- I switched religions. I was baptized a Christian in the United Church of Christ this past January after joining the fabulous community of Kirkwood United Church of Christ. While I have much to be thankful for in my Unitarian Universalist roots - I'm excited to begin my new life as a Christian.
- I'm getting married. Going to become the future Mrs. Anna Flowers in just a few short weeks! Both Andrew and I are excited to take this step together and build a life of intention and awareness. (Check out our awesome engagement pics from Our Labor of Love!)
- I'm becoming a minister. I'm not sure how common it is to switch religions at the same time that you are discerning to become a religious leader - but that's me. Yikes! Prayers are welcome.
I've been thinking about divinity school for a long time. Actually, one of the jobs I first wanted as a kid was to become a minister someday. But as an adult, I've been thinking about it for about a year and a half. What slowed my discernment process was my feeling out of place within Unitarian Universalism. As much as I tried, I really could not see myself practicing happily as a UU minister. And yet I felt like there were no other options for me. Those were the cards I'd been dealt so to speak.
Then I remembered that I was only 25 years old. And how stupid I was to feel stuck. God was still speaking in my life. So I started exploring. And praying. And talking to people who know about these things. And I decided to apply to divinity school, to pursue ministry in my new denominational home - the United Church of Christ. And it was a good decision.
Because I can know tell you proudly that I will be attending Emory University's Candler School of Theology here in Atlanta as a Robert W. Woodruff Fellow! I am so honored and humbled to be a part of this amazing community of scholars and future leaders in the Church.
Just going through the application process was an amazing experience. I'll share with you now the essay I wrote describing my faith journey for Emory:
Growing up in church, the biggest lesson our Sunday School teachers always taught us is that we can believe whatever we want to believe. There are no right or wrong religions – no right or wrong ideas about the meaning of life. Sitting on those metal folding chairs in our wood-paneled church basement, we were encouraged to stretch our imaginations and be good little sojourners on our own individual “quests for truth and meaning.” While this may sound heavenly to someone bruised by a more doctrinal upbringing, I have to admit that it left me more than a little lost and confused. So like children naturally do, I mimicked the way the adults around me were questing for truth and meaning – and thus my own thoughts about God were pretty much limited to the idea that it was perfectly OK to not have any thoughts about God at all. Growing up Unitarian Universalist in an historic puritan church in Massachusetts, where the cross had long ago been pulled down from behind the pulpit, I was raised a de facto agnostic.
This worldview was left pretty much unchanged until one profound moment at summer camp. I was studying as an 8th grader with the John Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth summer programs reading Plato’s dialogues with other overly ambitious children. We were discussing Euthyphro and Socrates’ question of whether piety is defined by the gods’ favor, or whether it exists as a stand-alone definition. Our instructor told us to forget the “gods” language of ancient Greece and simply pose it as a more modern question concerning God and virtue. There it was – a request to debate something about God in a way that required a common definition. I raised my hand to declare, with 13-years-of-religious-education-backed-self-righteousness, that “God means many things to many people and some of us may not even believe in God.” The instructor rolled his eyes, clearly exhausted by reading Euthyphro with middle-schoolers for six hours a day, and told us to assume the Judeo-Christian God exists. “Take it as a premise for the sake of this discussion,” he told us.
Take God as a premise?! My young mind was completely blown. Forget the genius of Socrates – I was simply in awe of what that request for imagination demanded of me. For the first time in my life someone had asked me to assume, if even for a few minutes, that there is a God. Then came the strange part. A physical warmth began to wash over my body, emanating from within my core. Sitting there in a stuffy seminar room with Plato’s dialogues flopped open in front of me, I felt God’s presence enfold me. And for a short time, I believed.
When I think back about my faith journey, it all seems to hinge on that experience. I’ve spent plenty of hours contemplating what it actually meant. Was it a psychosomatic response? Did I simply learn that it feels good to believe in God, rather than that God exists? Today, I’m still not entirely sure what the answer is. I change my mind about it frequently. But what doesn’t change, what’s stayed constant since that road-to-Damascus day, is my deepest hope – hope beyond faith – that there is a God, and that God made herself known to me that day.
