I know that it is not a unique confession when I say that it was a tough transition for me to come to seminary.
I am very thankful to be a part of the seminary community known as the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. It was just over 2½ years ago that I began my graduate studies here in Hyde Park.
Many of the students here, most of whom are now friends, if not family, are seeking to complete the Master of Divinity program and have been called to be pastors in the ELCA and other denominations.
I, however, like a few others, have been called to be a teacher. I am completing my Master of Arts in Theological Studies and am hopeful that I can continue my studies here in the Doctor of Philosophy program. Inserting my prayer request here!
Just like so many before me, the seminary has become a place to call home, if even only temporarily.
When I think about what home means, I believe it is that you have been gifted with a place where you are cared for, where you feel safe, where you feel valued and loved.
It is a place that allows you to be vulnerable and authentic and where you are surrounded by people who want your spirit to grow and be healthy.
Though I cannot speak for anyone else, I can say that this is what I have found at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.
A unique experience
However, I can say that being the only Native student at a seminary does make for a unique experience. The transition that I was going to make from Oaks, a small Lutheran, Cherokee community, located in the heart of the Cherokee Nation, in what is now known as Oklahoma, to Hyde Park on the south side of Chicago, just blocks from the Obama residence, I knew would be overwhelming.
I had lived in other urban settings as a younger adult but had returned to my people and my family.
Leaving again was not the plan.
Yet, when the call came and I was to be sent back out from my village, I wanted to be sure that where I was to study would be another “osda edasdi,” translated “a good place to be.” See, that is what Oaks is, that Cherokee place nestled in the bosom of Creation, with all of its good people, creeks, trees, fields, heart, faith and spirit. Why leave?
So where was this next good place for me?
Carefully, I examined all of my options. The next good place needed to be a place that honored the culture, heritage and history of me and my people.
I also required that it be a welcoming environment for LGBTQ people.
Much of my career in the church has been to do ministry with young people and working to inspire and develop young Christian servant leaders, so it needed to be an institution committed to doing the same.
A community that values diversity
I value diversity, and studying in a community that also values diversity and is diverse was important.
Finally, I wanted to be in an urban community, at an urban crossroads if you will, where all types of people were in community, a center where real people live, and where both native and transient, resident and guest, neighbor and stranger were present — a Galilee of sorts. So, while there are many amazing, seminary communities and theological schools, others that are also Lutheran, it was the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago that was best suited for me.
The faculty has at every moment respected my perspective and contributions as a Native person, and the staff has worked to respect and understand the culture that I bring to the community.
Since my arrival both the faculty and staff have supported the newly developed annual Native American Heritage Month symposium and have gone to great lengths to ensure the development of a Native American Studies emphasis.
The school’s LGBTQIA2-S organization, known as Thesis 96, continues to receive wonderful support from the institution and the spirit of welcome and reconciliation continues to grow.
The Youth In Mission program and its model for equipping young servant leaders continues to give me hope as it brings youth to campus and then sends them out into the world to serve.
The Albert “Pete” Pero Jr. Multicultural Center provides opportunities to the seminary community and the surrounding seminary and university communities to celebrate and learn about many of the cultures represented here. All of this and much more I have been blessed with, at an urban crossroads.
And so here I am, at that next good place. I am at home at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. I am a student who is receiving a valuable, quality, Lutheran, theological education. I am called to learn and called to teach. What an “osda edasdi.”