Natalie Johnson: Social Justice Leader Blossoms in Her Time at Iliff

Natalie Johnson - student

(DENVER) — Student Natalie Johnson has a light about her and it’s shining bright. Johnson is in her final year at Iliff School of Theology (Iliff) studying to earn her master of divinity degree (MDIV) in spring 2014.

“I have really grown during my time at Iliff, Johnson said. “When I started at Iliff, I was timid and in class, very quiet – I’m not exactly boisterous today – but I have found my voice in the classroom as well as outside of it. I’m here and thriving with a kind of confidence I did not think was in me to express.”

At 24, Johnson is one of the youngest students at Iliff, and highly regarded. The enthusiasm of youth keeps her going, and her passion to serve others keeps her busy. Johnson was elected co-chair of Iliff’s Student Senate last spring and teamed with co-chair Josh Dembicki, she has brought thoughtful leadership to the Iliff Community.

“I am proud to be a leader at Iliff and excited about what I’m accomplishing with my co-chair. Together, we’re committed to promoting a range of opportunities. We’re working to encourage students to see Iliff as a home — a community to nurture while we’re here and take care of when we leave it — meaning after graduation.”

According to Johnson, “When we took office, Josh and I sat down and took a full measure of Student Senate processes. We identified those things on which we felt we could make the greatest difference and have worked at shaping a framework for growth, both personally and for the student community. We have developed one another as leaders and have found a kindred pace. The things were working on are robust and hopefully will seed meaningful growth for our student community.”

Under Johnson and Dembicki’s leadership, a travel grant has been developed to support student outreach to the academy.

“Perhaps our legacy will be fostering opportunity. The travel grant for masters’ students will help fund travel and participation at conferences. Our community is so thoughtful and productive, we need to share that beyond Iliff. We’re encouraging students to present; doing so affirms them, and supports Iliff’s exposure in the Academy.”

Other structural contributions the duo have made include developing integration of Iliff’s Board of Trustees to Student Senate.

“Iliff Trustee Naomi Harris, has been really supportive of our work. We are grateful for her mentorship and many encouragements. Our growing relationship with the Board of Trustees has helped us better understand Iliff, and the direction in which we’re headed. We’re all working together in intentional, productive, meaningful and satisfying ways.”

In describing her post-graduate plans, Johnson smiles and says, “when I graduate this spring, I’m returning to my roots. Shreveport is my home. You can take a girl out of the country, but you cannot take the country out of the girl, the south is where I belong!” A devoted member of the United Methodist Church, she hopes to use her MDIV in youth ministry.

“Admittedly, I didn’t realize the depth of my calling until I had reached my third quarter at Iliff. Since I have always been passionate about children, and teens especially, and my love of music has been a constant I plan to use my gifts to reach them in education and ministry.”

Describing her approach to ministry Johnson invokes her southern upbringing. “Coming from the South, my faith experience has enriched beyond the four gospels; theologians differently interpret scripture is really important in how I will develop my ministry,” she said. “In my time here at Iliff, I have become a theological enthusiast and hope to share my depth of understanding in powerful ways; it’s a lot of fun.”