Kiboko Kiboko: Accidental Pastor?

Not every calling to ministry is obvious to the one who is being called. In fact, many ordained ministers will say that even if they were not resistant to their calls to ministry, they were oblivious to it. It may be difficult to discern what was happening in the case of Reverend Kiboko Kiboko.

Looking back over the years, Kiboko realizes that he planted churches in the Congo without even knowing he was doing it. He would organize people to meet in various homes. Some of these “gatherings” eventually grew to worship with 2,000-3,000 people.

When he came to the States to learn English at Wichita State University, he found himself working with youth.

I just couldn’t stand how the youth were being disrespectful toward their parents and so I got involved in whatever they were doing. And I said, “No, you’ve got to show some respect.”  The turning point was when I walked in this church and my English was not quite ready yet. The pastor of that church looked at me and said, “God spoke to me and you are the person in charge of the youth group — Junior and Senior High.”

And I said through an interpreter, “He must be out of his mind, because I don’t speak English yet.”

He said, “Sorry. God Spoke to me.” And he left.

The next Sunday, Kiboko found himself in a room with lots of teenagers. He made a deal with them. If they taught him English, he would teach them French.

He brought two books of the Bible with him for this language exchange: John and the Song of Songs.

So, I spoke French to them and they spoke back in English. I knew they would really fall in love with that. And so, they loved the French. It was just great. And then I used that as a way to work with them and develop a relationship with their parents.

About six months later, their parents came to me and said “What did you do to our children? What’s going on? My kids can say sorry. They can walk in the kitchen and actually help me do dishes. They can say please. Oh please, in whatever you do, don’t forget to go to seminary to be a pastor.”

Kiboko and his family then moved from Wichita to Iowa where they were told they were not welcome.

We [were] sitting in the pews and the ushers walk [up] to us and say “45 minutes away from here is a Black congregation. We don’t worship with people like you.”

And so, we went home. And the next Sunday my wife said, “Well, let’s go to church.” And I said, “Did you get the address?”

“No. We are going to that church over there.”

“Did you hear what they said?”

She said, “I heard. We are going back there.”

So, we went back there.

The people in that congregation made the same statement. But Kiboko and his wife still  worshipped there. His wife even said they were going to go back the following Sunday and join that church. And so, they joined that church.

And one Sunday the pastor got sick. He didn’t show up. And one of the ushers came to me and said, “When are we going to start the worship?”

I said, “Well I don’t know. Where is the pastor?”

“Oh, you didn’t know? The Pastor is in the hospital. You are in charge. He called us and told us you would lead the service.”

So, I led the service. That happened twice.

They said, “Well, you have to just go to seminary.”

And I said, “No, I don’t feel that calling.”

Kiboko was unable to deny his calling, but he had to have several more encounters before he finally recognized it. The first of these chance meetings took place while he was writing Bible studies for the Idianola church camps. A couple wanted to talk to “Pastor Kiboko.”

 I said “No, I am not a pastor. My sister is a pastor, but she is in Denver, Colorado.”

They said, “No, we are not looking for a she. We are looking for he. You don’t know who we are. Five years ago, we were on the verge of getting a divorce, you brought us together.”

And then I said, “No, I don’t even know who you are.”

They said, “No, you don’t. We were going to get a divorce because our daughter had been involved with drugs. We were blaming each other and so you crossed paths with her and you changed her life. She went back to school and even finished. She is a nurse now. Because of you. We have one message for you. We need more pastors like you. Could you go to seminary?”

When he returned home, he encountered the women of the Mission Committee.

They said, “We are just upset because Pastor Jordy told us that you are not a pastor. Is that true?”

And I said, “Well, I am afraid yes. He is right. I am not a pastor.”

“Oh, what does it take to become a pastor?”

“Well one has to go to seminary.”

“Well, then, go to seminary.”

That same night, the pastor came to Kiboko’s home and told him that Kiboko had to go to seminary.

And the next day, I called Iliff and said, “Send me the application forms.” And the rest is history.

Serving as Superintendent of the East Central District of the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church, Kiboko has great vision for the church body.

My dream is to see church people before inviting anybody to their church, they should be able to invite them in their own homes for meals and start those relationships. Otherwise, it’s not transformational. It’s just a show piece. We are not in show business; we are about transforming lives.

