CTS Spotlight

 Rev. Bianca Davis-Lovelace

Bianca Davis LovelaceTell us about your experience at God Can Ministries UCC. 

I served as the pastor for Millennials at God Can Ministries and I served there for over a decade. My mother is the founder of God Can Ministries. While I was there my main goal and main focus was to expose youth and young adults to things that are different from what they see in their communities, to break barriers, and to teach them how to come together and see past differences. One of things that I did while I was there was teach an interfaith class and I talked to youth about various religions and explained to them why we are more alike than we are different. Another thing I did while I was there was teach hip-hop classes, or rather classes about hip-hop theology. I brought together youth and taught them how to identify the sacred and the holy God--even in their favorite songs that they hear on the radio or the music videos that they see--and how God is within everything that they do.

Another thing that I did was participate in the performing arts ministry. One of the things that brought youth and young adults to God Can was the plays and the productions we would put on for the community. Me and a few of my siblings that were there were very instrumental in developing the performing arts ministry. We touched hard topics like drugs, gangs, sexism, racism and we would mix that with pride and African American culture. Blending all of that together within the performing arts was very therapeutic for economically oppressed communities like Ford Heights, Illinois, which at one point was the poorest town in the state of Illinois.

My ministry there was mainly about empowerment and enlightenment because I wanted youth who come from those neighborhoods to know what other cultures are like outside of that neighborhood.

I also worked on The Nia Circle Mentoring Program. The purpose was for preteen and teenage girls within the Ford Heights community to learn healthy body image, to build their self esteem, and to teach them things they may not be exposed to outside of the community. I took the young ladies out on retreats, took them to movies, and taught them healthy living and healthy eating. We talked about tough issues like sex, STDs, HIV, and how to protect your body.

A lot of my ministry was about doing things that were outside of the box. I really wanted to tackle the tough issues and empower a community of people, especially the youth and young adults there who come from a community that is economically oppressed.

You are one of the founders of Progressive Millennials for Action. What inspired this group? What was the creation process like?

My husband and I are the founders of Progressive Millennials for Action. The inspiration came from the fact that when we see a lot of people working in our government or working in social action organizations, they were mainly Baby Boomers and older generations. We were kind of fired up because at the time we felt a lot of people were making decisions for us and we really had no voice. We organized to basically empower the voices of the Millennial generation. What we did was social organizing like inspiring people to go register to vote, endorsing certain candidates for local offices, participating in various protests around the Chicagoland area, and doing workshops about various subjects like direct action and human rights.

You are a third generation clergy, educated at CTS. Please describe the impact CTS had on your spiritual growth and commitments throughout your life.

I picked CTS not necessarily because my parents went there. It wasn’t the fact that it was a family legacy—I was drawn to the CTS legacy, period. The fact that Martin Luther King was associated with CTS, and Rev. Jesse Jackson was associated with CTS, the fact that CTS was not afraid to go there—and when I say “go there” I mean go and talk about the hard issues. I grew up, at least in my early years, Baptist. I heard a lot of theology that was very exclusive and it wasn’t until I went to seminary and was able to deconstruct some of that theology I had learned growing up Baptist, that allowed me to shred some of the things I had grew up with. I guess you could say I was always theologically rebellious because, for instance, it wasn’t until I saw my mother active in ministry and pastoring her own church, that I put two and two together and thought ‘The ministry is for women as well.’ I always had a problem with not seeing women serving as pastors, specifically black women in the black church. I never really seen that growing up. I witnessed her pastoring her own church and I thought ‘I can do this. This is what I’m called to do.’

I always had an issue with the patriarchy and misogyny that existed within the church. It wasn’t until I came to CTS that I was able to articulate, and have the theological words and theological framework, to describe exactly how I was feeling as a child. It wasn’t until I came to CTS that I was able to find my voice and find who I really am within ministry. CTS, for me, developed my theological identity and it gave me the courage and the confidence to go out into this world now and fight every barrier that exists—barriers in our faith traditions and barriers in our society as a whole. I think, even now in my current context, the things that I learned and the confidence that I gained from the experience and the learning and the teachings of different professors, like JoAnne Terrell, like Lee Butler, and like Susan Thistlethwaite. I had some awesome professors. Seeing the fact that we have Alice Hunt as a female seminary president—that for me was so empowering! Now I’m breaking down barriers in ministry because CTS gave me the confidence to break down barriers. It gave me the confidence to go out there and challenge the different systems of oppression that exist. I do have confidence and I take that confidence and theological framework to where I serve now.

I am now the Pastor at Eastgate Congregational United Church of Christ in Bellevue, Washington, where the majority of my congregants are white. I am a black female Millennial pastoring a majority white church. My church is about 20% people of color and 80% white. That’s almost unheard of in the United Church of Christ because one of the barriers that exists for African American women in the United Church of Christ is actually being able to get called shortly after ordination, whether its for a black church or a white church. For me to come in shortly after ordination and receive a call to a church in a suburb outside of Seattle, Washington, in a church that is mainly affluent, and for me to still speak truth to power and talk about racism, sexism, and even white privilege. I come in talking about those hard issues in a congregation that is majority white and affluent and have the courage to do that. I would never have had that courage if I did not experience fearless leaders like JoAnne Terrell and Alice Hunt that empowered me to go into this ministry context and still hold my head up and speak truth to power and do it confidently. I think CTS prepared me for what I’m doing now, which is breaking down barriers.

Please share some of your successes and challenges at Eastgate Congregational UCC.

One of the successes is just being called as a young African American woman in a majority white context. The second is my congregation is so open, welcoming, and willing and willing to let me be me. They allow me, even if it stretches them and pushes them beyond what they can fathom, to push the envelope and talk about hard subjects like white privilege. They have also embraced me as a Millennial and we’re having important conversations now about what the church will look like in the future. We just recently had a town hall meeting at my church to talk about the church of the future.

Some of the challenges have been getting older members of the congregation on board and getting them to understand that ministry that happened 40 or 50 years ago does not look the same today in 2016. You have to do ministry completely different from the way you did it before. You have that theological foundation, but everyone is not going to come to Sunday worship, Bible study, or Sunday school, so what are the other ways we can serve the community and be there for the community and welcome the community without necessarily pushing them to go to church all the time. Trying to get them out of the mindset of the way church used to be has been a challenge, but they’re open. I have to say it is a blessing that they’re open because some places are not open to new and innovative ways of doing ministry. My context is very open, it’s just getting some on board of thinking outside of the box that has been a challenge.

Another challenge is there’s still work to do around race and privilege. People sometimes don’t understand it, but my role as a minister is to get them to kind of understand people from different places. The blessing is, again, that they’re willing to go there. 

Where do you see yourself in five years? 

Because of the social climate now, after this election, I want to get more into the social activism and theology realm—how to blend the two. I want to be out in the streets. I want to be able to be effective in changing laws that create divisions and continually oppress people. I definitely want to venture and think about ways in which me as a minister, not necessarily going in to proselytize or evangelize, go into different places and engage in street activism and see how I can be of service to those who are in the streets that are really doing the work in the streets and how I can be of service. Of course I want to pastor and be in the church, but I don’t want to be confined to the church. I want to make sure my ministry goes outside of the church.

What is one class you recommend every CTS student to take?

I really loved Lee Butler’s pastoral care class because he was really able to break down pastoral care on so many levels and so many different stages of life. The way that he eloquently brought together pastoral care and the stages of life has, to this day, me looking at how I do ministry from with people at different stages in life. Even now, my congregation has a lot of older congregants. How do I, as a Millennial, do pastoral care for someone who is in their 70s or 80s? How do I also do pastoral care for somebody that is under 18? I felt that Dr. Butler’s pastoral care class was very instrumental for me to minster in the context that I’m ministering to now.

