Raised in Lombard, Illinois and then Phoenix, Arizona, Master of Divinity student Selena Naumoff and her twin sister are both accomplished actors. These twins have theatrical parents; their dad was an actor and their mom is a director. Although Naumoff graciously describes her sister as the better performer, sharing this passion has included some disappointments:
In middle school, my sister and I often competed for the same roles. For Into the Woods we auditioned for distinct roles. My sister wanted to be Cinderella. I wanted to be the witch. In the end, we understood that [the Directors] couldn’t pass up the idea of casting twins as the step-sisters.
With a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatrical Performance, Naumoff continues to act, direct and produce not only the Vagina Monologues at Iliff, but a variety of productions with other theater groups around the Denver metro area. She has maintained her theatrical gigs and her skills as an accountant as full-time employment as a means of paying for her theological education.
Naumoff began Iliff as an ordained deacon in the Presbyterian church but now finds herself serving in Lutheran churches. Internships with the Abrahamic Initiative and classes while a student at Iliff have helped her to discover that she now seeks to use her Master of Divinity as an interfaith minister. Although she has only recently become comfortable with describing her calling in this way, she remembers herself as having an interfaith understanding at a very early age.
My father was Greek Orthodox and my mom was Lutheran. The only church around us was Episcopalian. Growing up, I’d say a good half of my friends were Jewish. And a couple of us dabbled in Wicca. We would read the books and see what it was like to spend more time in nature and see what magic was about. When I was little, my friend and I looked at spell books under a tree and my parents didn’t have any problem with that.
During class discussions at Iliff, she discovered that she was informing other classmates about misconceptions they had about other religions. She began to understand this as her role. A class on Pastoral Care in Interfaith Situations gave her language to articulate and feel comfortable in this role.
I watched my classmates struggle with the notion of “Well, I’m Baptist and now I have to give pastoral care to a Buddhist.” And for me that part was very natural. For me it was like — this is it! This is what I do.
At first, her understanding of interfaith was simply that she respected everyone’s faith and wanted to learn about everyone’s faith. When people would ask her what she believed, she would say that it didn’t matter.
But what I realized is that doesn’t count. I have to know what I believe.
What I have come to realize is that when I say I identify as interfaith, [what I am really saying is that] I am taking lessons from all of the faith traditions or as Dr. Carrie Doehring calls them, the “spiritual orienting systems.” I am influenced wherever the teachings have come that resonate with my soul.
Perhaps this is why she expresses an appreciation for and sacredness of teachings from a variety of sources, including but not limited to Harry Potter, Jesus, the Buddha, C.S. Lewis and the Book of Mormon. This also might be how she has extended her creativity to develop Interfaith Connections with Reverend Selena, a series of podcasts that she hopes encourage understanding of different faith traditions. In addition to stories about the Dalai Lama, interviews with a magician, and the cast of The Oldest Boy (a play about an American woman who married a Tibetan Buddhist man), this series includes an interview of Yasser Kassir, a Muslim American, who owns two Denver area restaurants.
I want to introduce people to religions they are afraid of. As we’ve seen, fear creates horrible things. I am trying to put faces with the religion.
I hope this podcast brings life to everyone. I want to interview people from all groups. My intention is to make it clear that all voices are welcome.
After graduation, she hopes to pursue a doctorate in conflict resolution or international relations, or obtain certification as a diplomat.
There is a lot in theology that gets ignored [in resolving conflicts]. People will say, “We’re just having a land dispute.” No. You’re not just having a land dispute. You’re having a faith tradition dispute. That’s much more powerful than just about land.
I think the theological aspect gets ignored so much that a combination of this [Iliff] Masters with a degree in conflict resolution is just what [the world] needs. I’m looking forward to making a difference.