And everywhere my sister [has] been as a pastor, the school systems will tell you, this school is what it is today because of that church over there. Was it easy? No. It was difficult to change the ethos of that church [and] to change the way that they have been doing business (just waiting for people to come to them). Just imagine us going to them. Imagine us going Monday through Friday in our schools systems [and] reading stories to children.


Radical Welcome in the Heartland

Alejandro Alfaro-Santiz is currently serving two congregations: Trinity Las Americas UMC and Wesley UMC. Both are inner city parishes in Des Moines, IA.
I served as the pastor of Las Americas Faith Community, a Latino congregation, for three years, until last December when Trinity UMC and Las Americas decided to officially merge into one congregation, becoming the first multicultural congregation of the Iowa Annual Conference of the UMC.  There’s only one worship service and it is completely bilingual (English and Spanish), we pray and sing in different languages (in addition to Spanish and English).
The people of TLA
Alfaro-Santiz describes Trinity Las Americas UMC (TLA) as a social justice-oriented congregation. It was the first Reconciling Congregation in Iowa, during the 1980s. It was also a sanctuary for people fleeing war from Central America.  Many people in the congregation support interfaith relations, the fight for $15 per hour campaign, and efforts to stop homeless camp evictions in Des Moines. He also says that many in the congregation support immigrant and refugee rights, environmental justice, prison reform, asset based community development, [and] faith based community organizing. He gives a lot of credit for the strength of the merger of the congregations to  Rev. Barb Dinnen. She was the pastor at Trinity and now serves full-time at Trinity Las Americas. Alfaro-Santiz is grateful for her leadership and mentorship.
Fight for $15
There is a lot of activism at TLA! After the election in November 2016, we held an event called “Chicken Soup for the Soul and the Body.” We invited the community to lament and express their concerns.  Forty-five people, from four different continents, Muslims, Christians, immigrants, refugees, Latinxs, Asians, African Americans, white people, school teachers, and neighbors all came together.  It was amazing to see a Salvadoran Christian man start to develop a relationship with an Egyptian Muslim man and think about how to organize for the benefit of the community. We are a very diverse congregation, we are black, brown, white, different sexual orientations, have different levels of formal education, different citizenship/immigration statuses, different physical and mental abilities, different socioeconomic classes, and people identify as Catholic, Methodist, Buddhists, Unitarians, agnostics and spiritual seekers. We have babies, children, teenagers, adults, and seniors.
Message on church door after Nov 7 2016
 Alfaro-Santiz sent the following picture, created by Alyza, one of his young parishioners.
Alejandro's Little Parishioner
About her and the picture, he said:
She is a 12-year-old, African American,  very sharp young girl. What she wrote captures the radical hospitality of TLA.
Gay Pride Parade2
There’s always something happening at the church building, which is known by its big, red doors, from Sunday to Sunday.  An estimated 300 people go through the doors of the church on any given day.  Besides worship on Sunday, there are ELL classes, citizenship classes, we give away produce twice a week, and there’s donated bread everyday that people can come get whenever they need it.  There’s also a prison van ministry that drives people every two weeks to different prisons in Iowa because there is no public transportation for people to visit their loved ones who are incarcerated.  Children and Families Urban Movement, CFUM, is a non profit that operates in the church building. CFUM started in the 70’s as a ministry of the church offering breakfasts, after school programs, and a community dinner meal that is open to anyone from Monday to Saturday.
 Alfaro-Santiz provided this 3 minute YouTube video to help describe TLA:
Alfaro-Santiz also has great hopes for his other appointment.
Wesley UMC has a lot of potential to replicate the work being done by TLA. Right now we are on the early stages of working with the congregation to be in relationship with the neighborhood.  The church hosts the neighborhood monthly meetings and have started to host a weekly meeting of Latino students from East High School called “Al Exito.” Friends of Iowa Women Prisoners meets monthly at Wesley and every year in February the UMC Advocacy Day starts at Wesley UMC before heading across the street to the Iowa Capitol building.
In solidarity with muslims brothers and sisters
I’m incredibly blessed to be serving in such a progressive and social justice minded congregation that focuses on doing ministry with people instead of for people. When I preach on Sunday I can share my understanding of who God is and what it means to follow Jesus, without having to hold anything back.
Alfaro-Santiz views ministry as both within the congregation where he is appointed and throughout the state of Iowa.
In the UMC I serve as the Iowa Annual Conference Peace with Justice Coordinator, I’m part of the Conference Operative Team for Spiritual Leadership Inc., as well as part of the Central District Operative Team.  I am the Dean of the Spanish School of Lay Ministry for the IAUMC. I’m part of the Do No Harm group in Iowa (Reconciling Ministries in IAUMC).  I’m also part of the design team for Route 122 in 2017.
Immigration Forum
Outside the church I’m the vice chair of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund, I’m a member of the Iowa Clergy Allies of Immigrants, I’m involved in the Des Moines Workers Alliance, and I’m a member of Concerned Citizens of Iowa. I believe that as a follower of Christ (not just as clergy) I need to be on the ground working with people for justice and helping everyone realize that we are all interconnected. Iowa has been a great place to be a follower of Christ.
Des Moines Rally
My time at Iliff helped me to understand issues from an intersectional perspective and to do ministry “outside the box” or to do it with the people instead of for the people.

