was not turned away for being different from them, and instead there was

an enthusiasm for me to participate in the ritual, to understand and become

one with their understanding of the Dharma. That is pretty amazing.”

After graduating from college in 2006, Rev. Mascher-Mace spent the next

12 years working in oil fields around the world — including Canada, China

and throughout the United States — in the production enhancement space,

mostly doing research and operations.


After a while, Rev. Mascher-Mace realized that she “wanted to understand

humanity more than lines on a chart,” and became an EMT (emergency

medical technician) in 2012, working part-time when she was home in

Denver. In 2017, she became a paramedic and a year later, received her

flight paramedic status. She retired from the oil fields in 2018 and is now a

full-time paramedic.


She and her wife began attending the TS/DBT in 2012 after coming across

the Obon festival dancing. “It was an opening for us to visit the temple, and after that we became regular visitors and then members of the temple,” she said. “I was very

taken by the teachings of Shinran, and wanted to keep attending classes

and learning more, and by 2016, I was helping out with different parts of the

temple and I realized this was something I wanted to dedicate myself to.”


She enrolled at the Institute of Buddhist Studies in 2017 and is currently in

the Masters of Buddhist Studies program and expects to graduate next

year. She was awarded a graduate certificate in Shin Studies in 2019.

Rev. Mascher-Mace became a certified Minister’s Assistant in early 2017

right after the TS/DBT’s 100th anniversary.


She received her Tokudo certification in July 2019, describing it as “the

most amazing experience of my life as well as the most challenging.” At the

TS/DBT, Rev. Mascher-Mace works with Rev. Diana Thompson and Rev.

Noritaka Imada.


Just over a year ago, she began a weekly post on the TS/DBT Facebook

page called “Temple Tuesday” to help explain different things around the

temple and Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. And that turned into her short,

informative videos called “Your Temple Minute,” posted on the TS/DBT

YouTube channel. Topics have included incense burners, the Buddhist

flag, an introduction to Obutsudan and the Jodo Shinshu bells.

“Being a convert and not of Japanese ancestry, there were a lot of things

around the temple which did not make any sense to me when I first started

attending TS/DBT,” she said. “When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and we

started to do digital services, it was a natural transition to ‘Your Temple

Minute.’ The goal is to provide answers to questions that anyone may be

too afraid to ask, and at the same time welcoming in new and returning

Jodo Shinshu followers.”


Since the pandemic, she and her coworkers are in full PPE (personal

protective equipment), and wear N-95 masks, goggles and gowns for every

call, including car accidents, shootings, assaults, falls, and strokes.

“While the pandemic is unique to us in this time period, this was something

which happened in the past quite often,” she said. “Rennyo wrote about it in

the ‘Gobunsho,’ and we are now able to better understand the trials which

must have faced those who came before us, and with this bit of experience,

understand the sacrifices that have been made over time to continue on

this liberating Jodo Shinshu teaching forward to us, today.


“I am very grateful for all those who have come before me so that I can

hear the teachings of Shinran Shonin, and say the Nembutsu,” she

continued. “I hope that any of my efforts during this pandemic will have

opened the Nembutsu teaching to someone new.”


When asked what she has learned about becoming a MA, she replied: “I

have also learned that I plan on doing this for the rest of my life. I hope to

become a Kaikyoshi minister someday and possibly to further my education

by studying in Japan. There is no end to the study that one can put into

Jodo Shinshu, and yet in the end there is only one answer, Namo Amida

Butsu.”

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