Story by Rahdearra A. Paris Woods
Student, Iliff School of Theology
Read this story on Iliff.edu
I came to Iliff on hope and faith! I did not know what an Iliff education was about, that it existed, and never dreamt of living in Denver, Colorado. I grew up in the Pentecostal church and was a part of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination. As a woman of color who is also a same gender loving being, I found myself in a hurtful and self-hating place. In conjunction with the loss of my mother, I viewed Christianity and God differently. Actually I was angry with God and felt myself in a broken relationship with both faith (religion/Christianity) and God.
When my wife encouraged me to apply to Iliff, I was skeptical and did not know what I was getting into. My relationship with God and religion was on the rocks but here I was blindly applying to a school of theology with no real understanding of the institution, or what I was doing or going to do there when I geafuate. I always knew there was a calling in my life to ministry but I ignored it because I was in a very tenuous place with God.
However, when I got accepted into Iliff and began to attend classes my experience has been something of the unexpected. I have found myself in a place that I am able to explore what theology is for me! I am finally in a place to heal spiritually and mend my relationship with God. Coming to Iliff has allowed me to make connections, form friendships and bonds organically through many venues, especially the Independent Student Organization and the National Alliance of Pan African Seminarians (NAPAS) that will last beyond my stay at Iliff.
Iliff has forced me to grow in many ways as well. Iliff has taught me to push back on, fight against systems, and stand firm on what I believe. Iliff is not the most diverse place, but I believe Iliff has the desire to become more diverse and culturally aware. While I have had to struggle with my fellow classmates and their privilege (including some professors), I have learned to stand firm in my authority.
Before coming to Iliff, I attended a conservative seminary and my educational experience there was vastly different. My education at Iliff has been very enlightening. Iliff has a curriculum that prepares you holistically for ministry and other vocations. Having professors of color also brought other perspectives to the classes. I have had some great professors whom I have developed great relationships with, learned a lot from, and admired. Several of them served as my mentors. Overall, the experience at Iliff has been amazing!
Upon graduation, I plan to become an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. As I am also pursuing my Masters of Social Work degree, I plan to start my own residential non-profit focused on working with youth of color from the ages 13-25, coming out of the criminal justice system, and reintegrating back into society using a “Holistic and Restorative Justice” model. This will also include a worship space as I am a firm believer that spirituality, no matter what that looks like for the individual, is critical for holistic healing.