Journey from the South to Iliff Strengthens the Soul

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.




Pastor Embraces his Poetic Voice and Engages his Pastoral Imagination

Dale Fredrickson describes himself as a pastor by day and a poet by night. But, he knows that both roles intersect in all that he is and does. A published author of three books, I asked him to describe how this works as a practical matter.

I like to think about highs and lows and pains and aches. Then, I use my mind to help me think about the world so it comes up naturally. As a young pastor, I started to write the pastoral prayer moment and I started to think about what’s going on in our world and in people’s lives and the more honest I got in terms of it, I started to get more poetic. It’s not really good in a pastoral prayer to name “Suzy’s got a knee surgery and Tom can’t stand his son right now.” If you’re more poetic, you can lead people to mystery and beauty and truth. That’s when I started to think, “Ahh, this is who I am.” Then, I took  on trying to be more poetic in my sermons as well and studying things that move me the most.

For me, the poetic images often in a way that you hear a comic. When you hear comedy, it takes you about ten minutes to realize you’re laughing about things you shouldn’t really be laughing about. [This] is the same way I think poetry works in congregations and in people’s lives. It moves us and warms us to a vision of beauty and opens us in ways we couldn’t otherwise be opened.

The way I think about it is, there’s a rhetoric that bends and there’s a rhetoric that breaks. When you work with people and human life and when you’re working for transformation and change, I have found it is authentic to me that I want beauty to change the world. I want what I say to place a new vision of seed– something that grows anew.

For me, the straight-forward of “you should do this” never worked for me. And it doesn’t work with my kids. [It] makes you tighten up [and] harden inside.


A married father of two, Fredrickson describes himself as a feeler/thinker from childhood.

My mom tells stories of how I would talk for my younger brother and tell the world about his needs, until a moment when my brother was like, “yeah, I got this.”  And now when my brother calls me, who I just love  when he calls me, I found myself like– he owns a business, I mean, he is a business man– and I’m telling him the business stuff that I’m reading and he’s just like, “I got this. Did I not say this when I was two?”

So I was always a feeler-thinker when I look back. We always talk about how those childhood inclinations, those essences are essential. I love Listen to Your Life by the Quaker Parker Palmer. That stuff is so good. Who are you? What is your essence? Instead of the way we were taught to think about vocation in some of our church traditions. It’s so helpful.

So I was always using words to paint visions.


Fredrickson talked to me about perceptions that were obstacles to him fully embracing  his poetic self.

I got away from it when it was starting to be perceived as not manly and not good to say. It has taken me until my mid-thirties to say, “this is who I am. I am going to be a pastor and poet and I don’t care what people think or say.” I think Iliff was a big part of that.

I asked Fredrickson  to explain how Iliff contributed to his self-acceptance.

I found the story of Christianity quite liberative and quite beautiful. So I came to Iliff kind of not understanding some of the aspects of my calling. But [at Iliff], no matter how different you were, you were embraced as a person who had sacred worth and dignity. It was safe here– safe to ask questions. So I always loved that. That allowed me to let that seed within me to flourish and not be afraid of it.

Then it just took me awhile to say, “you know everyone sees the world in a different way and I see Christianity as inherently beautiful and flexible and filled with possibilities and uniqueness.” I think one of the things I came to appreciate is that you can’t judge any religious tradition based on its worst adherents. So that sort of blew my mind. It made me have a deeper reverence and respect for other traditions as well as an even deeper owning of my own.

