CJ, tell us about your Central origin story. How did you come to be a student? What led you to Central?
My journey into theological education has been a long, winding road with many deep valleys of discovery, exhilarating peaks of joy, and pitstops to ponder. After completing undergrad (BA in Religion, Faith International University), I leapt right into the job market and landed in transportation and logistics.
While working in transportation I still sense the nudging, and sometimes, nagging presence of God calling me to theological education. I knew that a seminary education was needed if I were going to be ready to lead in the changing social and cultural landscape of the 21st century. My search for a seminary began with a checklist: affordable, accessible, academically rigorous, reputable, and innovative. The first day I set foot on the hallowed grounds of Central Seminary, my spirit rested with a joyfully ease. After speaking with Mr. Lyle Kraft, I felt lead to apply and was graciously accepted into the Master of Divinity program. Now as a third-year student, expecting to graduate in 2023, not only is Central Seminary affordable, accessible, academically rigorous, reputable, and innovative, but it is a place where I experience a deep sense of belonging and granted grace and space to discern what God is calling me to with students, faculty, and staff.
Share with us the story of your call to ministry and ministry journey—where you have served and where you are now serving.
I have always known I wanted to be a preacher. My childhood was full of pretending to have church, and I always elected myself as the preacher/pastor. I preached in the mirror and to stuffed animals, and my sisters as the choir members. One day my grandmother said to me that my pretending was over, and God was really calling me to ministry. I responded to God’s call of ministry before I understood anything about a call to ministry. Growing up in church I served in various capacities; I led worship and served as youth leader. Most of all, I have had various opportunities to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the foolishness of preaching.
My call to ministry took an interesting turn in 2014 when I began exploring my own sexual identity. I questioned my call to ministry as I came to understand my sexual identity; my sense of call and reconciliation with my sexuality were in conflict. When I decided to live out loud my truth I was asked to leave my faith community—a community that I deeply loved because this community was formational for my identity in Christ and helped me cultivate a faithful response to God’s call to ministry. I felt alone and lost. I spent a number of years as a spiritual refugee hiding in faith communities that would receive me. Then in November 2020, at the height of the pandemic, I was gifted with Confirmation in The Episcopal Church, USA. I found a home at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church—the only predominantly African-American in the Diocese of West Missouri. I am now exploring ordination in The Episcopal Church.
What have been the best resources and experiences you had in your time at Central?
God has a way of sending what you need when you most need it. When I came to Central, I needed a community to help rediscovery myself—who I was and what God was calling to—Central’s community became a place to fill in spaces of deep longing and regain a sense of call.
The best resources and experiences I have had at Central have been in and with my cohort and other members of the student community. The bond I share with my cohort is organic, meaningful, and loving. We listen, talk, laugh, and cry together. This is the best feeling in the world—to share in a community with a deep sense of belonging and share space and grace to listen, learn, and discern together what God has done, is doing, and going to do in, with, and through us.
On a more practical note, as a local student in Kansas City, I have access to Central’s amazing library. The library (before the pandemic) is a place to not study and read, but a space to hid and absorb all of the energy of Central Seminary that empowers inspiration, creativity, and imagination. I think that Central library is the best kept secret.
What brought you joy in the hard season of COVID? What hobbies, activities, adventures, family connections are keeping you healthy?
During the COVID crisis, my work increased substantially which caused high levels of stress. Creativity was a necessary ingredient to find joy during this hard season. My partner I intentional created activities and adventures that would alleviate stress. We created game and had movie nights. We purchased pet parakeets, and we simply inhabited the same space to listen and wait. Moreover, one of the greatest joys during this season has been to finally plan our wedding. Our wedding is November 4, I like to tell people that I am getting elected to the greatest office ever—to be a husband to my loving partner.