JOURNEY is about different kinds of family for Kirt Hodges: his wife Diane and daughter Everly, his Iliff family, and his religious community. It also has seen him through changes in his geographic location, religious affiliation, and even a new vision of what he needs to better serve the world.
When making the decision to come to Iliff, Kirt was looking for a way to be of “more potent service.” He was working in outdoor education and volunteering in leadership roles with an Earth-based spiritual community. He hadn’t had any religious affiliation for twenty years, but he knew from the first virtual seminary fair that he attended that Iliff could help him do something new with his service. Kirt says that Laura and Vince (the Admissions team) made it clear that he would be an asset to the learning community and experience the academic rigor that he knew would be an important part of his further education.
One big change for Kirt was moving: When he was accepted at Iliff, Kirt and his family were living in Seattle, but they moved to Louisville, Kentucky for family and financial reasons. The funny thing? “Nothing about going to Iliff changed with my move,” he says. JOURNEY means that he was able to work on his degree from both cities with the same rigor and connect in person with his Iliff cohort during Gathering Days in person just the same. The online and concentrated time in Denver means that Kirt is able to be a primary parent for Everly, while Diane serves as a labor and delivery nurse. “I can respond to my wife’s variable schedule. Most online and hybrid classes meet me there. I can be flexible and have schooling happen around the rest of my work.”
Through it all, his fellow students were there for him; in JOURNEY, students are grouped by the year they start the program into “cohorts” together. As Kirt says, “My cohort is tight! From the initial Journey Days to now, we maintain a Facebook group that allows us to share celebrations of life events and to lean really hard to share things that are hard. We use that as a starting point, not an exclusive meeting place. I visit other cities to meet up with them.” Of course, meeting during Gathering Days three times a year is important, too. It’s “a place to bounce things off each other.” Personally, emotionally, and professionally, Kirt has found his classmates are an important part of his life. “We’ve been able to create a network beyond the faith community that covers the country. My cohort is precious to me!”
Another change during his time at Iliff was a move of religious affiliation. After years outside of religious institutions, Kirt began to— as he puts it— “dabble” in Unitarian Universalism (UU). “What am I missing?” he asked. It was in writing his final paper for the Ancient and Emerging Practices in Christian Tradition course that he came to a realization. Dr. Eric Smith taught the course that Kirt recognizes as a formative piece of his seminary experience; it both went back to ancient tradition and looked forward to what is emerging in the church. Kirt says the research “lead me to find that access to some systems, benefits, board certifications, and such, were dependent on traditional institutionalization. Without a larger affiliation, I was under high risk of marginalizing myself… I needed to be a part of a larger practice.” He’s found a home in with the UUs. At Iliff, coming from outside of Christianity means that “sometimes with other students and professors, you have to remind them that you’re there,” but “100% of the time there is a place for you that will ultimately enrich the class.” He treasures how the instructors value the perspective of non-Christian students.
Kirt recognizes that we live in “a time of vast change and no one knows where the world is going.” As he says, “For me to help the world as someone who doesn’t identify as Christian, I have to be able to understand the Christian world. I’m grateful for that and proud of that.”
Finally, he’s found a way to offer “more potent service” in chaplaincy. His work at the University of Louisville Hospital has been a powerful motivation. This level one trauma center deals with everything from all over the region— from cancer to homeless care— and nobody gets turned away. Kirt feels a mandate to rise to a higher level of care, “I’m here to care for anybody, regardless of their needs.” Iliff’s pastoral care coursework prepared him quite well for Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) last summer. Chaplaincy for Kirt is a means to care, not an end in itself. “I’m not confined to what a particular theology is; I can be interfaith, intercultural… I love how malleable the title ‘chaplain’ can be!” He can step into a pastoral environment and truly care for the needs he finds there. “The praxis connects what I’m doing in seminary to deep service to people in critical need.”
We’re honored to have Kirt in our Iliffian family!