Iliff gave him an understanding of some of the complexities of this world. Fredrickson found that he still needed to explore the most effective way to pastor in this context.

After I got content, and after I learned the beautiful lessons from Iliff in classes like Race, Gender and Class, I found what I needed most was an imagination. I needed a pastoral imagination to see my life and who I am and what I could possibly do with my life.

Eugene Peterson was the first, in his book, to point me to what it means to develop an imagination for your career– for your vocation– for who you are. That helped me to see that what I got [at Iliff]… isn’t so easily boxed, I had to have an imagination for people too. It’s not this nice, neat box. I had to shape and form it. I had to be more patient to see that seed sprout and bloom in people’s lives.


Fredrickson refined his imagination while serving as youth pastor in Anaheim, California.

Best example is when I left [Iliff], I went to Anaheim United Methodist Church in California. They had a man there named Bob [not his real name], a classic blue-collar white mechanic.

Anaheim is Hispanic 90% Latino/Latina. The white flight from the neighborhood is huge in Southern California. Anaheim had been this stalwart in the 70’s but then everyone had moved away. The church had to face questions of diversity and what they were going to do.

Bob had lived in that neighborhood his entire life. He lived in the same house for 60 years. He had language that was super abrasive to me.

When I heard Bob’s language, I was faced with this pastoral imagination question right away. It was kind of like,  Iliff taught me that you ought not say those things and my mom taught me that you shouldn’t say those things.

But the irony of Bob is that he listened to my sermons. He still showed up every week. I was mystified by him. I would think– we’re not on the same team.

Along those same lines, every time, four years in a row, I would take [the youth] on the Sierra Service Project where we served the elderly on Native American reservations. It’s such a wonderful educational experience because you don’t realize that there are pockets of America that are like Third World countries. The young people in the Shoshone tribes are able to move and get jobs but the elderly have to remain. They have terrible living conditions.

I brought the youth and we were able to do things like patch roofs that are raining in their living rooms and make handicap accessible ramps. This is when teenagers are able to see for the first time, here is the really ugly/beauty of the world.

Well, Bob was so concerned about us going every year. I would often think, “What’s going on in you? Don’t you realize that we’re ruining these kids for the rest of their lives [by making sure everyone can participate in this project]?”

That’s what good churches do, you know. We ruin people to see the world in all of its ugly multifaceted dimensions.

Bob would not only make sure that people who wanted to go would be able to go, he would pay large sums of cash for them to go and he didn’t have large sums of cash. He would also make sure that we had enough money to be able to get ice cream on the trip.

So that’s pastoral imagination. In my example, we don’t often get insight and understanding into spiritual formation inside human souls.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a mechanic for 40 years and hear a young pastor tell him he needs to stop his world view. But then something is growing in him– that mystery of that kingdom– that mystery of that love divine. Then he can say, “Even though my language is stuck and caught and all in tension with itself, my actions are bursting forward into something new and wonderful and beautiful.”

So, this makes me think, what if this is the nature of the world? This tension within us. This garden that wants to grow out of us us. But we pastors have to be patient because we can’t see it. We need to have an imagination that they may not speak “Iliffian” but that the tools you gain here can help you to sow those seeds and see them grow in real and powerful ways.

Pastoral imagination is huge. But you have to hold it playfully because in my twenties, I was so serious. I am going to change the world but no– then, I came to realize that changing myself is enough.

Workers’ Rights, SNCC and School Integration Ally Dies

There are always those Iliffians I wish I had known. Conard  “Con” G. Pyle (July 26, 1928 – September 21, 2016) is one of them. The following obituary, provided by his son, David Pyle, shows that Con Pyle embodied a commitment to enriching the lives of everyone he met.

Con Pyle passed away at the age of 88 in the presence of family on September 21. Having come to the Grand Junction community in 1974 as lead Pastor with First Congregational Church, Con served the Western Slope community in countless ways. After leaving First Congregational, Con served as staff Chaplain with the Grand Junction VA hospital, managed a pastoral counseling services for families working to overcome domestic violence, and founded Men Against Domestic Violence, an organization working to end domestic abuse in the Grand Valley.

Con was born in Marshall, Indiana, growing up Quaker with two brothers, Kenneth and Herman, on a family farm. He played basketball, raised his share of ribbon-winning cattle, and graduated from Earlham College. Con, along with his wife, Wini, moved to Colorado in 1950 to attend Illiff Seminary in Denver. He fell in love with the Colorado outdoors, beginning what became a lifelong passion for hunting and fishing.