Another class I loved was the interfaith class with Susan Thistlethwaite. With the political climate and how so many people are talking about xenophobia and being prejudice against people of other faiths—for me it was very helpful to be in that class and to be able to challenge racism. I can have those conversations because I know more than what I would have if I did not take that class.

Those two classes helped prepare me for ministry within the church and outside of the church.

Is there anything else you would like to share?  

I really want CTS to be one of the havens of theological training because CTS is way outside of the box compared to a lot of seminaries…CTS really prepared me for ministry in the real world, so I just hope and pray that more students come to CTS and get that rich theological training and experience that I got. CTS is a gem. 


Past CTS Spotlights

Rev. Beverly Dale

The Rev. Dr. Beverly Dale is a Christian clergy who is a feminist and straight ally and talks about God and sex…a lot! She teaches an inclusive, science-friendly and sex positive Christianity that focuses on sexual diversity, pleasure, and freedom to help people be responsible and ethical in their sexual decision-making. Ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and currently serving as minister-in-residence at United Christian in Levittown PA, she has published several articles and poems and has spent most of her thirty years of ministry helping people reconnect their spirits and their bodies and confronting sex-negativity in the church and culture. In addition, she has written and produced a one woman show at several Fringe Festivals called An Irreverent Journey from Eggbeaters to Vibrators. "Rev Bev" can be seen in her “Sex is Good” videos and her body-positive sermons are on YouTube. She has a 4-part webinar series titled “Reading the Bible With Sex-Positive Eyes” and is currently completing her spiritual/sexual memoir, Sex Without Apology, Becoming a Sex-positive Person of Faith in a Sex-Negative Culture 

Registration for Rev. Dale's workshop for Incarnation Institute for Sex & Faith is currently open. The workshop takes place on February 24-26, 2017 in Philadelphia, PA. More information can be found HERE

C. Beverly Dale

Describe your current work.

After working at the University of Pennsylvania for 21 years, the last 3 specifically on body justice issues, that was focusing on hook-up culture and what that was about and how students were experiencing it. Then in 2012, I started the Incarnation Institute for Sex and Faith in order to teach a sex positive Christianity that was inclusive and science friendly. So I am doing programming and workshops and beginning to teach classes, particularly focusing classes on theologian types who are who have at least one year of seminary and sexologists who have at least one year of sexuality education training. The workshops are geared much more to sexual freedom activists, people who are leaders in alternative sexual communities, that kind of thing.

What was it about CTS that made you want to attend?

I had a really good financial deal worked out with the University of Chicago, but realized that I didn’t want to be a theologian or an academic, I wanted to be a pastor. So I walked across the street to Dick Lewis, who was the registrar at the time, and I said this is where I want to go, you gotta help me with the finances. And he came up with the money in a scholarship. So, what attracted me to CTS was clearly the pragmatic focus of theology, it has to be lived out in how we address oppression and repression and injustice. That the most loving thing has to be carried out in our actions, and that’s what I felt like CTS was preparing pastors to do.

How would you say your experience at CTS informed your ministry?

I was primarily influenced by Robin Scroggs who had just come out with The New Testament and Homosexuality. And he also introduced me to Virginia Mollenkott, and Susan Thistlethwaite and Dorothy Bass plugged me into the feminist theologians. I really wanted and appreciated the experience of taking courses in other seminaries as well. I had been burned in my young adult years by fundamentalist Christianity that said there was only one way about thinking about the Bible. So, I really appreciated being able to take classes at the Lutheran and Catholic seminary, and McCormick, so I took full advantage to make sure that I was getting a breadth of academic training. I think Phil Anderson’s classes on gestalt therapy, and his focus on experiential learning and getting in touch with ourselves as pastors has been very helpful in this work as I address some of the sexual wounding out there. To be able to get at healing, is not through analyzing and rationalizing and three points and a poem. We have to get at what’s happening in people’s bodies and in their life experiences using poetry or artistry or even story telling and drama. This bypasses some of the defenses that we put in place. So I think that Phil Anderson’s courses helped me a lot  with this strategy.

Is there a transformative experience you can share from your time at CTS?

Yes, but it is sadly a critique about the direction the seminary is going.  So much of the learning and the experiences, the healing, came about through the relationships with those of us who were living in the dorms of Davis and McGiffert. So, after hours, after class, after we had done all of this theological reading, we would go to the U of C ice cream shop, or go to our favorite bar and we would talk theology and share our lives. That kind of significant relationship support helped me through a very trying time, my marriage was falling apart at the time. I found studying theology and going to seminary can be very traumatic for one’s faith. So much is being challenged that we really do need to have those relationships in place that can support us through all that learning and growing. So, as campuses, I understand that seminaries across the country are really moving toward online, but that really cuts into the ability for students to create those kinds of support networks of others who are going through the same thing. This was very powerful for me since I had a support community in Chicago and then I had a groups of folks downstate who had no clue about what was happening. As a weekly commuter, I was really living in two different worlds. And if I hadn’t had that student support, I don’t know that I could have made it through the most difficult time of my life!

What are some words of advice to a student who’s looking to form that kind of community at CTS?

Institutionally, when I was there, the school provided a week long experience led for the most part by Phil Anderson– I forgot the name of it – that was intended to develop deep sharing time and took seriously that this was going to be a part of student psychological growth. So, I’m sorry that the institution has stopped doing that. I would advise students that your faith will be challenged, and that you will come out of this seminary experience a different person of faith, and you will probably go through the “dark night of the soul” multiple times. Given that, you need to seek out people in your classes, or even older students, who are going through the same thing with the intentional purpose of sharing what’s happening for you.

Can you tell me a bit more about your work on sex positivity.

Well, it’s fairly new, and the organization is still finding financial support. But it got started out of my own personal story, my life story. My sexual ignorance and experiencing sexual abuse as a child impacted my ability to be in healthy sexual relationships. It impacted my ability to be intimate. In order for me to be psychologically whole I had to deal with the silence or the shame that I heard from the Church for being a woman or a sexual person. And, for me to be spiritually whole, I also had to deal with the reality of the psychological damage which meant lots of therapy. So, that intersection of spirit and healing influenced my ability to say look, other people who are going through similar journeys as mine, so I can look back down the road and tell people this is the path I’ve found to healing, and you might find it that way too. While in seminary I had to decide whether or not to remain a Christian, or whether or not the Church had any good news for women, or good news for anyone who wants to be sexual, or anyone who wants to enjoy sexual freedom. And I decided that I can, and I do, and that’s what I teach. And I am bucking 2000 years of misogyny, and sexism, and sexual repression. But there have always been pastors and theologians who have understood the incarnation this way, but they are not the ones who currently have the airwaves now.

How has that changed over the years for you?

In the beginning, I think it’s common that everyone has to deal with their own personal stories and personal pain. The reality is and the growth is we begin to see how our personal stories (of sexual dis-ease) are shared and common with so many other people. To the point now that I totally believe this sexual wounding is playing out publicly in our politics today – so this has policy ramifications to it. That sexual ignorance is on grand display in Congress. Or even in presidential candidates if you will. We could easily be far more repressed in the coming decades than we were in the 1950s if certain people continue to make laws or if sexually wounded people get in the White House. So, that means that there is an urgency for the Church to take erotophobia. We must get out of our safe little rut, I’m talking to liberal churches here, of saying “Oh we welcome gays so now we’ve done our work and are sex-positive.” No, we haven’t done our work. There are so many sexually wounded people and they happen to be married, they happen to be not wanting to get married but not wanting to be celibate, they are not straight or fall into a gender binary. Certainly Black Lives Matter is connected to how we treat bodies, and we treat bodies very badly in this culture – especially those of color, especially those that don’t fit into certain gender or sexual boxes. Racial and sexual stereotyping is all part of what body injustice is about. So, how I have changed? I have lifted my eyes from my myopic vision from my own personal sexual pain, and have seen that “the field is white for harvest.” This is indeed a mission field. We address the sexual ignorance and repression that is grounded in erotophobia because it’s entrenched in our political and social systems. And I’m assuming you can read my subtext; the way the Republican party wants to control women’s bodies and control women’s access to power, control gays and lesbians, and control those bodies that happen to be from different faith paths. There are very clear legislative agendas that are detrimental to our body and our sexual selves.

