When talking about the Iliff JOURNEY program, Rika Lively (current MDiv
) is excited about the experience. “It’s not a passive journey. It’s an active
journey,” she says, “Our ideas change. The journey affects you.” Only two quarters into the program, Rika’s already found her ideas expanded.
Rika knew she wanted to go to seminary to understand the Bible in relationship to her life as a gay woman. She’s two years out of her undergraduate degree, and is, as she says, “super pumped!” about Iliff. She’s United Methodist and discerning her call. Working at her home church in communications while being a full-time student is quite an experience. “I read and study all the time; I’ll read something about social justice for a class and then see that in the news and in my church.” She treasures the support of her wife Meaghan. Both knew that a program that was flexible with geography was a must. She’s in Tallahassee currently, but is starting the process of moving to Phoenix. When she was looking for her program she says, “I didn’t know where I’d need to live, but I also didn’t want to study in a vacuum… I didn’t want to miss out on the relationships that you get from seminary with colleagues and professors.” The JOURNEY program that combines online coursework with a quarterly Gathering Days at Iliff’s Denver campus was the way forward. She found out about Iliff at the meeting of “The Reformation Project,” a Bible-based organization devoted to LGBTQ inclusion in the Church.
Rika with her Reformation Project Leadership cohort
“I wanted to go to school somewhere that would be supportive.” Iliff was it for Rika. Already her Vocation and Orientation course has asked her to consider more about why she is here. She’s excited about taking more pastoral care classes and finding a way to help the world. She’s also excited about what’s to come in her program at Iliff. “I know enough now to know that I’m not even aware yet of everything that might be here.”
“I’m excited about my internship
! It’s going to give me a chance to test the things that I want to do.” The fact that it’s a whole year long
is appealing for Rika. The flexibility that Iliff’s JOURNEY program allows around where she lives means that she can move to Phoenix to try out working for a social justice-oriented non-profit that serves spiritually traumatized communities. It’s an issue that’s close to home. “I’m at Iliff in part because I came out and lost my leadership position at my church.” Now she wants to help people who come out in similar situations. “It’s not just the queer community—others have this sort of spiritual trauma, too.” She’s interested in becoming a licensed counselor. “I’ve found spiritual leaders who are affirming, but don’t have the trauma counseling work. I’ve found therapists who can do the trauma work, but don’t understand the spiritual aspects.” Ideally, this work would be with youth. Rika is comfortable working in places that aren’t specifically religious and could be a spiritual resource there for anyone. “At Iliff, we don’t only care about Christians…I’m hoping to be a resource for kids who have spiritual questions.”
Being at Iliff and a part of her cohort has been life-giving for Rika. “The 2017 cohort is really tight! We’ve shared so much about the different communities we experience and who our families are.” It’s nice to be with other people who understand what it’s like to be a distance learner, and people she would have never met in her Florida context–“It was so wonderful to see other Black Queer Women at Iliff!” Her cohort offers her opportunities from their own networks and relationships.
Visiting JOURNEY friends in Orlando
The online experience has really sped up the relationship-building process. Gathering Days is sort of an odd experience initially. The online experience helps to develop legitimate relationships before you’ve ever met in person. “We’d already shared so much online, so when you get here everyone is hugging like we’d already met. Even outside of the religious context, it’s still a structure that creates shared, close relationships.” Rika compares Gathering Days to something she’s learning about in her World Religions class with Jacob Kinnard: “It really is a pilgrimage. It’s exciting, a high point, but also difficult. Sometimes it’s hard to take time off of work to travel, but it’s worth it. Every time there are a lot of emotions going on! It’s very intense! You’re trying to fit every fun thing into a short amount of time! But you’re storing up memories to bring home. You get your mountain top experiences with some inevitable drop off when you get back home… I can’t wait for Gathering Days next quarter.”
Their cohort relationship has only just started, but Rika is already sure it’s going to last. “My cohort has relationships that will be lifelong. I know we’re going to need each other when we’re all doing justice and church work together.”