He was ordained in the United Church of Christ and served his first church, Community Congregational in Walsenburg, Colorado. From there, Con moved to Green Mountain Falls, Colorado, where he served the Church in the Wildwood. Con and his family moved to Denver in 1965 to serve as pastor with Christ Congregational Church. During that time, Con became active in a number of social issues, working to support worker rights in the Hispanic community in Southwest Denver. In 1966, he travelled to Mississippi with a group of clergy to support students with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) in working to end segregation and other discriminatory practices. During his time in Denver, both Con and his wife, Wini, were actively involved in the school integration movement.

Con and family moved to Grand Junction in early 1974 to serve First Congregational Church and to begin his years of service in the Grand Valley. His marriage with Wini ended in 1976 – although they remained in touch through the rest of their lives in coordinating the care of their disabled son, Tony, at the Grand Junction Regional Center. Con remarried with Jacqueline Pyle in 1978, a marriage that lasted until her death in 2007.

In his over 60 years of service across Colorado, he worked personally with thousands of individuals and families in helping them to find pathways to spiritual and personal health. He played a role in the social issues that shaped our region. His friends can attest to his robust sense of humor as well as his grace and kindness.

In his final years, Con remained active with First Congregational, singing in the church choir and continuing to serve his community in a variety of ways. He was proud of the stained glass window that he commissioned and had installed in the chapel during his time as a resident at Mesa View. In his final weeks, he found the strength to conduct a service from his wheelchair and to preach a sermon on one of his favorite themes – the immediacy and presence of Christ in our lives – with the residents of Eagle Ridge rehabilitation facility.

Con is survived by his three children – his son, Tony, of Grand Junction; daughter, Connie, of Grand Junction; son, David, and daughter-in-law, Tina, of Windsor, CO, and his grandchildren, Jordan and Christopher.

The hearts and prayers of the Iliff Community are with the family of Con Pyle.

Negro Spiritual Invokes Spiritual Practice in White Social Activist

Anne Dunlap, nick-named Fierce Good Reverend to the Revolution, is an activist, writer, herbalist, occasional farmhand and ordained United Church of Christ pastor. She is often found protesting for the rights of people marginalized by society.

Inspired by the 1980’s Sanctuary Movement, Dunlap’s call to activism began at the early age of sixteen. While still a graduate student at the Iliff School of Theology, on May 27, 2008, she stood trial as one of  83 Transform Columbus Day (TCD) nonviolent protesters. She has been a constant presence and advocate for immigrants facing deportation hearings and for the rights of day laborers. Most recently, she is one of the leaders in the local Denver chapter of the national social activist group, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ).

She continues to use the transformative power of nonviolence to engage issues of social justice. But on the day we met, we sat at her kitchen table over a thermos of one of her specially-prepared herbal teas. As an herbalist trained in the Wise Woman Tradition, she now incorporates herbal support while counseling people.

Anne Dunlap at Kitchen Table

Raised in Monticello, Arkansas for part of her childhood, she remains connected to her roots in a way that inspires her current ministry.

On my daddy’s side of my family they were slaveholders. I always want to qualify it by saying that there’s only a few but it doesn’t really matter. They fought for the Confederacy. On my mom’s side they fought for the Union. All of that kind of lives in me.

There’s a tendency for white folk to not want to claim what’s happened in history like – “I wasn’t responsible for that, I wasn’t responsible for slavery, I wasn’t here for that” or whatever.

Dunlap acknowledges that she would not be here or be the person she is today were it not for the privileges and protections that were given to her because of slavery and racism.

The past is not past. It’s still alive and we’re still participating in it. And I wrestle with it because I don’t think guilt or shame about it is particularly helpful. Although sometimes I think you can’t help feel that as an initial response.

In the first conversation I ever had with Dr. [Vincent] Harding, I told him about these things and I told him that I didn’t know what to do about this history. All he said was “wrestle ‘til you get a blessing from it.” So that’s what I try to do and I think the blessing from it is trying to live into a different history and trying to tell stories of resistance in my family and lifting those up.

One of those stories of resistance involves Dunlap’s paternal grandfather, a Methodist minister during the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. At one point, he was the pastor of Winfield United Methodist Church in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. He voiced his opposition to segregation. It may have cost him the office of bishop.

