2013 Annual Alumni/ae Awards Banquet
Iliff hosted the Annual Alumni/ae Awards Banquet, Feb. 7, 2013, where two alumni/ae and one faculty member were honored for their contributions to Iliff and the greater community.
Outstanding Recent Alumna
Nadia Bolz-Weber, MDIV ’08
Nadia is a self-proclaimed “late bloomer.”
In seminary people called her a 2nd career student which she thought was adorable, because it implied she had a first career. But in fact, she did not. “Unless,” as she says, “being a screw-up is now considered a career, in which case I was at the top of my field.”
She didn’t go to college until she was 28 – at which time she “ambitiously” enrolled in a film studies night class at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon. At the time she was convinced that, unlike the rest of her family, who she describes as “educated beyond their intelligence”, she did not have what it took to succeed in school. Also, she was sure she could not write. Which is why she literally cried when she realized that taking a class in film studies would indeed involve writing a paper. Her long-suffering husband Matthew held her hand and coaxed her to finish the 2-page reflection paper on the film The English Patient. The week prior she had told her professor that she may not be able to complete the assignments and would at the very least need a lot of help to even pass the class.
At the end of the term that professor, Susan Glassow, asked to meet with Nadia. “I was reflecting on your concerns at the beginning of the term” she told her “and I thought it might be important for you to hear me say this. Nadia, I have taught for 20 years and you are one of the smartest students I’ve ever had” “Really?” Nadia asked waiting for the punch-line. But none came. That was all it took. One person telling her she was smart. (We never really know what will happen if we tell someone what we see in them, especially if we suspect they aren’t able to see it themselves)
8 years and 2 babies later, and despite the fact that her High School guidance counselor told her she would never have any success in life and would be lucky to finish trade school, Nadia graduated Suma Cum Laude from CU Boulder with a degree in Religious Studies. Thank you Susan Glassow.
Nadia’s honors thesis was A Cultural History of Deaf Churches in America. She basically lucked out in choosing a topic there had been almost no research on and for some reason the University gave her 2 research grants; one paid for archival work at Gallaudet University in Washington DC and the other for more ethnographic-type work in Minneapolis and Philadelphia. On a whim, and not really knowing any better, Nadia applied to present her thesis at the national AAR conference in 2004. Perhaps her paper was accepted based on the fact that nowhere on the proposal form does it ask: “are you an undergraduate?” and what no one knew didn’t hurt them. After she gave her paper and shockingly none of the respondents took issue with her or her thesis, that group, the Religion and Disability Studies group, held their annual business meeting. Thinking it rude to leave, she stuck around. When it became clear that the student position on the steering committee needed to be filled and no one else was raising their hand she thought “screw it” and raised hers. That is how, as an undergraduate, Nadia ended up on a steering committee in the AAR.
A couple years later, while at Iliff working on her MDIV, she was approached by Church publishing to watch 24 consecutive hours of Trinity Broadcasting Network and write a book based on the experience. The Bolz-Weber’s needed a new furnace so she asked if there was an advance for the book. They said, yes, a small one and she took the deal. Now she knows that needing a new furnace is not exactly the best reason for writing a book, but it is honestly the reason she had at the time. Many Illifians including Sara Rosenau, Mark George, Ann Brock, the ruggedly handsome Jerry Herships made cameos in the book.
Knowing she wanted to start a church, in 2006 Nadia began hosting a monthly Theology Pub at the Mercury Café. Sometimes it was awesome but more often than not it was awkward.
In the Fall of 2007 Nadia and 8 other people started meeting monthly in her living room to pray and share a meal. And in April of 2008 House for All Sinners and Saints held their first public liturgy. They began worshiping weekly during Advent of 2008.
The church makes as little sense as their pastor. On any given Sunday you could find an elected official next to an ex-convict, next to a suburban soccer mom next to a gay couple. It has become a beautiful, Gospel-soaked mess.
Nadia has preached to 10,000 people at the Red Rocks Easter service, to 20,000 at the Greenbelt Festival in the UK, and to 35,000 at the Superdome in New Orleans, but her real love is preaching to the 150 people who show up every week at the clunky, gorgeous church that is the House for All Sinners and Saints. Nadia sees herself primarily as a preacher of the Gospel. She loves pastoring her small church and has no ambition to do anything else.
