Ann Henderson hails from North Carolina. When she was first called to ministry she wanted to stay close to home.
I was looking at Duke and Candler. I didn’t really like either of them. I felt like I had to choose between the two of them because my pastors back east were either from Duke or Candler. Iliff was my third choice.
She eventually chose Iliff.
The other two institutions were just counting bodies. They didn’t seem to care about me. They were just wanting to fill their enrollment. Larry Gulledge [Iliff’s Admissions Representative at the time] remembered me from my visit.
Henderson’s visit with her sister who was studying abroad in England confirmed her decision that Iliff was the right place.
I realized how much the culture of an area impacts how much you learn. I decided that if I really want to learn something different, I need to get out of my comfort zone and go somewhere different.
Denver is a different culture. I wanted to learn from culture and from a different school.
Henderson, who expects to graduate this year with a Master of Divinity, reflected on one of the significant challenges she experienced her first quarter at Iliff.
I grew up in a Conservative Christian household and I was struggling with my identity. I thought I was going through an identity crisis because I thought I didn’t want to be a Christian anymore. What I realized is that I didn’t want to be that kind of Christian anymore.
I was realizing the separation and segregation that that type of Christian was. And I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to affiliate myself with that. I considered switching paths. But I stuck with it.
Henderson continued to take the required courses for first year students. She felt like this curriculum helped her to grow because it exposed her to a variety of viewpoints on the world and Christianity in the world.
After taking these courses, I started to reconstruct and realized that I am a person that believes in God but I am just not the same person that I was when I came to Iliff and that’s okay.
She also realized that she didn’t need to leave the church or Christianity.
After my first year, I thought and pondered and prayed on all of the education I had in that one year and came to the realization that I am meant to be a part of the church –maybe not working in the church — maybe working in the world to be a liaison between the two. I realized that I am still meant to be a Christian but I could possibly rephrase the way that Christianity is viewed in our world today.
I asked her to describe how she might articulate a new vision of Christianity for today’s society.
I think if I just start with myself first and the way that I treat people. There were so many ingrained behaviors within me that I was taught as a child about people who were different from me and how I should view them — that if you’re in a certain part of town you lock your doors.
I noticed these behaviors weren’t necessary. [I] started to try and reconstruct them. I asked, “Is this necessary for me to think this way?” If it wasn’t, then I started to make a point to correct the way in which I viewed people.
That is something that certain Christian believers don’t do. They keep themselves in the groups where they belong and don’t step out into those other groups and other cultures.
I started embracing and wanting to connect with and be a part of other people, other cultures and other faith groups and allowing that to be okay for them and for me – -mainly, for me.
Despite the difficulties Henderson has experienced in helping her family to understand her new understanding of Christianity, she says she has never regretted her decision to attend Iliff.
There’s a lot to being able to coexist and accepting that because one thing that bothers me about particularly my family is that they think Christianity is the only way to be and anything else is pagan — Satan worshiping — I guess, demonic. If it’s not Christianity, you’re worshiping an idol.
Then I started to learn that Christianity wasn’t a thing when Jesus was around. Jesus was Jewish. Who’s to say that that’s wrong? We each have clung to the thing we personally feel connects us close to God.
[It has been difficult] allowing that to be okay with me and trying to share that with my family in a way that they would understand but without them thinking I joined the dark side [and] trying to reshape the way my family thinks of me as a Christian without them thinking I’ve lost my soul in this process. I actually think I have strengthened my soul in this process.