As a boy my dad remembers hearing his dad arguing with other Methodist ministers about segregation in Little Rock and Central High School and he was public about those things. He ran for Bishop. I think in the 60’s. And [he] was public about the need to end segregation in the church and to fully honor, in the Arkansas context, the presence and lives of Black people in the church. He didn’t win but he spoke.

When I visited with my parents, they uncovered some sermons of his. There’s one of them from around 1968 when he was pastor at Winfield. At that time they were seeing other white churches flee to the suburbs, as the neighborhood around them changed, and people were telling him, “we need to move. Why aren’t we moving?” And he preached a sermon about the importance of staying and being in relationship with people around them.

It’s not everything I would say but for his context and his time, it’s pretty clear where he stands. It was a beautiful thing to uncover and to read and to have that courage from the pulpit in those times.

Another story shaping Dunlap’s current ministry describes one of the most difficult moments in her life: She and her family moved from her beloved Monticello when she was nine.

My dad went to seminary in Austin, Texas. That was fine. We were away from a place that we knew. I was immersed in the geography of place in Monticello and in Arkansas. We were with my daddy’s family all the time. I spent summers with my grandmothers. My grandparents would come and pick me up. I spent time with my daddy’s family all the time. We moved away from that but we knew we weren’t staying in Austin for that long.

But when we moved to Kansas, it was a perfect storm of things. I was just turning 12. I was finishing 6th grade and started 7th grade. This was the time when elementary was K through 6th and Junior High was 7th through 9th. So I had not one but two school changes that year. Even though Arkansas and Kansas share a corner, they are completely different culturally. And our whole family felt that.

The Dunlap family experienced dissonance with respect to hospitality. Unlike Arkansas, the new Kansas community did not offer a beverage or food when they invited people into their homes.

Dunlap’s mother also felt uncomfortable with the expectations that she fit into the stereotypical role of the preacher’s wife.

My mom was not welcome to show up fully as she is. My mom’s a smart person. They wanted her to host tea parties and that’s not what she did.

During this time period, Dunlap personally faced some of the challenges that adolescence brings. She struggled with coming out about her sexual orientation and the often dangerous reactions that revelation can bring.

I discovered and properly squashed “I don’t think I like boys” kind of realizations. I had internal turmoil about that. I experienced a little bit of bullying at school. And I think it became clear very quickly that my dad’s church was not a safe place for any of us.

These experiences gave her empathy for alienation, vulnerability and a sense of “outsiderness”.

There was a lack of hospitality. I felt like an outsider. I felt like an outsider everywhere. I felt like an outsider in just about every aspect. So those five years that we lived there were really hard.

They got harder as we lived there. Churches are really shitty to pastors. This really sucks. It was a really horrible and complicated time. I felt really alone and unsafe. There wasn’t anybody that I could talk to about what I was feeling or experiencing.

But I share that because those experiences of feeling alone and like there was no safe place for me to be and that people who had the power to help me didn’t always do that, it turns out deeply informs the work that I now do.

As a teenager, Dunlap felt called to the Sanctuary Movement.

The late 70’s, 80’s [and] the early 90’s Sanctuary Movement was centered around congregations, Christian and Jewish both, that offered refuge and safe harbor to people fleeing the civil wars in South America, especially El Salvador and Guatemala. It was a network around the country and into Canada to help people get across the border. [Congregations in the Sanctuary Movement were] harboring them in their sanctuaries and sometimes in people’s homes.

I learned about that in 1986 at a Presbyterian Youth Event. A young woman who was a Sanctuary worker in Tuscon spoke and a Salvadoran refugee spoke. It was just one of those moments in your life. My heart was pounding when I thought, “How is this happening and how can I help it?” Because of U.S. weapons and U.S. policy.

I went home and I asked my dad, “Can we be a Sanctuary church?” My dad said, “No, not here. I’m glad you’re thinking about this but not here.”

Eventually, Dunlap was able to advocate within the Sanctuary Movement and in other communities needing advocacy around social justice. Recently, her efforts have focused around her leadership in the local chapter of the national social action group  Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ).

The work can look a lot of different ways. Sometimes it’s organizing people. Sometimes it’s co-leading direct actions. Sometimes it’s marshaling for actions led by people of color so they can have the space they need to [function] and not have to interact with unhelpful white people, of which we are many. We are legion.

