When Elizabeth Butche tried to start her ministry education at another school, she found herself silenced. Her wife, Shantelle, is serving in the U.S. Navy and recently returned from a 3-year assignment in Japan.  When the other school found out about her same-sex marriage, they rescinded her admissions offer. It took a while to recover from that sort of hurt, but Elizabeth found community and support in the Reformation Project, a Christian, Bible-based organization devoted to LGBTQ inclusion in the church. She was able to find resources there to work through what it means to be inclusive and affirming. Says, Elizabeth, “I had learned some ways of navigating evangelical church spaces as a gay person, usually by not bringing it up until a sense of closeness and trust was built so that I knew I was safe, but when it came to being any sort of leader within those spaces, it was much harder to envision.”

“The last time Shan came home. She met me outside of my church to surprise me in uniform. I was in Women’s Bible Study at the time.”

When she started to look at other seminaries that might help her answer her call to ministry, Iliff’s hybrid JOURNEY program kept coming up again and again. “I knew it would be affirming. I could keep on moving around the country as Shantelle and I moved.” Elizabeth wanted to serve because a ministry of the United Methodist Church called CFL Wesley (a United Methodist Campus Ministry that supports students from a few colleges in the Orlando area, specifically UCF) had allowed her to find herself. “The Church gave me a relationship with Jesus alongside people who really know what Jesus is. It taught me how to have healthy relationships.” She wanted to find and use her voice to translate between the language she was used to around conservative values and more progressive values. Iliff was the place to do it!

“Something else beautiful about Iliff [is that] my wife is also welcome here. My wife is a part of my journey, and Iliff welcomes her affirmatively into the fold. What a blessing!”

She’s found new relationships at Iliff in her cohort—the group of students that she started with in 2017. “My cohort is made up of an incredibly diverse group of individuals with a multitude of gifts. We are scattered all across the country, representing 29 dynamically different lives. Iliff has made the opportunity of authentic community and support available to each one of us, uniquely through this program, because Iliff believes that what we are already doing in and among our current communities is worth continuing while we pursue this deeper education. The JOURNEY Program allows Iliff to literally ‘journey’ along with us as our voice within the communities we’ve been called to is courageously awakened and sometimes, even often, challenged. In answering the invitation to this relationship, Iliff has chosen to meet each of us in the unique place where we see ourselves meeting the “theological” and to offer support in those vocational endeavors. Iliff’s JOURNEY program is one of liberating voices where they’re currently at for the full relational engagement of committed theological imaginations.

“Everyone in my cohort is here to learn but, more importantly, we’ve all been seeking community in the communities we come from. I have watched members leave churches and join churches. I have watched them lose jobs and gain jobs. I have watched them lose family members, struggle with illness, and grieve current events. We’ve all celebrated when someone has reached a goal or has overcome an obstacle in their personal pursuits. We’ve been living in and as part of each other’s stories. We value one another. We listen to each other. We give each other voice…

“When I got to Iliff, I knew I had a calling to ministry and that I wanted to pursue a theological education that would help me find the language and the knowledge that I needed to be effective in a ministerial vocation of some sort. What I’m learning since getting here is that the language and the knowledge are pointless without a voice to share them. Iliff, as an extension to ‘the hands and feet’ that guided me here, has awakened that voice. In truth, it’s all just beginning. With my JOURNEY cohort, I know I’m not alone as I walk through this unfolding story wherever it leads me throughout my education. Being a Navy wife, it’s sure to lead me to a number of places in these three years.

“Recently, I put to paper an artistic visioning of sorts that sets my intentions to explore God’s voice on Spirit-led topics through the awareness and value of my own narrative. Here is both a photo of the process of this spiritual practice and the result. I hope to begin lifting my voice, my vision, and my art in order to co-create with God, as I’ve come to understand God.”

After some more work, Elizabeth has found an even larger project that does this. “Through Julie Todd’s course Prophetic Christian Spirituality, I learned that I am a prophet, and I set an intention to explore that voice and what it might mean for creating my ministry in a way that would be truly authentic to me and God’s voice within me. Thus has now been born my new ministry creation: “Rethinking Creation”

“I actually own the domain now and hope to unveil it some time around September. It will be foundationally a blog, but it will grow to be an ‘organism’ of sorts, as I’ve been describing to others. I hope to lead workshops and seminars, hold artistic showcases and foster sacred space for spiritual practice that helps others, especially those from marginalized groups like the LGBTQ community, find and/or re-claim their sacred Voices in both personally and communally liberating ways. I think it’s important with this whole thing to include this piece. It’s really kind of the whole story.”

The process

The product

“In that picture of my desk are two objects that directly relate back to my engagement with my cohort. One, the purple cross hanging on the wall. At our first welcoming days with the cohort, we went on retreat. During that retreat we took time to pray over special objects of meaning. We each chose different items that had a specific value to us and our walk. That purple cross was mine. It was given to me by the first person who ever engaged me on what it meant to truly be in relationship with Jesus. Now it also holds the prayers and well-wishes and collective energy of my cohort.”

Here is a pic of the whole cohorts “special” objects.

“There is also hanging to the right of my flowers a piece of hanging wall art by my cohort colleague Rachel Carter.” Her shop is called “Bag of Hags”.

“Here’s a close up of the art piece on the wall by my cohort colleague Rachel Carter. She has inspired me in stepping out on faith in my own artistic endeavors. She made this piece originally for me at my request. It included the cross, so important to my faith tradition. It also includes scripture (from Galatians 5:22).”

Here is a gallery of art that Elizabeth has created along her journey.

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