Her memoir, Pastrix: the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Jericho books comes out in September. With a follow-up book in the Fall of 2014.
Her current loves include lifting insanely heavy weights, watching Doctor Who at home with her husband and kids, and writing bios in the 3rd person.
Paul Easley, STM ’72
Paul Easley was born in Charleston, West Virginia on September 7, 1930 to Alexander P. and Estella A. Easley. He grew up with seven siblings, who now, along with his parents, are all deceased.
During his early years, Paul was an active member of Simpson Memorial Methodist Church. In grade school he was a well-rounded individual, participating in sports, drama, speech, and choir. It was on one speech choir event that he was selected to meet Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt.
After his graduation from high school, Easley enlisted in the West Virginia National Guard, Transportation Truck Company where he was activated for the Korean War. Once his active duty was served he enlisted in West Virginia State College, where he participated once more in choir, and the Wesley Society.
In his senior year of college he received his exhorters and local preachers license and immediately served two churches in the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the Methodist Church. Upon graduation, Paul attended Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia, where his summers were spent working with the Virginia Council of Churches Migrant Ministry program in Accomack County of Eastern Virginia.
His first appointments after seminary were to Trinity Methodist Church in Fairmount, West Virginia. However, after serving two local churches he was called into active duty in the United States Chaplaincy Corps.
After his graduation from the Chaplain’s Advance course in Ft. Hamilton, New York, he was selected to attend CPE schooling in Englewood, Colorado, where he also attended the Iliff School of Theology to complete his STM degree.
After numerous years in the army (more than he is willing to say) he was employed as campus minister at Clark College in Atlanta, and later as an assistant minister at Ben Hill UMC, and finally Kings Memorial UMC in Atlanta, where he still serves today.
Paul is 82 years old and has three children: Paul Easley Jr., who lives in Bristol, England, Verita Green, living in Corte Madera, California, and David Allen Easley, who resides in Orlando, Florida.
Larry Kent Graham, Professor of Pastoral Theology and Care
Larry Kent Graham is Professor of Pastoral Theology and Care at Iliff, where he was Vice-President and Dean of Academic Affairs from 2000-2003. He is a Diplomate in the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and ordained in the United Church of Christ. He received his Ph.D. in Pastoral Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1978. He is a member of the Society of Pastoral Theology. Graham specializes in human sexuality, organizational development, marriage and family counseling, and clergy professional ethics. He is author of Care of Persons, Care of Worlds: A Psychosystems Approach to Pastoral Care and Counseling (Abingdon, 1992), and Discovering Images of God: Narratives of Care with Lesbians and Gays (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997). He is currently working on a book on the impact of war on the pastoral care of families. He is married to Sheila Greeve Davaney. He has four children, six grandchildren, and one great grandchild.
Graham came to Iliff in 1977. He is in his 36th year of teaching at Iliff. He is a native of Los Angeles, California and has lived in New Jersey, New York, Minnesota and Colorado. He and his spouse, Sheila Davaney, graded many of your papers over the years! They live together in New York where we moved for her to work for the Ford Foundation. Sheila now works for the Center for American Progress, a liberal political think-tank, in Washington, DC. Larry’s daughters, Renee and Megan, live with their families in Durango and Bayfield, Colorado. Larry and Sheila’s son, Peter, lives in Stamford, CT. and works for Factset, a financial data analysis company. Their daughter, Emily, just finished a two-year stint with Teach for America in Tulsa, OK, where she now teaches English at Will Rogers Collegiate School. For the last five years, the focus of Larry’s professional work has been on researching, teaching, and writing about the impact of war on the pastoral care of families. He has received grants from the Ford Foundation and the Association of Theological Schools in the US and Canada for interviews with families in the US, Germany, Vietnam and Bosnia and Herzegovina. He commutes between Denver and New York to fulfill his duties at Iliff as Professor of Pastoral Theology and Care. His pastimes and recreations include walking, reading, hiking, travelling, and giving advice.