It involves a lot of writing [and] trying to use the public platform that I have as an ordained person to speak, particularly right now, to speak to white people about how we do this in ways that are unhelpful to people of color. I’m trying to figure our how to do this from a place of love which can be a real challenge.

Dunlap attributes her desire to work with white people from a place of love to Dr. Vincent Harding’s example in the Iliff classroom.

[He had this] capacity to be grounded and loving in spaces – in classroom spaces with white people. I ask him all the time still, “How did you do that? How did you do that?” I’m still listening.

Part of it is I think his tactic of speaking very slowly and pausing. There is something about the slowing down.

You’d ask him a question and he would nod and take a minute, instead of just popping off with whatever. I think it was like a spiritual practice to stay grounded for him. That’s my guess.

Dunlap is also influenced by words Dr. Harding said to her and her partner in 2012 when they were discussing movement work.

We had him here in our home – right at this table. He said, “the wisdom of the spirituals – the wisdom of slaves who developed the spirituals and the wisdom in the particular spiritual, I’m Going to Lay Down My Sword and Shield.

He really emphasized the ‘and shield’ bit. “I’m going to lay down my sword and shield,” he said.

I looked at him and I said, “But Dr. Harding, if you lay down your shield, then you don’t have any protection.”

He said, “That’s exactly right. You lay them both down because your protection comes from somewhere else.”

I have been sitting with that ever since. So it’s not enough to lay down the weapon. You have to lay down the shield, too, that protects you from other people’s weapons, which is an immense amount of vulnerability.

I find that is what is required at least of me in the work that I do. And trust that I am ultimately safe and held, not because I carry a shield but because the ancestors and the Divine are surrounding me and loving on me and holding me through the work.

Finally, Dunlap credits Dr. Harding for her participation in SURJ.

This trajectory that my life has now taken to being focused on white people work is his fault because when he died I started asking him, “What am I going to do now, Dr. Harding? How am I going to work in a way that honors your life?”

Then, Michael Brown was killed – murdered, just a few months later.

Then, I asked him again, “What do I do now?” Then, I started receiving all of these calls from people of color saying, “White people, you need to show up. You need to speak up. We need you.” Then, I realized that was the place where my work needed to be.

It wasn’t like it took a whole different tact, like I’m changing my vocation. But this is where we are going to deepen your vocation now. Because most of my work has been bridging or walking in solidarity with people of color.

But, specifically, working with white people? It may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Pastor Inspired to New Heights by Gandhi and MLK Quote Buttons

I met with Beth Chronister last July to ask about her journey to and experience in ministry. I invited her to choose the spot for our interview. As she is an accomplished rock climber, I feared that she would ask me to put on a harness and meet her at Boulder Canyon! But God is good and Chronister is wise. She must have known I was in no shape to climb. Also, she just loves being outside. We met amidst the sounds of children playing, and the sight of lush climbing green vines under a gazebo at the Denver Botanic Gardens.


At the time, Chronister was starting in her role as an Assistant Minister at First Unitarian Society of Denver. Currently, she is also the Co-Chair of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado. In the Fall, she will be moving to Seattle, Washington to serve as the Assistant Minister at University Unitarian Church.

When you see Chronister, her presence is strong and tall like an oak tree but she stands only about 5’3″ in height.  Her gentle voice moves seemingly insurmountable mountains. She has marched in countless protests for people pushed to the margins of society. She has organized meetings and vigils with and for people from (but not limited to) the Sik, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Transgender, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Native American, Latino, Hispanic, and African-American communities. She also resourced education for her UU (‘Unitarian Universalist’) congregation to learn about immigration and discern whether they would participate in the New Sanctuary Movement. When the church voted to become a New Sanctuary congregation, they sheltered Arturo Hernandez Garcia, an undocumented immigrant. Hernandez Garcia found sanctuary in and community with this church for 10 months while his deportation case was being considered. It was clear to me that Chronister is constantly seeking justice and loving kindness. This made me curious to know more about her.

Initial Community

I  asked Chronister how she was initially drawn to ministry.

I grew up UU in Topeka, Kansas and I had this fervor for social justice. I grew up very involved in my home congregation. My congregation was passionate about social justice. I remember, starting around middle school, all of the Baby Boomer activists who raised me would hand me buttons with Gandhi and quotes from MLK on them and say, “you are the future Elizabeth. We believe in you and expect you to do these things.”

She received their words as both encouraging and as a call to action.

