Chilly nights are coming up in Denver; it’s only natural we turn our thoughts to students in warmer climes. Dee Torrell and Larry Watchorn are two wonderful Iliff JOURNEY students with a green Christmas to look forward to— both live in Orlando, Florida and attend Iliff through our hybrid program (online with quarterly meetings on campus in Denver). Dee and Larry were looking for a way to come back to school for their second careers, and they both really enjoy their time at Iliff. As Dee says, there’s “something warm and fuzzy about Denver” that goes way past the weather. Larry loves “literally coming to the Mountain Top” for Gathering Days.
Dee has had a sense of call since she was 20 years old. “I really had a sense of release in my heart about going to seminary, but I didn’t want to pick up and start over in a new area! An online platform was for me.” Her community at Christ Church Unity in Orlando and especially Rev. Roxanne Graves are “very much about what’s positive and happening in the world.” She’s working toward her calling to parish ministry with guidance from Rev. Roxanne. Doing the JOURNEY program meant that Dee could stay with her job as a full-time outpatient therapist at a treatment program. Her CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) assignment at Vitas (a hospice care center in Orlando) has been a meaningful part of facing existential realities.
She says that most of her Iliff work gets done late into the night; after leading a group therapy session she can get deep into the work and tap into her best personal processing time. “The hybrid format gives us space for camaraderie and real discussion. I LIKE not being in class, being able to work it out on my own time.” With great classroom management from instructors like Dr. Eric Smith, Dr. Jeremy Garber, and Dr. Erica Muhaisen, she finds that they don’t spend too much time on any one learning style. Moving from style to style allows her to sharpen her skills and become quicker on her feet with her therapy job. She finds that she can use what she learns at Iliff “to talk about spirituality in a way that’s meaningful to me in the 12-step program.” But the JOURNEY experience is far from lonely.
Yes, it’s good to work at her pace, but “”Gathering Days are sweetly refreshing to me. Nobody else is weird like us!” As she says, “We hug each other to death!” Someone else from Orlando that’s sure to be giving and receiving plenty of hugs is Dee’s friend Larry. In Orlando, Dee describes him as being at “the other gay church in town”— that’s Joy Metropolitan Community Church down the street where Larry has served on the worship team. His church has been very supportive of his education. Besides the proximity of their churches, Larry and Dee have the same CPE assignment at Vitas working with hospice care receivers. Larry also treasures the opportunity to “play chaplain” as part of his second career. “I love it so much. I get to be the presence there. Even now with my friends who’ve been through a crisis, I can be a better version of the presence.”
When he comes to Iliff, Larry is impressed by how safe he can be. “Because I’m queer, the Church is not safe… But at Iliff, it’s a safe place. I’ve never felt unsafe. People here love me for all of me!”
Larry’s current career is as the Executive Director of a non-profit called the Florida Theatrical Association; he’s been there for 12 years, three years as director. They present Broadway shows to Orlando on a seasonal schedule; On Your Feet, Book of Mormon, Lion King, Waitress and more great shows are part of his day. He claims to have the “best staff in the whole world” that is ready to hold him up. They allow him to walk through the doors as they open. He says that in his fifties he didn’t expect to be at this place, but he loves being where he is. “Chaplaincy speaks to me at a whole other level.”
Iliff wasn’t what Larry expected seminary to be like. “I expected to be fed theology, but what Iliff allows is a way to create theology… It’s the most opening experience EVER!” It’s the support of his communities— both at Iliff and in Orlando— that have helped him find his way. His long-distance running and yoga communities have been a part of his spiritual practice. Starting the day with 4:00 am runs means finding a deep bond with the people that share this love: “They love the whole queer person that I am!”
Both Dee and Larry have found a great way to get the education they need for a second careers in both chaplaincy and in parish ministry at Iliff. As Larry said, “Even though my peers are in Orlando, we see each other at Iliff!” Iliff is the place where they have found an education and a connection— in any kind of weather.
Here are some more great photos of Dee and Larry at Iliff and in Orlando: