In addition to beginning his studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago this August, Robert Needham provided invaluable help in the ELM Chicago office during our staff transition. We are so grateful for having Robert as part of our team for a short time! I invited Robert to share some thoughts about his first days at LSTC. -Amalia
by Robert Needham, Guest Blogger
During the months of August and September young people throughout the country begin their school year. This is no less true of those God has called to serve in the church who are beginning the academic year in seminary, divinity school or other theological education. Moves from places far across the country (if not globe) took place. New student orientations and subsequent explorations of the new locations happened; during this time relationships began to take shape.
When I moved onto campus, I prepared to experience a sense of being an “other” because of the many ways I perceived myself as different from the seminary community. Although I attend a Lutheran seminary and embrace some Lutheran theology, I have not yet joined a Lutheran church. As an openly queer person who has received a significant amount of bullying because of that identification, I braced for rejection and taunting from classmates. I spent a few years outside of academic life before starting my theological education. Many of my classmates transitioned from undergraduate graduation to graduate school with little more than a summer in between.
However, no matter what I expected God surprised me with welcoming community, and all of the othering I expected did not matter. Since arriving on campus almost a month and a half before classes started, I anticipated the arrival of new students during the weeks before orientation. The mutual welcome we gave to each other allowed me to identify as and to become part of this seminary community. This space also opened up several conversations about what it means to be queer, and how that looks on a seminary campus. At a personal level, I define queer as “beyond the mainstream.” What exactly that means, each person can decide as they get to know me.
During the Master of Arts student meeting, I had conversation about LGBTQ identities and how they work in various ministry contexts. For several of the students, I was the first openly queer person they had met, and certainly one of the first they felt fully comfortable asking questions about identity. This was the beginning of a pleasant surprise. The seminary community celebrates each person in their personhood, celebrating the diverse perspectives they bring to the table. As a not-quite-Lutheran, I’ve learned how important grace is, not just for me in all my brokenness, but for all of those children of God I encounter in daily life. Finally, as a person who needed an academic break, I realize how much I’ve missed the academic context. God has been working throughout my lifetime to bring me to this point, and I am thankful for the community God prepared to share the seminary experience together.