This resulted in Chronister being involved in ministry from her youth. In church, she led youth worship. She started  the first Gay-Straight Alliance in her high school, while she was still a high school student. After undergrad, she went on to earn an MSW in order to be involved in lobbying and advocacy.

The idea of being a social worker at 22 was rightfully terrifying. So I did Peace Corps.



It was during Peace Corps in Paraguay, South America that Chronister received her call to ministry. Even though she was working with a community of 500 people in Peace Corps, she found herself having huge moments of silence.

I had silence for the first time in my life.

Did she like the silence?

That silence was at times so generous and gave me this little, safe space to grow and to question and to reflect and be with myself. Sometimes the silence was so loud and hard and lonely and confusing but I had it.

Silence prompted significant questions for Chronister.

[W]ho do I want to be in the world? What do I bring to the world? What do I want to grow in the world?


I asked Chronister if she found any answers to those big questions.

I remember I was writing in my journal and it was raining outside. It was pouring buckets and buckets. I was feeling transformed by the community I was within because they were interdependent. They worked together for the betterment of future generations. This was a passion that tied them together even through conflict. I felt so transformed by this. I am writing about who I am and this experience in community. It just kind of flowed out on to the page as ministry.

This was a pivotal moment for Chronister.

I remember putting down my pen and pushing back my chair and then pushing my journal to the farthest corner of my house. I didn’t live in a big house. I went out to my porch. I remember watching the rain, coming down on me and breathing really deeply. It was this sense of coming into true with myself like nothing I’d ever experienced before.

Chronister then contacted the ministers from her youth to inquire further about this calling to ministry. She was disappointed to find out that it would be another four years of schooling before she would be eligible to begin ordination. Undaunted, she began to look for theological schools.


How did Chronister end up at Iliff?

I didn’t anticipate Iliff which is one of the things I loved about it. I remember coming and visiting and thinking to myself, I don’t really get this whole seminary thing and I don’t really know about this whole Methodist school thing. But it seems like it’s a nice place that is going to ask me to grow and support me in that growth and I really want to be near those mountains that I see outside the library window.

I had this similar energy in my life when I am about to take a big leap into an unknown, I generally have an idea of where I’m going to go and it is big enough leaps that I would do anything I could to talk myself out of it but there is something about certain huge changes in my life. I had this about Peace Corps. I had this about Iliff. I had this about ministry. There were all of these unfolding consequences to all of these choices but I just knew.

I asked Chronister whether Iliff was worth the leap.


What I found at Iliff surprised me. I didn’t anticipate how deep my relationships were going to be with fellow seminarians who were also experiencing lots of change. I didn’t understand the passion of the professors in supporting students and being there to accompany so many people through their process and their understanding of the nuances pastorally, intellectually and emotionally of those changes. I didn’t anticipate how big the questions were going to be and that I was going to share so many questions in this interfaith context.

How did Chronister feel being a UU at Iliff?

I came in and I had a lot of boundaries and a lot of barriers about I’m a Unitarian U going through a Christian seminary so my experience is going to be different.

She discovered that it was different in certain ways.

There were definitely certain things in our theology classes where I would say, ‘this isn’t our crux. We have other cruxes. [But] this isn’t the [issue] that changes everything. It’s not our fulcrum point but we have others that are ours.

Overall, Chronister describes feeling supported as a UU at Iliff.

I felt like a lot of people tried to go out of their way to ask questions and understand. I appreciate the effort that I feel Iliff as an institution and Iliff as a community puts forth to understand difference, and the recognizing that we’re going to get it wrong sometimes but that we can always come back, if we trust each other. I felt like I trusted Iliff.

Chronister has a unique perspective on the significance of difference. At one point in the interview she showed me a ring she was wearing, made by Navajo artist, Bet Lee.


It is my theological statement that I wear with me. The two turquoises next to each other say that when I meet you and you meet me and we are able to witness and honor the ways that we are different, while also witnessing and celebrating the way that we are connected in the same, there is God or there is Spirit. I think my wish for the world would be something like that on a much larger scale because we are at the risk of losing our differences in the flattening of our world and that is such a loss in our language and in our texture as human beings. But I also believe that if we don’t start finding and relating to the commonalities that is within pain and suffering and living and dying and being a part of a family to be able to relate with people who are different from ourselves through empathy and boundaries as well, then I fear what would come next.