On the fourth floor of the Dorothy I. Height Building, a pink castle in Washington's Penn Quarter, Mike McCurry's corner office opens onto a common space filled with photos from his glory days as President Clinton's press secretary: McCurry surrounded by a press gaggle, McCurry commanding the Brady Room. But these days, when old colleagues and clients stop by to see him, they often have something else on their minds.
"The number of people ... " McCurry breaks off and laughs as he gestures around his cluttered office. "My clients say, 'I want to come talk to you, I have some stuff I want to go over.' They come over, do a little bit of business, and say, 'Well ... I'm really interested in theology. Tell me what that was like.' "
In addition to his work for Public Strategies Washington, the lobbying firm where he's a consultant, McCurry, now nearing 60, is a professor of public theology at Wesley Theological Seminary. And the onetime word-warrior, who received his master of arts degree from Wesley last year, has become a sort of shepherd to peers interested in making the transition from state to church. "I find myself doing a lot of personal recruiting," he says.
To the casual Washington observer, the path from partisan politics to theology might not be obvious, but it has nonetheless quietly become well trod. This past spring, former Mitt Romney adviser and longtime political operative Eric Fehrnstrom surprised colleagues by announcing he would pursue a master's in theological studies at Boston College. Like McCurry's degree, the credential Fehrnstrom is earning is academic—meaning that he isn't seeking to be ordained—and he continues to consult on political campaigns with the Shawmut Group. Over the summer, Matt Rhodes, a former spokesman for the House Budget Committee, left his position at the American Hotel & Lodging Association to follow a call to the seminary and ordained priesthood in the Episcopal Church.