Anything further?

I would like people to be aware of the need for this work and become partners with us. Folks can learn more from our website: or There are very few of us inside the church who are working on the issue of erotophobia – of teaching the truth of incarnation that we are spiritual beings having a sacred and spiritual existence in these sexual, sensual bodies – and that this is good. Church folk and religious professionals need to know that there are lots of people who consider themselves secular and post-Christian who really want to be (sexually) moral. They have not forgotten the beloved teachings of Jesus as key and important, yet they are so turned off by the repression and expectations of sexual homogeneity they hear from the Church, that they no longer can find any good news in Christianity. But when the church, that is, mainline liberal progressive churches, begin to realize and respond to the realization that people are hungry for some good news about sexuality - without the catch of monogamy or marriage – and offer a teaching that has its roots in justice, instead of conformity, we’re going to have a revolution on our hands. I consider myself a public theologian who is a part of building that movement, and I welcome anyone who would like to join me. 

Rev. John H. Thomas 


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In August, Rev. John Thomas, former General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, retired from his position of as Visiting Professor of Church Ministry and Senior Advisor to the President at Chicago Theological Seminary. On September 27, the CTS community celebrated Thomas’ service to the mission of CTS, his service to the wider world, and our gratitude that he is part of the CTS family. We didn't let him leave before sitting down to talk about his time at CTS. .

What originally drew you to CTS?

The short answer is Alice and Don Clark, the Board Chair at the time, invited me. But, the short answer isn’t the full story. In reality, when I finished my role as General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, I wanted to do something related to leadership development or theological education. I’ve been around seminaries for a long time and I’ve done short-term teaching, so the idea of working with students, being in a place where I could help nurture the next generation of leaders in the UCC was very appealing.

CTS was at an exciting moment in 2009 when Alice talked to me about coming. There were some good colleagues of mine who were on the Board of Trustees that I respected a great deal, including Don Clark and Dick Harter. Also, I had a long-time association with Dow Edgerton, one of our faculty members among others.  I knew the school a little bit and I was aware they had the exciting opportunity to move into a new building and that offered a real sense of possibility for the future and being released from some of financial constraints that other schools were facing. Chicago is a vibrant city and that was appealing in addition to being a part of a larger theological community in Hyde Park and the ACTS Consortium. All of those factors made CTS a very appealing opportunity after my time as GMP and I am grateful for the invitation to come here.

What separates CTS from other seminaries? What are its strengths?

CTS has a long history of being directly rooted in the urban community and, as a result, has always engaged its students in an urban context and drawn students from the urban context. The urban world is really the future in many ways and it helps CTS be diverse in many ways, including a diverse student body and faculty. Very cosmopolitan in its background and interests. CTS has also been on the cutting edge in many ways. Part of the DNA of the school is to be at the edge of whatever is coming next. Our founding in the 1850s was an attempt to respond to new and emerging needs of the churches in the Midwest settlements. The work around settlement houses was an attempt to respond with the church to the needs of immigrants, low-income workers, and the very poor in Chicago. The engagement of CTS in science, particularly in psychology and psychiatry and religion, helped put it  at the forefront. CTS was also very much on the forefront of LGBTQ inclusion and the way LGBTQ studies informs new trends in theological work.  There’s a sense of CTS always being fairly forward-looking, broad and cosmopolitan in its interests, but deeply rooted in the important context of urban life, new populations, transitions, and so forth. That’s what makes CTS distinctive even as it shares a great deal with other UCC and mainline Protestant seminaries.

Please describe meaningful transformation you’ve witnessed during your time at CTS? 

I’ve been really privileged in six and a half years to be here for some pretty momentous changes. The most obvious one is the development of our new building. When I first arrived, we were very much in the excitement of getting ready to inhabit a new space. The old space, with all of its charm and nostalgia for some of our alums, was a pretty dysfunctional building for today. It was not a conducive place for classroom experience or library involvement and it kept the faculty and staff on multiple floors, so there wasn’t a good sense of collegial engagement. The move to the new building meant significant unburdening of financial responsibility from our old building and suddenly we were freed up to do some creative things and move beyond survival mode to imagine some new forms of sustainability. It was fun to plan the move and to figure out how we’re going to use this new space and discover what it could provide for us.

Another transformation was interreligious engagement. When I arrived, Rabbi Dr. Rachel Mikva had recently been called to the faculty a few months before and that really signaled the initiation of a much stronger and more expansive emphasis on interreligious engagement. I’ve been able to watch and participate a little bit in the growing interreligious engagement that is now poised to grow to a new level. This is an area of interest across theological education and I think we’re still trying to figure out exactly how that shapes the identity of the school, where the focus needs to be, what kind of students we need to draw, but it certainly reflects changing patterns in American culture and the need for religious leaders to be educated, alert, sensitive, and excited about interreligious engagement and growing religious pluralism.

A third transformation I witnessed and was more directly involved in was the development of our online program. One of the things that was clear early on in my time here was that the new building and our rent deal with the University of Chicago did not solve financial problems; we were still a long way from sustainability. We needed to move in innovative ways to make us more financially sustainable, but in a way that was consistent with our mission and were going to expand the education we could offer. There was a wonderful intersection of growing acceptance and excitement about distance learning and there was an unmet need in the church, particularly for theological education, to offer classes for people who could not move to Chicago and there was the possibility of significantly increasing enrollment in a way that would help us financially. In addition to broader institutional planning, I had to figure out how I was going to do online distance education. I never experienced it as a student or a teacher. But I began teaching online classes and it was really fun to learn how to do that and see what it can accomplish to engage students around the country who wouldn’t ordinarily be here. The geographic expansion of our student body has been engaging.

And there’s a fourth thing, which we refer to “other duties as assigned.” In a small institution like CTS, you really feel the absence of a staff or faculty member. To fill this gap, I took on different roles. I was able to step into a variety of places to fill gaps. I have done work in advancement, recruitment, and a variety of other things. What that means is that I’ve had experiences across the institution. I’ve always had the opportunity to see the big picture, be a part of the big picture, and to contribute to the big picture of this school. All of this was built upon skills and experiences I had in the past, but it has all been fairly new as well. So, in a pretty late time in my career, when a lot of people are settling in to finish off what they had been doing, I had the opportunity  at age 60 to start a whole new adventure, in a whole new place, with a whole new group of people. That’s been really rewarding and exciting.

What do you hope for CTS in the next five years? 

CTS needs to build on the online program. We’ve talked about taking it to the next level, but we aren’t quite sure what that looks like. We need to stay ahead of the game in this, because everyone is going to start catching up. Our goal has been to be the gold standard for progressive theological education and that means you can’t stand still. I hope there’s going to be a lot of time and energy put into developing our teaching skills, our broadening use of different technologies, and experimenting with new ways of using distance learning. That’s one major initiative.

Another initiative I hope to see is the Interreligious Institute being planned in anticipation of a positive response to our grant proposal. But that will also require CTS to do some hard thinking about its institutional identity and come to some consensus around whether the school will continue as a predominantly Christian training mostly Christian religious leaders to be prepared to engage in an interreligious world or whether we will  move in the direction of becoming more of an interfaith community where people learn with faculty and others students of different religious traditions. And those are really two different visions and two different sets of possibilities. CTS just has to figure out exactly what it’s going to be and settle on that.

