Today, I begin my third and final year of seminary which has caused me to reflect on where I sense that God is taking me. Before I started classes at Fuller Seminary, I made myself a promise. I would go into this experience as a learner, not seeking to reinforce my own Christian beliefs, but to learn everything that I could and to understand faith and theology from perspectives that were different than my own.
To say that seminary has been an enriching experience is to say the absolute least.
I had chosen Fuller because it touts itself as an interdenominational institution. Thus, my assumption going in was that I would be taught Christian theology from a perspective, while not totally neutral, would display and embrace the various nuances of Christian belief. I didn’t want to be told, “this is what you must believe because this is what our parent denomination tells us to believe.” I wanted the challenge of figuring out what I believed while learning about the scope of what can be considered Christian thought and belief. As someone with a Black Church background and who’s beliefs could best be categorized as Pentecostal/Charismatic, I relished the opportunity to learn with and from people whose faith looked and sounded different than mine even if we disagreed on certain points. During my time at Fuller, I have been taught by Baptists, Covenanters, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Non-denoms, Wesleyans, an Eastern Orthodox, a Free Methodist, an Episcopal priest, and professors from other traditions that I didn’t realize. My classmates have been AME, AME Zion, Vineyard, Assemblies of God, Methodists, Anglican, Catholic, Church of Christ, and many other Christian traditions.
I have had a few surprises along the way…
To say that seminary has been an enriching experience is to say the absolute least. My beliefs and stances have shifted and been refined over the past two years. I have grown deeper in faith, learned new spiritual disciplines and practices, and become more aware of what I do and don’t believe (I’m still very much Pentecostal/Charismatic, and I am absolutely not a Calvinist…no shade to the Calvinists out there). I have pushed back against my institution’s marginalization of black faculty. I have studied and written about black liberation theology and womanism. God has affirmed and re-affirmed my calling to vocational ministry. I have also had a few surprises along the way. When I first entered seminary, I was adamant that getting my Master of Divinity would be the end of my education. There was no way that I was going to do a Doctorate of any sort, let alone a PhD. Never say never. I don’t know exactly when, but I do know that getting a PhD is in my near future.
I don’t understand why God, in his wisdom, would call a black activist who cares about the liberation of her people to what is possibly the whitest denomination ever
When I entered seminary, I had high hopes of finding a denomination in which to be ordained. I had no idea what denomination that I wanted to go into, but I trusted that God would direct my path. I searched, obsessed, worried, and felt super frustrated at times because I had no idea “where” to go. When I talked to a couple of my professors, they both suggested that Anglicanism might be a good fit. I was skeptical at first, but when I looked into it, I realized that I almost certainly had become Anglican—if I hadn’t always been one all along. At the beginning of 2019, I embarked on a journey to discern and discover where in the Christian Church that I belonged and that journey led my family and me into The Episcopal Church. I don’t know what God has in store for me in this denomination. It is very different from what I’m used to. Yet there has been something there that has already started to shape and form me. I don’t view The Episcopal Church as some sort of silver bullet that will be the answer to all of my spiritual questions and problems. I’m not a neophyte who thinks that her newly found spiritual path is the cure for everyone. Far be it from me to be “that guy” who forgets that Jesus’ church is expansive and includes people with differing beliefs and practice.
God has used this experience to expose areas of spiritual pride in my heart that I didn’t realize existed.
I don’t understand why God, in his wisdom, would call a black activist who cares about the liberation of her people to what is possibly the whitest denomination ever (in the United States, black and brown folks are the majority of Anglicans worldwide). The Episcopal Church also has a ratchet past that includes slavery and colonialism. With that said, they are working to make reparations for their sordid past (though, admittedly, I cannot speak to the quality or sufficiency of those efforts). God has used this experience to expose areas of spiritual pride in my heart that I didn’t realize existed. I realized that I have made wrong judgments about people from other Christian traditions based on what I thought that I knew about them. I realized that Pentecostals, Charismatics, and everybody else can be stuck in “dead religion.” In my own bias, I didn’t think that Episcopalians/Anglicans were very spiritual or took prayer and their relationship with God very seriously.
I never would have chosen this path for myself…
Then I met an Episcopal organist from Louisiana who prayed for me when I needed it most and sent me a prayer that breathed on the dry bones of my Spirit. God sent one Anglican couple to introduce me to the Book of Common prayer where I found something new to supplement and breathe on my prayer life. He sent another Anglican couple to encourage me to pursue my calling. He sent an Episcopal priest to teach my Old Testament class where I felt the Holy Spirit every time I listened to a lecture. He sent a friend from High School to prophesy to me and to speak the prophetic words, “Ally Henny, the Episcopal Church welcomes you,” that would eventually ring boldly in my spirit as I realized my call. He sent a Black Anglican priest to encourage my spirit and show me that this tradition is ours. He sent me to a beautiful little church with beautiful people and a priest who cares about justice. He sent many others who have encouraged me and pushed me forward on this path that I never would have chosen for myself. I recognize that everyone won’t understand the path that I’m on. Some who know me might even be concerned. There are others out there who will probably “have something to say” about me and who will call my faith and “orthodoxy” into question. The good news is that there is only One to whom I will be accountable and I trust that he is the one who is ordering my steps.