Hearing From Our Sim Scholars

Hearing From Our Sim Scholars

12/04/19

As a regular part of our communications with SIM alums, we will always include some words from the community of current SIM Scholars. The following are excerpts from the lives of three scholars awarded the SIM Becoming Beloved Community scholarship for 2018-2019 and renewed for the academic year 2019-2020. Each in their own way relates the nature of their call to transformative leadership and their particular dreams for living their vocation in the church of the 21st century. 


MELINA DEZHBOD, VIRGINIA THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY, ’21, POSTULANT, EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN CONNECTICUT 

Melina Dezhbod fled Iran with her family in 2000 to escape religious persecution. She relates, “When I reflect on my family’s journey, what always amazes me are all the people who risked their lives to help strangers. Seeing that love made me ask how I could one day give that love to others as it was given to my family.” Melina hopes to combine her training as a social worker with her theological education to create transformational Episcopal ministries in communities serving the homeless and displaced. 

When asked about her first year of seminary and her summer plans, Melina offered, “I recently attended the Seminarians of Color Conference early in March. I am all set for a journey to Jerusalem and the Holy Land for this summer. In addition, I will be studying to take my LMSW licensing test. 

This year was my first time attending the Seminarians of Color Conference. As a junior, I was very excited to attend and make connections with other seminarians. After attending, I was so happy I made the decision to go. I met a lot of incredible people, made connections with our Missioners, and learned about the resources available in our church. As soon as I arrived, everyone made me feel at home, though I was initially nervous. The learnings were deep: most prominent to me was the history of indigenous peoples of the Americas and the current state of ministry within those communities. Overall, this gathering was a wonderful opportunity and I will be attending my next two years of seminary. It was also really nice to get to join others from VTS and with whom I got to make deeper connections. I can’t wait to go and see everyone again next year! I left with my VTS family and came back with an even bigger Episcopal family! 

My summer was spent studying for my social work license. After much studying, I am excited to say I am officially licensed as an LMSW. This brings me one step closer to my vocational aspiration of building a bridge between social workers and priests. In between studying for those exams, I also visited Israel/Palestine, as well as Jordan. It’s one of those trips where, on returning, there is much to take in and process. But I enjoyed getting to walk where Jesus did, being back in the Middle East after 20 years, and getting to spend time with people from my diocese. The warm love and welcome I receive every time I go abroad is a reminder of what we continue to work on as a people – that is love for all, even the stranger that comes to visit your home.” 

“Thanks to SIM for its support and for all the resources shared this year.” 


 

MALCOLM MCLAURIN, SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF THE SOUTH, ’21, POSTULANT, DIOCESE OF OLYMPIA 

Malcolm McLaurin has served on the staff at St Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle as Canon for Youth and Young Adult Education, as well as an Associate Director of a Camp and Conference Center in Northern California (St. Dorothy’s) and as a campus chaplain at the University of Arkansas. His deepest identification with the Episcopal Church is through the Baptismal Covenant: “It was those five ‘will-you’s’ that gave me something that I could resoundingly say ‘yes’ to. And it is also the element of the Episcopal Church that I believe we must boldly reclaim as who we are.” Through this, Malcolm asserts, the church becomes proximate to the diversity and suffering of the world. As an African-American, Malcolm speaks to that spiritual journey of the church: “The Episcopal Church isn’t usually thought of as a church of people who look like me. A good portion of my ministry has been about sharing a narrative – whether it be a black experience, a southern experience, or a socioeconomic experience. My hope is that these stories will help shape a beloved community where we in the Episcopal Church hear the narratives of all.” 

As his first year of seminary comes to an end, Malcolm spoke about the summer ahead, “As I wrap up my first year at Sewanee, a time full of affirmations, challenges, and discovery, I am preparing for a summer of Clinical Pastoral Education. I have accepted a position at Spiritual Health at Emory Healthcare in downtown Atlanta. My draw to this program was its diversity in terms of the population I would work with. With a broad range of settings, I will get to interact with patients of all ages and levels of sickness. There is no doubt that this summer will be extremely formative on my journey towards ordained ministry in the church and I am looking forward to the experience. 

As an afterword to that experience, Malcolm comments, “The summer of CPE at Emory, Midtown Atlanta, will go down as one of the most formative experiences of my life. Being around pain, death, and dying in the hospital setting while trying to rebuild a relationship with my own body made for some powerful self-reflection. Showing up for patients while needing to be a patient myself gave me greater insight into my pastoral role and presence. I am definitely a different person than I was at the beginning of the summer. 

Again, ‘thank you’ SIM for this opportunity and supporting me on this journey.” 