The world of church leadership is also drastically changing. There will be more and more bi-vocational ministers (ministers who have a secular job in addition to their job in ministry), and more churches needing to be served by people who have not had the opportunity or resources to get a Master of Divinity. So far, we haven’t figured out how to craft a training program and revenue stream for those folks that will work for the church and the seminaries. There are many people who would benefit from a type of training program or certification that doesn’t necessarily require a Master’s degree. There will always be students doing the MDiv and that’s great, but we need to open up a whole new path that is not simply weekend courses here and there or continuing education, but a path that combines distance education with rigorous Master’s level courses along with mentoring and a geographically based cohort. That would require a greater sense of communication between the school and the church than what we have thus far, but I think that is a really critical need for the church and no one is addressing it. We’re hitting crisis points around leadership in the church here and there. I hope in the next five years there will be more attention in this area. That means shifting some of the attention from academic programs to looking creatively at some other education models.

What is your favorite CTS memory? What will you miss most? 

It’s not a particular moment so much as the experience in the classroom. I really enjoy the students and enjoy engaging with them, both face-to-face and online. My online experience with students has some times been richer because more students are able to engage more deeply and more profoundly online then you sometimes find in the classroom. The classes where we related practice with instruction were probably the most enjoyable I had, both for face-to-face and online.

I’m going to miss the students the most. That’s what we’re here for, that’s what it’s all about. Everybody, whether they teach or not, is trying to support our educational process. For me, now matter what I’m doing, I’m reminded this is about students, this is about preparing and supporting leaders, and helping people of all ages pursue their passion, their sense of calling, their dream—however they want to describe it. That’s one of the exciting things about theological education. No student is here because she or he thinks it’s going to be a lucrative career choice. Everyone is here because they’re drawn to it or called to it. People arrive with a lot of excitement and energy and helping them begin to live that out is very exciting.

How would you describe your CTS experience in one word?

Growing. I’ve been forced to grow. Forced to grow in my theological experience and understanding. Grow in my abilities as a teacher. Grow in my knowledge of the issues facing theological education. Grow in my awareness of what it means to live in a big, urban context with lots of challenges. Grow in my awareness of the unique history of Chicago and the labor movement and immigration and what that means for us today. Growing, I think, is the word I’d choose. 

Rev. Cindi Knox

20160622 182317Rev. Cindi Knox is pastor of St. John's United Church of Christ in Evanston, IL and a contributing editor at A 2013 graduate of Chicago Theological Seminary, her emphases were ministry with people on the margins of church and society, and working with new and renewing congregations. Cindi is a woman of transsexual history, transitioning in 1986, and met her wife Mary in 1989. She has one daughter, a stepdaughter, and two step-grandchildren. For fun she plays guitar and takes long distance motorcycle trips. Her sermons and occasional theological rants are at

Please describe your current work

I am the one-quarter time pastor of a struggling little formally German Evangelical church in Evanston, where we have 12 to 15 during worship on Sunday and we’re currently in the process of trying to find what God is calling this church to be next, to find its mission. This is a church that started out with a mission of being a church for German immigrants, German-speaking people who were more connected to the Prussian Union Church in Germany. There was a new mission just after World War II with new immigrants coming in and this being again a place where immigrants could find a place that felt like home. Another mission was when it became a multigenerational church, so this was a church where families had grown up in, but at this point none of those missions are going to resonate, so we need to figure out what this church is going to grow into.

What led you to pursue ministry?

When I was just a little child in the Evangelical Free Church, I thought I might grow up to be a minister, but bullying kind of drove me out of the Evangelical Free Church. But it is something that had been on my mind for a very, very long time. I was involved with Sunday school and church camp and vacation Bible school and youth groups. So I was very involved in the church as a youth. When I came back to the church with my now spouse in the 90’s, all of those commitments came back again, how much I loved talking to people about God and Jesus and also about what it meant to be Christian and how to live out that call. It was in the 90’s when that all came back and now 17 years later, here I am.

How does your CTS education impact your current work?

CTS is really cool because there’s this bunch of electives that really helped a whole bunch. I’ve taken classes in renewing congregations, which is incredibly valuable here. These classes really helped me to learn how to connect with folks in a context other than ‘Well, here’s your neighborhood church and here are the families that go to your church.’ I wanted something that was broader than that. I think the core education at CTS is really strong in that, rather than giving doctrine like some seminaries do, its historical connection to the United Church of Christ and all of the other denominations that are represented at CTS, we get a wide variety of theologies and I think that’s really valuable because it helps us to be a little bit more nimble in dealing with actual constructive theology on the streets in the neighborhoods.

What advice would you give incoming CTS students?

The first two words I would say are: don’t panic. During my first semester at CTS, I was really struggling, really afraid that I was just going to be a wash out. It can be a little bit overwhelming, regardless of where you’ve come from, just because of all of the different directions things come from, all of the different ways the professors teach. You’re probably going to meet a professor that connects with you so well that you wish every class was with that person and probably a professor that doesn’t connect with you very well at all and you just wonder how you’re going to get through the class. I think everybody gets those, but it’s not the same professor for everybody. I think the main thing is don’t panic. If you have a professor that just doesn’t seem to be connecting very well with you, talk with your classmates, talk with other professors, talk with your advisor, and see if you can get handle on the topic you’re studying, but know that every professor isn’t going to be difficult or great for you individually. Just keep working on it and I think overtime you’ll get more comfortable.

What was your most significant CTS experience?

During my time, I worked on putting together a Pride breakfast and evening worships for students who could not attend Wednesday worships during the day. As far as classes go, Ted Jenning’s Eating and Drinking with Jesus was really important to me and one of the most important classes for me in terms of worship was Scott Haldeman’s Leading Worship class. I think the most valuable things I have learned from him and use every Sunday are two things: he taught me that everything matters, so everything in worship does matter, and that there are no fatal flaws, and that has gotten me through many a Sunday morning where something has seemingly gone wrong but it has not destroyed Sunday morning because of that mantra. Everything matters. There are no fatal flaws. It’s a lot of different things, depending on how you look at it. It’s experiences I had outside the classroom, experiences I had inside the classroom. There’s a lot that happens at CTS.

What is your favorite book?

It’s kind of a tie for different reasons. One is Christopher Moore’s Lamb, which is just a wonderful book about what the intervening years of Jesus’ life might have been like before going into ministry and then another take on the years of ministry, which has a take on crucifixion which is essentially moving and captures the feeling of futility and fatalism the disciples must have felt at that moment. The other one is Heidi Neumark’s Breathing Space, it’s just such a brilliant story of what it means to actually reach out to people who have been taught that they are not welcomed in church, they don’t belong in the church, they’re not good enough to be in the church, and what it’s like to actually reach out to people who are afraid of the church. Two books for completely different reasons

Anything more you would like to share?

The thing that probably makes everything a little more difficult for me is I’m a transgender person. There are not a lot of transgender women in ministry. Most of the ones who are ordained were ordained before transitioning and just carried the ordination through. For somebody who already had transitioned but is out about it, it is really difficult to get a call in parish ministry. It took me three years to get this one-quarter time call in Evanston. I think that’s probably the one thing that sets me apart. It doesn’t really affect the way that I do ministry, but I think my being out probably helps a bit for people who are transgender, especially the ones who have been told by their pastors that there’s something inherently wrong with them or they’re sinful. To see someone like me in the pulpit makes a little bit of difference to them. 

Zaynab Shahar, MA

Ariel BurtonWhat is your degree program?

Master of Art

What are your plans after graduation?

I am planning to stay and do my doctorate in philosophy at CTS. I’m going to be expanding my master’s thesis, which is anchored in comparative queer feminist scholarship.

