I Am Starr King: An Interview with Sarah Caine

Sarah Caine

3rd Year M.Div. Student

Member of Board of Trustees

Caine, SarahWhy did you decide to become a religious leader?

I was in the Spiritual Activist Leadership Training program through the California Legislative Ministry, now California Justice Ministry. At the graduation ceremony for the program, Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker spoke about Starr King and the work that the school does. And I found it really inspiring.

I started asking people about whether or not I should become a minister. My original plan was to go into something like urban sustainability or economic justice, and at the time I was looking for graduate programs with those specific foci. It occurred to me that getting a M.Div. and becoming a minister in a faith tradition grounded in justice, which was highlighted at Justice GA in Phoenix in 2012, would incorporate everything I wanted to do with justice work with the call of religious leadership to reflect on and connect with the issues of our time. To meet people where they are, and inspire them to find places of renewal in the difficult work that we are doing.

Why did you decide to study at Starr King?

It was the only seminary I applied to, because of Dr. Parker and being part of the Spiritual Activist Leadership Training program—the person in charge of the southern California area was a Starr King grad. It just seemed like this was the school that did the work I wanted to do. I had a friend who had just been accepted into Harvard Divinity School, and they were excited about their work. I loved talking with them about their academic pursuits. But in terms of justice work, Starr King has the Master of Arts for Social Change program and is committed to educating to counter oppression.

And now I stay at Starr King because I feel that it is the place that allows me to fully become who I am. And the multireligious aspect of Starr King is really important to me. Being able to go on the immersion to Turkey—getting to explore early Christianity, Sufism and Judaism—was life changing. And I could not have done that anywhere else.

Why did you decide to serve on the Board of Trustees?

I am a person who is skilled in holding complexities. I asked friends and acquaintances, people who were struggling to stay at Starr King and people who were very excited about the school, if they thought I would do well on the board to meet their needs as students and to represent the school. And the resounding answer, like when I asked whether or not I should go to divinity school in the first place, was yes. And so I decided to serve from that motivation.

Serving on the Board of Trustees has been one of the most important aspects of my formation. I continue to work with, and am excited to work with in the future, people who are incredible leaders. And I have learned a lot about institutions, and how to be an effective leader and make difficult decisions from that position.

What has been your most memorable or meaningful experience at Starr King?

Well, the most recent one is the Rumi Immersion. But all of the classes I have taken here, especially the intensives…I expect now, because it became a surprising habit (which was not the most convenient), that about two thirds of the way through an intensive I experience a shift. I become raw and open, and I have some realization that I will need to reflect and meditate on for a while. Something just clicks into place. There was one intensive I took on ministerial ethics where I just cried because I realized I had been distracting myself by being too busy, and that was an enormous epiphany for me. But the Rumi Immersion allowed me to connect with God in a deeper way. And that is still falling into place in my life. It was a transformational experience.

You are training to become a military chaplain. What has called you to serve in this way?

Ah yes. Military chaplaincy—my surprise call… In the Spiritual Activist Leadership Training program, I met someone who was serving in the Army Reserves as a chaplain. He was telling his story and it was really interesting to me how giving spiritual care to people in the military is such a needed call, and that it allows you to serve those who would not necessarily walk into our congregations. But it was just something that I kicked into the back of my mind, because it didn’t feel like mine, like my call. I wanted to be the person who was arrested for social justice action, for doing something that shakes up the system.

During my first semester, I met some dear friends who have served or are serving. And while talking with them and hearing that deep need for a place that wasn’t full of orders or judgment—a safe place to just do and be, where you could do some resiliency work to lay the foundation for healing and non-traumatic experience—I suddenly had this realization that I had to be in the military. So I called up the chaplain I had met, and he suggested that I consider the Chaplain Candidate Program, which allows seminary students to apply for military chaplain training. You receive pay for the time that you are training. In the Army Chaplain Candidate Program, you drill with reserve units. In the Navy program, you only do officer’s school and basic training, which is everything but weapons training. Military chaplains are non-combatant, which is very important. For the Air Force, I believe it is the same schedule as the Navy, but it is its own program. Navy Chaplains serve the Marines, Coast Guard, and Navy.

This sounded like an interesting way to try it out and make sure that I would fit in the institution without shutting down my social justice aspirations. And when I have reflected with various military chaplains in Unitarian Universalism and United Church of Christ, there seemed to be so much justice work to do within the military. With the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, there is a need for chaplains who are willing to serve, and can serve true to their denomination, LGB service members. And there is work to do around equality, resiliency, and prevention and healing of trauma. There is a lot of work to do. It is a rich environment. And change within the institution is something I hope to contribute to authentically, prophetically, and pastorally.


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