 

 

MARISA SIFONTES, CANDLER SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY, EMORY UNIVERSITY ’21, POSTULANT, DIOCESE OF NORTH CAROLINA 

Marisa Sifontes had a career in the practice of law for 20 years in corporate firms and in government service. Prior to her enrollment in seminary, Marisa went on a nation-wide 30,000-mile “journey of discernment” to “witness the state of our country and our church in a hands-on way” and to decide where God was calling her. 

Of her RV-powered travels with her two children, Marisa relates, “On the road, I encountered small churches and large ones, well-established historical buildings and tiny churches that were built piece by piece. I saw the strength of the laity where a full-time priest was not present, and I saw many different expressions of faith, all tied together by the Book of Common Prayer.” However, “of greater importance to me is the time I spent with people I encountered on the road, listening to their stories and sharing my own, leading with faith, even when I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be. Time and again, experience has showed me, as a person of color, people yearning for genuine connection, fearful of ‘the other’ for reasons they may not be able to understand, and that through contact, communication and conversation, we are able to reach common ground, to understand one another, and hopefully leave each other better for the exposure.” 

Of her summer plans Marisa says, “I am planning to travel to Botswana this summer; (It is the companion diocese for the Diocese of North Carolina.) Given that my interest in the work of reconciliation in the church extends not just to those of us in the US, but across the Anglican Communion and beyond, I am looking forward to having the opportunity to see what Anglican worship looks like outside of North America. The Theology and Religious Studies department of the University of Botswana in Gabarone is hosting a conference in early July that I plan to attend. The subject of the conference is Mother Earth, Mother Africa, and Theological/Religious/Philosophical/ Cultural Imagination.” 

Reflecting on her summer travels, Marisa had this to offer, “This summer I spent five weeks traveling in southern Africa, visiting South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana, communing with and learning from the people there. 

My time there gave me the chance to experience Beloved Community well beyond the borders of the country of my birth. So much to take in, so much to absorb: meeting other seminarians and seeing how similar our experiences are; serving on an altar at a service where the primary language was not my own but recognizing the familiar rhythms of the Nicene Creed in my soul; walking in the townships and feeling the barriers that are put in place to hold others back — but yet, those oppressed persist. Still, we rise. While there, I was able to attend a conference held by the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians held in Gaborone, Botswana. Scholars from all over the African continent and beyond gathered together to share and learn. I drank deeply from the well and found the waters to be so restorative. 

Traveling in Namibia and South Africa, countries still working through the vestiges of the apartheid era, I saw how much work remains to be done. But, as was pointed out to me, “We’ve only been at it for 25 years. How long has it been for your country…and where are you all at this point?” 

Touché. The work continues. 


 

JED DEARING, CHURCH DIVINITY SCHOOL OF THE PACIFIC, ‘20, DIOCESE OF SOUTHERN OHIO 

Jed Dearing is a seminarian of the Diocese of Southern Ohio and a recipient of SIM’s Becoming Beloved Community scholarship for 2018-19. His seminary journey is marked by work among both the wealthy of the Silicon Valley and the homeless and working poor of Southern Ohio. Out of this experience, he shares this question, “How will the Episcopal Church respond to economic stratification? What does it mean for the church today to host a Eucharistic meal across class and cultural lines? I believe it will take practical changes to accepted norms of Episcopal worship life in order to make room for communities beyond middle class and wealthy families…It is time for the church to break conventions, raise questions, and figure out how it is going to make room for the other in our worshipping communities.” Citing the struggles of the early Christian community of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Jed comments, “The road to inclusion has never been easy in the history of the church...” More contemporary to us, the economic stratification of the Silicon Valley paints a challenge for the church within and well beyond that region. 

Jed will be continuing his work with his field ed parish engaging with professionals in the tech, financial and law sectors exploring how business practice impacts the possibilities for Beloved Community. He will also be leading a workshop for the Diocese of Southern Ohio at their Becoming Beloved Community Convocation, exploring what parishes are willing to change to welcome new people and especially the marginalized to our churches by learning how stories OF the community can lead to co-creation BY the community FOR the benefit of the entire community. This will be followed by participation in the Preaching Excellence Program hosted by the Episcopal Preaching Foundation. 

This summer Jed also spent 18 days in Panama, thanks to a grant from the Seminary Consultation on Mission (SCOM) immersed with a thriving Episcopal church in the middle-class community of Davis, exploring how liberation theology has influenced their neighborhood ministry. The final five days of that project were spent in a surrounding rural community as a chaplain supporting the non-profit, This Is Health, providing crucial health care to families among the indigenous Ngäbe people in a long term partnership with a Seventh Day Adventist school and clean water project. 

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