What drew you to CTS?

Across the landscape of theological education, you have a lot of schools that are trying to hop on the multi-faith education bandwagon and are not really sure what that looks like and how to do it. The program I transferred from basically was like ‘We want non-Christians to do 90 credit programs in Methodism,’ which is perfectly useless not only for non-Christians but also for a lot of people who have no desire to be a part of the Methodist Church. At CTS, I really had more freedom to say, ‘This is what I’m interested in, this is what is going to prepare me to be an academic who’s competitive in what is, quite frankly, a really horrible job market for post-doctorate students right now.’ I was attracted to being able to design my own program, especially having come from Hampshire College where everything is by self-design, and I wasn’t quite used to mainstream academia where you had requirements you had to fulfill and you basically had no input in the direction of your education. I appreciate that level of academic freedom.

What was your most transformative class or experience at CTS?

I think definitely taking classes with Ted Jennings. I took his Marxism PhD seminar when I first came here as a master’s student and his class on Jacques Derrida. I think it was transformative for me, being in a philosophical space and really being able to have that kind of dialogic conversation, whereas most classes around here for master’s level students are oriented more vocationally and are typically more confessional, and, for me, not as academic as I would like them to be necessarily. In his class, I got to talk about philosophy, which is like my secret, dirty passion in life, but is not such a popular topic around here. I really enjoyed that and I really hope in the future, when Ted retires, which will hurt my feelings so much, that they find somebody on that level to replace him.

What did you value you most about your time at CTS? 

I think my most transformative experience has been really getting to know what I would call other ‘scholars on the margins,’ people who are studying things like queer theology, Black liberation theology, and really trying to craft their own hermeneutical lenses in ways that might not often appear in the landscape of theology. I think that is, was, and continues to be very transformative. 

Giseok Joo, PhD

Giseok JooWhat is your degree program?

Doctor of Philosophy

What are your plans after graduation?

I want to get a teaching job.

What drew you to CTS?

My advisor, Dr. Jennings, is doing what Id like study. I graduated from here with my Master of Divinity four years ago and Im now graduating with a PhD under the guidance of Dr. Jennings. I’m interested in what he studies, especially his political theology. I’m interested in supporting Christian ministries’ active engagement in political issues. I think that, whether it is about South Korea or the United States, whenever church ministries participate in the political issues of immigration orprovides a critique ofnational security, Christian ministries are often criticized and told those issues are not related to the church ministry service in the traditional sense, but I would like to theologically anticipate and claim that church ministry is not political indifference but rather are part of political differentiation, and transform church ministry, not in their service of national interest, but trans-national interests that open them to more countries and people. 

What was your most transformative class or experience at CTS?

Very simply, my studies. When I was young I never imagined that theological concepts could relate to political concepts. At CTS, interests are never unrelated to political liberation or political issues. That kind of essential link between theological concerns and political concerns is clear to me from the guidance of CTS faculty.

What did you value you most about your time at CTS?

Reading. I like to use the library at CTS because its silent and theres convenience on the third floor. Im happy with the welcoming mood on the third floor. I can spend my time speculating by myself or having conversations with other students. 

Gregory Rose, MA

Gregory Rose What is your degree program?

Master of Art

What are your plans after graduation?

I am and have been on a journey. I do not yet know where God might be leading me. However, I have a real sense that a way will become apparent to me and while I do not know specifically what sort of work I’ll be doing after I graduate, I feel that I will be doing something where I will be making a tangible difference in the world.

What drew you to CTS?

What originally drew me to CTS was the combination of its progressive theological stance, its concern for social issues and justice and the warm welcome that I sensed when I visited the school, from faculty, staff, and other students. It felt like it was a place where I can feel at home while I was studying and taking courses.

What was your most transformative class or experience at CTS?

I think the most transformative experience was simply being in an environment with a group of people who were also wrestling with ideas of God and how to be in the world. That really provided me with the opportunity to do my own reflection based on both studies, the courses I took, and also conversations with other classmates. One example is conversations with people in class about theodicy, the idea of theodicy, was very important for me in trying to understand how pain and suffering can exist in the world.

What did you value you most about your time at CTS? 

The opportunity to really focus on issues around faith in God. I would not have had the opportunity to do that, had I not come to school, had I not devoted time to school and my studies I’ve been engaged in. 

Jason Carson Wilson, MDiv

JCWhat is your degree program?

Master of Divinity

What are your plans after graduation?

I will be heading to Washington DC on May 31st to begin a two-year fellowship with the United Church of Christ for the UCC Justice and Peace Fellowship. We’ll be doing faith-based policy work and some lobbying as well.

What drew you to CTS?

I wish I could say it was an exhaustive research, but what really happened was my church voted to become open and affirming and, up until then, I felt like because I was gay I couldn’t be a part of the church. So, when my church voted to become open and affirming, I decided to answer the call. I Googled UCC-affiliated seminaries in the Chicago area and CTS popped up since it is the UCC-affiliated seminary in Chicago. I looked through the website and saw that Jesse Jackson had gone here and that helped me feel like I would be welcomed because I’m Black and also because of some of his work in community organizing. I did some more traveling on the website and saw at the time there was an LGBT studies center, so that really confirmed that all of me would be welcomed here.

What was your most transformative class or experience at CTS?

I’ve had so many in relation to classes, but I would say my most transformative experience was CPE. I did my CPE at the Night Ministry because I knew I wanted to be involved in the Night Ministry because I had been homeless more than once in my life and, being queer, I wanted to use my experience to help other people. When I got the Night Ministry I was put in the youth outreach team on Halsted and Belmont and The Crib, which is their homeless shelter, and what I found is a lot of the people we were serving were queer youth of color. That was first really transformative experience and I also reflected on how I navigated homelessness when I was experiencing it and comparing it to how they were navigating it. I felt like I didn’t navigate it with as much courage as some of these youth were doing, are doing, and continue to do today. It really taught me about courage and gave me more courage to do some of the things I’ve done over the course of three years at CTS. A lot of the things I’ve done, I haven’t done before and so working with them taught me courage and gave me courage. After the internship I told them one of the reasons I came to the Night Ministry was because I knew what it was like to be homeless and I wanted to use my experiences to help them. That was one of the things that made it a transformative experience because they deal with so many people who are coming in to help who don’t share that experience, so they really found it valuable to have me there, not because I’m me, I think it really resonated with them to have somebody there who could understand what they were going through or at least has some idea of what homelessness is like. It was transformative on multiple levels and also transformative from a theological standpoint because we talk about in the Bible when two or more are gathered together, that’s the church but yet we are still tied to church being in a building and when I was working there with the youth at Halsted and Belmont, which is essentially a bank parking lot, Jesus came to that parking lot, we had church.

What did you value you most about your time at CTS? 

There are multiple things. I value the community and friendships that I’m going to leave CTS with. Before I got here, my pastor had mentored me and really pressed upon me how I was going to leave here with life-long friends and I didn’t really see that happening, but I was proven wrong. Thankfully so. Another thing I value is the educational experience, because not only did I learn valuable information, but it also challenged my perception of myself, challenged me to understand that I am capable of theological reflection, writing, and research. It helped me to be able to call myself a theologian and recognize and possess my pastoral authority and identity. I also value how CTS allows itself to act as a platform for students to be able to do the work that they do so when we’re out ministering, whether it’s with the Night Ministry or you’re walking down Michigan Avenue protesting something, CTS has been here to give that legitimacy to seminarians who are doing ministry outside of the realm of authorized or ordained work. 

Marilyn Pagán-Banks, DMin

MPB.12.15What is your degree program?

Doctor of Ministry

What are your plans after graduation?