About the Alumni/ae of the Year Awards
Each year, the Iliff Alumni/ae Association Board (IAAB) honors our alumni/ae for their excellence and contributions. With the assistance of alumni and friends, we determine exceptional alumni/ae who deserve to be honored for their dedicated service and invite nominations to the IAAB Awards Committee. Awards will be presented each year at the Annual Alumni/ae and Friends Banquet in January/February.
The categories of awards are:
- Outstanding Contribution to Parish Ministry
- Outstanding Contribution to Specialized Ministry
- Outstanding Recent Alumnae
- Distinguished Alumni
- Outstanding Contribution to the Academy
- Honorary Alumna/us
Previous Award Recipients
Biographies of 2012 Alumni Award Winners
Outstanding Contribution to Parish Ministry
Ian Cummins, MDiv ’98
Ian Commins grew up in the southeastern part of the country and received an undergraduate degree in Business Administration from Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. He attended the Iliff School of Theology, 1996-1998, graduating with a Master of Divinity degree. Shortly after graduating, he and his new wife, Laura, spent a year with a L’Arche community in Syracuse, N.Y., living together with people with developmental disabilities. After returning to Denver, he continued working in the disability field until he accepted a call to Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church, Denver, in 2003, where he currently serves as Lead Pastor for Spiritual Life. He and Laura have two young children and a very lazy labradoodle, Henry.
Kathleen Rolenz, MDiv ’93
The Rev. Kathleen C. Rolenz is a native of Akron, Ohio and a 1993 M. Div graduate. In between her second and third years of seminary, she served as a student minister at the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church (1992)—the same church where she and her husband were called to serve as co-ministers in 2000. West Shore UU Church is the largest Unitarian Universalist church in Cleveland. Rev. Rolenz twelve year ministry at West Shore has included a renewal of the congregation’s building, worship life, and faith development program for adults.
Prior to the call to West Shore, she served the West Side Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, TN; as a Chaplain Resident at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville VA; and as an interim pastor at the Glen Ellen UU Church Church near Richmond, Virginia.
Rev. Rolenz is the co-author or editor of three books widely used by Unitarian Universalist parish ministers. In 2005, she and her husband devoted sabbatical time to studying worship practices of both Unitarian Universalist and Protestant churches all over the United States. The result was Worship that Works, (2007) a book currently recommended to ministerial candidates, worship teams, and colleagues. (Kathleen quotes Iliff’s former homiletics professor Thomas Troeger in the book!) In 2004, Rev. Rolenz also edited and contributed to a collection of essays Christian Voices in Unitarian Universalism, still the definitive collection reflecting the diversity of UU Christian expression. Her third book, a collection of devotional readings reflecting the sources of Unitarian Universalist faith, is scheduled for publication in 2012.
Inspired by her early seminary classes with Jane Vennard, Rev. Rolenz also took two extended units of Spiritual Direction, and was certified as a Spiritual Director by Shalem Institute. She continues in private practice as a Spiritual Director in addition to serving West Shore.
Rev. Rolenz has been honored by her denomination and her colleagues for excellence in the ministry. In 2003 she won the Richard C. Borden Preaching Award, which included a first prize of $10,000. In 2011, she was selected by the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association to serve as one of three Deans for Clergy Development in Worship and Preaching Arts. One of Kathleen’s sermons caught the attention of the producers of ESPN-commissioned documentary film on scapegoating in baseball. An excerpt of her sermon and an interview with her could be seen in the film “Catching Hell,” which aired nationally on ESPN, Sept. 2011.
Rolenz has provided leadership regionally and nationally in her denomination. She has served as president of the Ohio Meadville Chapter of the UU Ministers Association, and currently serves as one of the chapter’s “Good Officers”, i.e. a minister to ministers. She served as the national president of the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship from 2005-2009.
Kathleen Rolenz is married to the Reverend Wayne Arnason, also a Unitarian Universalist minister. She is the proud stepmother of Sarah Arnason. She is a runner, a frustrated lounge singer and successfully learned to play the piano in middle age before needing bifocals.
Outstanding Contribution to Specialized Ministry
Emily Cardin, MDiv ’98
“‘For surely know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me’, says the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places I have driven you’, says the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you in exile.”