That hope has carried me on quite a journey. When I entered college, I was a nominal Unitarian Universalist – still clinging somewhat to the apron of my mother faith but looking towards other traditions as well. Around that time, my sister came out to our family as a Christian. (She had already come out as a lesbian years earlier and it’s not an exaggeration to say that Christ was seen as a more scandalous suitor than her girlfriend.) I was intrigued by her path and eager to see what drew her in that direction. I started attending her church whenever I was on break from college. It was there that I began to know Jesus and my hope grew not only for God but for Christ as well. I could not imagine a better story ever being told than a God loving humanity so much – loving life and the human experience so much – that he/she chose to embody that creation and walk amidst her children, serving, healing, and ultimately sacrificing for them. I became a Christian.
I continued on that path until a few years later when I moved to Atlanta to be with my boyfriend, now fiancé, Andrew. The two of us were looking for a church home, at my insistence, and ran into the demons from Andrew’s fundamentalist past – he was painfully uncomfortable with Christianity. We ended up landing at a wonderful Unitarian Universalist congregation in Atlanta. I was back in the fold, but with a new perspective from having developed a relationship with God and becoming a Christian. This time as a UU, I was drawn towards the theological basis upon which the two denominations were founded in the 19th century. Learning about the beliefs of my theological ancestors – back before the cross was taken down from behind that pulpit – allowed me to engage with my faith as a Christian in a whole new way.
At my pastor’s suggestion, I worked with our ministerial intern on creating a theologically universalist worship group called One Love – my attempt to capture the essence of unitarian and universalist theologies. With me as worship leader and our ministerial intern as the biblical expert and oftentimes preacher, One Love flourished for a time into a loving community of about 15 participants. We prayed, studied the Bible, and talked about the tough questions that scripture presented to us. I was completely in love with this little community I helped create – thinking at times that it would one day spin off into its own church. But my naiveté was ultimately revealed with the departure of our ministerial intern and my subsequent burn-out. I learned the hard way that my UU church very much liked the idea of having a Christian group under the roof of their multi-faith home, but it was hard to find many individuals who themselves wanted to be committed Christians. I realized that my faith and hope needed to be nurtured and expressed in another denomination. That’s when I joined Kirkwood United Church of Christ. It was the best place for me to grow as a disciple of Christ - loving and serving not just the church, but also my neighbor and the world.
My journey to faith and hope in Jesus Christ has brought me now to Candler School of Theology. For the past few years, and especially through my experience with One Love, I’ve heard a call to ministry. Intellectually and vocationally, I want to be a part of the evolution of the Christian church. I’m most intrigued by the emergent church movement, including the writings of Phyllis Tickle and Brian McLaren. The more I have been reading, the more I am convinced that Christianity is in a place where radical change is both needed and possible. More and more people are hungering for a postmodern approach to religion, a gospel that opens their hearts to timeless truths without requiring that they check their brains at the door. While open-minded inquiry is not new to Christian academics, it has largely failed to manifest itself structurally within the Church. How does one authentically practice a religion that is as open-minded as it is open-hearted? Can such a religious practice make sufficient life-changing and life-affirming demands of us, as the best of religion can? These are the questions I hope to engage, both in divinity school and as a practicing minister. Helping me to do so, is my background as a Unitarian Universalist. I understand intimately both the successes and failures of UUism’s expression of postmodernism. With this experiential lens, and greater theological study at Candler, I hope to become a leader offering a way to practice inclusive and postmodern Christianity - without diluting the fundamental power of its gospel, tradition, and text.
I see my leadership taking two predominate forms – parish ministry and writing. I have a profound love for the Church, and it saddens me to see it declining. My long term dream is to gain enough skill and experience to serve the Church as a new church planter. While some of the great oaks of mainline Christianity are hollowing out and ready to fall, I believe that the death of those past expressions of the Church are what allows for the resurrection of Christ’s body taking on new form and new life in our society moving forward. I am answering a call to be a part of that resurrection process, and plan to seek ordination in the United Church of Christ. Writing is something I also hope to do. I have been keeping a fairly popular blog for over a year now, and it has allowed me to network with other emergent Christians and engage in their conversation. No one person will have all the answers, but together we can find a way to move forward as the Church. I always want to be serving that broader mission, and writing publicly is one way to do that.
To Candler’s diverse community, I bring the unique perspective gained from my religious heritage, a passion for the Church, and the commitment to minister as a pastor, preacher and writer. The real-world experience combined with a world-class theological education available at Candler School of Theology will empower me to fulfill my call to be a disciple of Christ, minister to God’s children, and voice for change and renewal in the Protestant movement. Of course, you can never be certain of your future and I am excited and open to see the ways that God chooses to use me and the new paths that I will take at Candler and beyond.