I already run a nonprofit so I’m going to continue to do that. The nonprofit is A Just Harvest. We’re an anti-hunger organization here in Chicago and we address hunger through direct service, community organizing, and community economic development.

What drew you to CTS?

I took classes at CTS when I was doing my MDIV at McCormick Theological Seminary and I liked the faculty and the fact that CTS is very social justice-minded.

What was your most transformative class or experience at CTS?

One of the classes I loved I took back in 1997 when I was still doing my MDiv, it was the Psychodynamics of Biblical Narrative with Professor Lee H. Butler. It was a very transformative class. Then I took a forgiveness class as part of this program with Professor Dow Edgerton, which I also found to be very transformative. In the class with Dr. Butler, we were asked to read particular stories and then respond to them either through poetry or reflection or any other artistic way we wanted to, in order to really get to know the story. For example, one of the stories was the story of Hagar. I remember writing a poem and it was entitled “I have no choice” and it was Hagar’s response to Sarah’s behavior after she did what she was told to do. It was speaking woman to woman, but also from a place of oppression and marginalization, to hold that kind of power accountable. It was transformative because I was able to look at the story in new ways and not just read it and take it for fact.

The forgiveness class with Dow really looked at the power of forgiveness, both for the person who receives it and person who gives it. As part of our last assignment, we had to reflect on a time in our lives where forgiveness was important or necessary or maybe impossible, but the issue of forgiveness came up. It helped me to think about things in my own life and reflect on moments of forgiveness. Now as I’ve grown in my faith as a Christian and someone who is really trying to be in this authentic relationship with God and others, how can I think about forgiveness now, even though it might be too late to tell someone? I can’t talk to my own mother because she died but I can forgive her. I was thinking in terms of how we live out our call to ministry and also how we live in our relationship with one another.

What I like about CTS is the fact that the faculty is not here to tell students how to think. We’re here to learn and teaching will happen, but it’s not about telling people how to think. It’s not like kindergarten where you memorize your ABCs and there’s a right and wrong way to use your ABCs. It’s more like presenting conversations, thoughts, theologians, and you bring your own life experience. Sometimes it was hard for people in the classroom, sometimes it was hard for me, but it was also very liberating for me because it caused me to come into my own on a lot of things and actually still validate some of my experience and some of my thinking. I really appreciated that because you’re not here to pass a test, there’s growth happening here, there’s connections happening here. There’s actual learning and growth happening at CTS.

What did you value you most about your time at CTS? 

The relationships with other students and being able to contextualize this theology, this God talk, being able to connect that back into my lived experience. The back and forth conversation that happens between not just in my ministry context, but also in my whole life, being able to bring that into the classroom and also be able to take what I was getting out of the classroom back to my space. It was very fluid and real and kind of mutual. One would challenge the other and being in a space that was not just feel-good space, but also a space where we can challenge each other and cause each other to have breakthroughs and grow even more.

Tyler Tully, MDiv

Tyler TullyWhat is your degree program?

Master of Divinity

What are your plans after graduation?

I've been accepted to the Doctor of Philosophy in Theology program (sub-field of Religion and Science) at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, where I also received the Arthur Peacocke Graduate Studentship in Theology Award. My interdisciplinary research engages Christology through the lens of post-humanist theory and animal studies.

What drew you to CTS?

CTS has a reputation of doing justice work in balance with cutting-edge theological and biblical studies. Through the advice of some mentors, I decided to pursue the MDiv program at CTS as I approached graduation during undergrad. I knew CTS would be a place where I could grow, but the practical "hands-on" focus of the MDiv went hand-in-hand with my liberationist theology. I wanted to be at a place that took theology and biblical studies seriously enough to engage the world like Jesus did. Sometimes that means healing, feeding, and teaching, but other times that means flipping over tables and speaking fiery truth to power.

What was your most transformative class or experience at CTS?

That's a difficult question for me since it's like asking which of my children is my favorite! We have twins so I'll answer in kind. Two courses have been extremely transformative for me during my experience at CTS. First, the 2016 Israel-Palestine course was a once in a lifetime experience for me and many others. Not only did we get to see the ancient and historic sites of the Bible, but we also engaged with contemporary issues of justice, power, and spiritual transformation. I had the pleasure of experiencing that trip alongside CTS professors, trustees, and other students from all over the world. The second most transformative class for me is undoubtedly Ken Stone's "Animals and Ecology in the Bible" course. Ask anyone else in that class and they will tell you the same. That course literally changed my life and was formative in my Constructive Theology thesis work that dealt with trauma and sacrifice in the Bible and also in operative theologies that abuse children in the Church. My future research at the University of Oxford utilizes much of what I was exposed to during that course, and I'm happy to say that I'll continue to engage with Ken's work while I'm doing my doctoral studies in the UK.

What did you value most about your time at CTS?

CTS provided me with so many wonderful opportunities, whether in representing the student body on the Academic Council and MDiv/MARL committees or engaging with the meaningful and fascinating work of scholars like Susan Thistlethwaite, Ken Stone, Ted Jennings, and Seung Ai Yang to name a few. But I'm also very grateful for the friends and colleagues made during our time together at CTS. If it were not for those relationships, I would not have made it through the program. Susan has grown from academic teacher to professional mentor, just as I'm now lucky to call folks like Joanne Terrell "friend." But I don't think my experience is unique in that regard. CTS, like any institution, consists of a matrix of interconnected relationships. My time at CTS brought me together with other MDiv and PhD students, but it also allowed me to work with the folks in the recruitment and development offices too. I consider myself an extremely lucky person to have been able to traverse almost every facet of CTS. I think I will forever remember the friendships made with my fellow seminarians. I really look forward to seeing their work as each are moving on to some amazing things in their vocational callings.

Wei-Jen Chen, STM

Wei Jen ChenWhat is your degree program?

Master of Sacred Theology

What are your plans after graduation?

After my graduation I will go back to Taiwan for a summer vacation. I will share what I learned here with my friends in Taiwan and I have planned some workshops about queer theology, just try to do something in a Taiwanese context. After the summer I will come back to CTS to continue my PhD degree here. My major will be in Hebrew Bible and LGBT studies.

What drew you to CTS?

Lots of reasons! At my previous seminary, my MDiv thesis advisor graduated from CTS about 20 years ago and there were other professors at my previous seminary who graduated from here, too. They encouraged me to go to CTS because they always said ‘CTS is a strange place, very strange for you, but its powerful, very progressive in our society.’ They stood in solidarity with the minority such as LGBT and the oppressed, and fought for their justice and equality. Otherwise, the first LGBT church in Taiwan was established by Rev. Ya-Hui Yang, an alumnus of CTS at 1992. CTS plays an essential position toward the LGBT movement in Taiwan.

What was your most transformative class or experience at CTS?

In my major, my STM degree, I take a lot of classes about queer theology and other LGBT topics. That helped me to understand more about the other bodies, the others in our thoughts, others in our theology. That helped me to broaden my perspective to further places. I think that was the most challenging to me. I also took two classes about feminist theory and theology. That also helped me to know how to analyze who is suffering in different contexts.

What did you value you most about your time at CTS? 

We sometimes have lectures, like at the Castaneda Lecture where we had a queer womanist theologian. That was very exciting for me, very new for me. I never heard of that before in Taiwan. CTS has a lot of lectures, workshops, and fire chats. That helped me connect to people who have spent a lot of time in specific fields and I can learn from them face-to-face. I appreciated that. CTS is a place emphasizes both the progressive academic trainings and radical doing in practice.