Emily Cardin “did not plan on going to prison.” It was neither a short term goal nor a long term goal when she entered Iliff. Instead, she came to seminary with 20 years of nursing, in the fields of trauma medicine, addiction treatment, and mom/baby care. She graduated from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan with a BSN, and planned on being a nurse until God called her to Iliff to earn her MDiv.
Carden also spent time at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago to receive her Certificate of Theological Studies, which made her eligible for a call in the ELCA. This call came from the Rocky Mountain Synod, calling her to Cross of Christ Lutheran Church and then to New Beginnings.
She says, “I am privileged to serve the women housed behind the walls, to offer them the gifts of God each week and to explore the living word of God. I am blessed with the stories of the light of Christ bursting in and radiating hope, love, light, joy, and God’s grace each and every week. I have an amazing village that has supported me on this journey and makes it possible for me to be who I am and whose I am.”
Outstanding Recent Alumnae
Jason Kennedy, MDiv ’08
Pastor Jason received his Masters of Divinity from Iliff in ’08, with distinction, receiving one of the Student of the Year awards. Past involvements include serving as the program director at Camp Norwesca, as a volunteer English teacher in Tanzania, as the Young Adult/English Pastor at Korean Emmanuel in Denver, and as one of the original start-up members of House for All Sinners and Saints—a house church started by alumna Nadia Bolz-Weber. He was ordained as Elder in Full Connection in 2010.
Kennedy currently serves as the associate pastor at St. James UMC in Bellevue, NE, a predominantly military community, where he was appointed to assume the lead role in a new church. He was selected to attend and has completed trainings in both New Church Leadership and L3 Leadership Incubator. His main areas of leadership are outreach, evangelism, congregational care, confirmation, and young adult spiritual transformation. He also serves on the Board of Directors for Camp Fontanelle and United Methodist Ministries, as the director of the Youth Annual Conference, as an AIDS Ambassador for Nebraska, and as vice president for the Iliff Alumni Association Board.
Kennedy is the proud rescuer of his cat, Gizzy, and the excited future husband of Sarah Pracht, whom he met at church camp several years ago. Sarah will be entering the field of Physical Therapy, while Jason continues in his current appointment at St. James.
Steve Johnsen, MRE ’73
Steve Johnsen was born and grew up in rural Illinois just one hour west of Chicago, and participated actively at the First Methodist Church of Elgin and the United Methodist Church of Geneva. Farm life was great, but as Johnsen grew older, its appeal became noticably limited when he had to take the farm truck, smelling like a barn, on dates with the sophisticated ladies of Geneva.
So, Johnsen applied to DU, exactly 1000 miles from home. His family could not afford DU, but it was the only school to which he applied. He arrived in Denver where as a part of his teenage rebellion, he became an Episcopalian. Also rebelling, Johnsen went to a meeting to protest the War in Vietnam, except he went to the wrong meeting, and ended up at a volunteer orientation meeting for the Denver Inner City Parish. On October 5, 1965, Johnsen started working at the Parish and met parish director Rev. Marilou Taggart, who became his mentor. As a 1971 student at Iliff, he used part of his Pell grant to hire a teacher and started La Academia School for Hispanic teens who were at extreme risk of dropping out of school.
This necessitated emulating his teacher grandmother and living with students’ families some of the time. The school was a success, and still serves at-risk youth preparing to enter college. Johnsen’s son, Marc-Paul, is an Iliff graduate and vice principal of the school. Over the next 40 years, Steve started a program of field trips for West Denver seniors, Licensed Day Care at the Parish, Young Fathers of Denver, and Project ReNew for persons recently released from the Dept. of Corrections, He built the largely Latino worship congregation from seven to over 100 members with a high attendance of 257. Worship at the Parish is progressive and liturgical, loosely based on the Book of Common Prayer, and co-led by fellow UCC Pastor Allyson Sawtell. All of these programs are still in operation.
Johnsen’s success at working in West Denver’s Latino community is largely due to the community people of the neighborhood, who have suggested and promoted programs and helped him develop as a pastor and a person. He remains eternally thankful to them.
Nominate Now for the 2014 Alumni/ae Awards
For reference, a list of award winners from 1980-2012 is also available for review. Previous Award Recipients
Please contact Tim Zeckser, Development and Alumni Engagement Officer at 303-765-3111, or firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have questions or need assistance.