Donte Hilliard

HilliardDonteDonte (D. Nebi) Hilliard  has notable experience as an interdisciplinary educator, trainer, cultural worker, activist, researcher, and clergy person. He brings with him more than 10 years of educational and administrative leadership in Diversity, Inclusion & Social Justice education/training. His areas of specialty include Social & Racial Justice Movement History, Community Organizing and studying the complex relationship between identity, culture and power. He is specifically interested in the intersection of social movements, philanthropy, the non-profit sector and public policy. In the Fall of 2015, Donte was admitted into in Leadership Institute of the Center for American Progress. The Leadership Institute identifies, equips, and advances a new generation of leaders from diverse backgrounds and communities to assume responsible roles in the development and implementation of progressive public policies. Currently, Donte serves as the Director of Mission Impact for the YWCA USA where he is charged to provide strategic thought leadership and help to build a sustainable racial justice infrastructure for the national organization. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, a M.A. in African American Studies from The Ohio State University, and a M.A. in Religious Studies from Chicago Theological Seminary.

Describe your current work.

I am the director of Mission Impact at the national office of YWCA, better known as YWCA USA. As director of Mission Impact, I work on strategic infrastructure building. Our organization is in the second phase of reorganization. We just rolled out a new strategic framework in June 2015 that we call the Mission Impact Framework. The framework identifies three signature platforms and three signature outcomes.  The current outcomes are:  to increase the equal opportunities and equal protections of people of color; to increase economic opportunities of women and girls of color; and to improve the health and safety of women and girls of color.  I did a lot of work on that. I also articulated a theory of change for our organization that highlights our transformation effort by combining direct services, issue education, and public policy advocacy.  One of the most exciting things about the new Mission Impact Framework is that we have embedded racial justice in that framework and specifically we’ve chosen to make two of our three signature outcomes related to women and girls of color, and that’s really exciting.

What led you to work at the YWCA?

I spent my entire career in higher education. Before working at the YWCA, I worked at the University of Wisconsin Madison. I was there for about five years and I was pretty sure it was time to move on and do something different and so I started looking. I wanted to make more of an institutional impact. In student affairs, which is where I spent most of my career, I had a great experience working with students and rebuilding my department infrastructure. At the University of Wisconsin, we did some really great work revamping and revitalizing the multicultural student center there, but I wanted to make more of an institutional impact. I started looking at institutions that really afforded me that opportunity to make institutional change that would make a difference in the lives of people of color on a larger scale.

How does your CTS education impact your current work?

I certainly believe that seminary prepared me for my job at University of Wisconsin Madison, as both Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the Multicultural Student Center, and my current work. I have chosen to work in secular institutions but the practice of ministry is still the same. You work with people, walk with people where they are—not because you have some goal of making them what you want them to be, but because you’re going to be a part of their journey and if they are open and interested, you can offer them your assistance along their journey. I’ve always seen my work as ministry. When I came to seminary I thought I might return to congregational work, but as I got closer to the end of the program, I was surer than ever that the work that I do as an educator and administrator is ministry and it’s important. By the time I was getting close to being finished, I knew I was going to go back to higher education and do that work.

Do you have a past in clergy work?

I was a child minister. I have been in ministry since I was 15 years old. I retired from preaching when I was 21.

What advice would you give current CTS students and graduating students?

One of the things I would want to encourage—and sometimes it’s at odds with the goal of seminary education—I would want to encourage people to consider jobs in secular institutions that are not necessarily deemed ministerial positions. We live in a very broken world full of a lot of oppressed people, we live in a world with broken systems, and we need thoughtful and reflective people in secular institutions…sometimes I think even more so than in faith communities! Although I’m not a pastor of a congregation, ministerial training matters when my student shows up at my office door because he’s just been diagnosed with a chronic illness. It matters that I’ve been trained to think about pastoral ministry and pastoral care and how to be present with people. That really matters and, particularly in higher education and in student affairs work, that’s pretty much what you do, you are everything to students who are away from home, outside of the classroom. All the things they deal with in their lives, they need really thoughtful and reflective people to be with them. I would encourage people to consider doing work in secular institutions as well as inside of our faith communities. There are some really great people who could benefit from that.

What is your most significant CTS memory?

When I was still an MDiv student, I was in my constructive theology class while I was taking this class with Dr. Butler, and we were reading a book by a religious studies scholar named Anthony B. Pinn called Terror and Triumph: The Nature of Black Religion. Anthony Pinn is a humanist religious studies scholar, and his concept of humanist theology and humanist religious orientation towards Black tradition and what Black religion is just sort of rocked my world, because I was agreeing with everything he was saying, but he was saying things I had dared not to say aloud. All of the sudden I was having a very difficult time finishing my constructive theology project because it was at that point that I realized that I was a humanist and that a lot of the constructive project wasn’t working with that because I was trying to put square pegs into round holes; I was trying to use a very traditional Black Christian theological framework and it didn’t work for me because I had really shifted in my own orientation, but didn’t have language for it. That book changed my life. It gave me new language for my own journey. That book is what sent me back towards higher education. The work that I do is ministry, whether or not I wear a vestment or if people call me Reverend. Pinn’s theory of Black religion is that at the end of the day, the purpose of Black religion is to help people be as fully human as they can in the world in which we live. It was my favorite memory in some ways because it was discombobulating; it pulled a rug from under me. I was almost out the door and that book just rocked my world and changed my life. It really sent me on this path of doing very intentional social justice work within secular institutions, looking to transform those institutions for the better. I owe it all to that experience in Dr. Butler’s class and for him introducing Anthony Pinn. It changed my life.

What movie should every CTS student see?

There are two films that really transformed me greatly. One of them is a film called Sankofa by filmmaker Haile Gerima, which is a film about this modern African American woman who gets snatched back in time and has to relive the experience of one of her ancestors, who was kidnapped, trafficked across the Atlantic Ocean and sold into chattel slavery in the West. It is one of the most transforming and powerful films I have seen in my life. It gets to the deep truth around race and religion, particularly for African Americans in this world. If anyone is going to be doing ministry with African American, there is a very specific context to that. It’s a great film that brings forward that entire context in very complicated, yet accessible ways.

The other film is an adaptation of a play by Harvey Fierstein called Torch Song Trilogy. I think I saw it when I was 12 or 13, and that film changed my life.  At that time I had not come into the truth of my gay identity when I saw that film, but what I was sure of was if I ever discovered that to be my truth,  I would  have to share my truth, particularly with the people closest to me. There’s a great scene between the main character and his mother that has him holding onto certain truths about himself and what the impact of not sharing your truth with the people closest to you, what it can do, and the damage it can cause to your relationships. That film, that scene in particular between Harvey Fierstein and Anne Bancroft, rocked my world, it changed my life. 

Zachary Moon, PhD/ABD

CTSZacharyMoonZachary Moon, PhD/ABD will be joining the Chicago Theological Faculty as Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology and Care, effective July 1, 2016. Moon is an educator, author, and chaplain. He currently serves as a commissioned officer and chaplain in the United States Navy and previously served as a chaplain resident in the Department of Veteran Affairs hospital system. He is the author of Coming Home: Ministry That Matters with Veterans and Military Families (Chalice Press, 2015) and consults nationwide with congregations and denominations concerning military service and the role of communities in post-deployment reintegration. He was raised in the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and now is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He is an active member in the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Pastoral Theology.

What led you to pursue a career in theological education?

I feel called to work in this particular kind of theological education and at Chicago Theological Seminary because of the real needs of our world at this time. Theological education, to me, is at its most significant and most vital when it’s really engaging with the real needs that the world presents at a specific time. One of the things I’ve always valued about CTS is that it continues to be a place that tries to do the hard work of really discerning what the needs in our world are at this time and then does its best to try to challenge our theological education to meet those needs. I feel very much that my own work as a theological educator is about being a partner and joining this really magnificent team at CTS in trying to meet these big challenges.

How does your Chicago Theological Seminary education influence your ministry?

CTS is a community filled with different kinds of people: different backgrounds and different religious traditions are represented within our learning community. The real richness that can come about when you have that kind of mixture of differences in one learning community is very, very significant. It was such a huge part of my learning as a CTS student and has continued to really be a great gift and asset to me in the contexts of ministry I have worked in since then.

What do you hope students take away from your classes?

This particular generation of students at CTS is going to play a role in the shaping of the future of the communities in which our graduates find themselves. I think this is a time in which both theological education and ministry really have an opportunity to grow into a much more significant participatory force in our society and a big part of that has to do with entering into the public discourse and engage with critical social, political, and economic issues by understanding their moral and religious dimensions.

What theological commitments do you hope to live out at CTS

My primary theological commitment is practicing compassion as the generative force of our justice-seeking and justice-making in a world that is so often really harmed by doing violence unto itself, the people, and the environment. To me, when our activism and public speech fails to come from a place of compassion, we often unintentionally feed into the harm or the violence by creating these type of antagonisms of political discourse that are seemingly “either/or” options. For me, as a pastoral theologian, I have a particular commitment to thinking about how communities can flourish. Communities are organized around values, beliefs, and practices. At times these seem to generate conflict between communities but we don’t need to entrench ourselves in our traditions at the cost of others. For me, attention must be paid to how we practice compassion in communities, and particularly across boundaries where differences of values and beliefs, class, race, and political agenda may keep us from being in conversation with each other. How can we reach across those kinds of boundaries with compassion and try to create a place where we can hear one another, share with one another, and ultimately build the kind of relationship that can transform our world? I’ve really come to believe through my work that it’s really through compassionate relationships that true justice and peace can be made and sustained. 

What are you most excited about teaching in CTS/working in this area?

A city like Chicago, the South Side of Chicago in particular, presents some immediate opportunities for a seminary like CTS. I resonate with CTS’ commitment to do contextually relevant theological education. We don’t need to speak abstractly about the impact of violence, systemic injustices, failing schools or environmental degradation—when these are the realities of the world just outside our seminary. It’s not an option to be passive or silent or remain behind closed doors, because we are needed right now out in our neighborhoods, out in our communities. There’s real stuff going on right now today and every day in a big city like Chicago and we need to be present to what’s going on and be engaged with what’s going on. So I’m excited to be joining a faculty and a learning community that is committed to that kind of transformative leadership. 

What is your favorite thing about Chicago?

My favorite thing about Chicago is the public transportation. I love going around cities on the buses, on the ‘L’, seeing different parts of the city, and seeing how the city changes. There’s so many different neighborhoods with such different rhythms and feels to them and you can just get on one bus line and just start going and all of the sudden you’re in one kind of community, the signs go from English to Spanish, all of the sudden you’re in a different neighborhood and its all Polish restaurants. There is such an incredible diversity of people and I love to explore the city.

Quincy James Rineheart (Ph.D. Student)

The Center for the Study of Black Faith and Life (CSBFL) awarded its second annual C. Shelby Rooks Scholar Award to Quincy James Rineheart during the 9th Annual C. Shelby Rooks Lecture at Chicago Theological Seminary.

The C. Shelby Rooks Scholar Award acknowledges the outstanding work of a particular CTS student who carries C. Shelby Rooks' legacy in their commitment to community and uses the lessons from the past to guide the future.

Mr. Rineheart's seminary aspirations began in childhood, where his childhood pastor, Rev. Robert Smith, Jr., Ph.D. encouraged him to receive a secular education first, so Mr. Rineheart received a Bachelor of the Arts in Literature from Wilberforce University. Mr. Rineheart went on to receive his Master of Divinity in Ethics and Theology with a certificate in Black Church Studies from Emory University and a Master of Sacred Theology from Chicago Theological Seminary where he wrote a thesis entitled "Mitigating Black Homophobia: Theologies of Masculinity in the Black Charismatic Church Tradition". Mr. Rineheart is currently a Ph.D. student in the area of Ethics, Theology, and the Human Sciences with a focus in African American Religious History.

Mr. Rineheart described his studies at CTS as "intersectional," examining Black Male Bodies, Bayard Rustin, and the Civil Rights Movement.

"The interdisciplinary work of this institution has afforded me the opportunity to deal with my research in an intersectional way," Mr. Rineheart said. "CTS has been a cutting-edge institution for a very long time and I knew that being here in this space would give me the theoretical and practical tools necessary for social and theological transformation. This institution marries theology and praxis quite well."

In addition to his work as a doctoral student, Mr. Rineheart is also an ordained Elder and has been very active in his local church and community. He is a member of Greater Harvest Missionary Baptist Church under the leadership of his pastor, Elder Eric Thomas, and serves as the director of the Educational Leadership Institute and advisor to the Ministers-in-Training program at the church. Mr. Rineheart said he has a "responsibility" to everyone, but in particular, to African American men and women.

"My responsibility is to reach back and to pull others and to create a path so that they, too, can have the same opportunities, if not better opportunities, than I was given."

The award was given by Dr. Julia Speller, Kenneth B. Smith Professor of Public Ministry and Associate Professor of American Religious History & Culture, who said Mr. Rineheart "challenges church leadership to embrace the responsibilities and accountabilities that keep them connected to the people, and he is also passionately committed to academic research and teaching in the area of African American Religious History," before she gave him the award.

"He's an activist scholar," said Dr. Speller. "He's on the road to doing some great work and he's armed with the discipline of history. History is very important. You can't really know where you're going until you know where you've been and in his studies he's going to be well aware of what has happened, both good and not so good, and use that as a lens to critically assess what needs to be done in the future."

After CTS, Mr. Rineheart said he hopes to work as an academic dean and professor, preferably starting with a Historically Black College or University.

View the entire C. Shelby Rooks event below.

Jonah Waseberg (PhD)

Jonah-Salim portraitFor many of us the genocide of Yazidie Kurds by ISIS is a surreal reality gleaned from news reports from far across the world. But Jonah Salim, a Ph.D. student at CTS, receives updates on the tragedy directly from Yazidie survivors through daily communication with Yazidie friends and relatives in Iraq. Although he is proud to be a U.S. citizen and Christian, Salim grew up as a Yazidie Kurd in a Kurdish village in Nineveh, Iraq (prophet Jonah’s town) and offers a different perspective on the vicious genocide. His doctoral research is called, Trauma of Scapegoat: In the case of Yazidie Kurds.

Salim raises the voice of these victims with students, scholars, faith communities, and the media. In August, on the second day of the most recent genocide attacks, he wrote directly to President Barack Obama, sharing his concerns and offering his assistance. In late October, President Obama responded to Salim’s letter, in a personal email to Salim:

"Thank you for writing. ......ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and Levant in Iraq and Syria] poses a threat to the Iraqi people, to the region, to the international community, and to our nation....Beyond partnership with Iraq, we formed a global coalition of more than 60 countries and partners ....At the same time, we are leading a diplomatic effort to work with Iraqi leaders and countries in the region to support stability."

Salim is currently working on a paper on the religious history, clashes, circumstances and politics that led up to and still impact these deadly events. Writing such a paper, drawing from deep theological study as well as significant personal experience has been difficult. Salim persists; keeping in mind his wish, “to contribute to the scholarship community with knowledge about the theology and trauma of Yazidie people; to raise awareness of the genocide that Yazidis face by ISIS.”

Salim relates that this paper is his way of, “raising the voice of Yazidie women, including younger girls, thousands of whom were literally raped and sexually abused.” Salim’s sharing of his personal knowledge and study, “raisies the voice of Yazidie children who have lost some or all of their families in the genocide, who are victims, often kidnaped, injured, or even buried alive by the terrorists.” With his words, Salim aims, “to be the voice of Yazidie victims who have no voice here, in our community.”

Download Jonah Salim's article, "Trauma of the Yazidis." [pdf]