I Am Starr King: Interview with Zackrie Vinczen

ZackrieZackrie Vinczen

2nd Year M.Div. Student

 

What inspired you to become a religious leader?

A lot of it has to do with my upbringing. My family had five kids and I was the only boy. We were a poor family. Growing up we practiced Catholicism and church was always a safe place for me. I felt like I could come and put down some of the things in my life that I was worried about. I told my mom in 3rd grade that I wanted to be a Catholic priest. As I got a little older and came out as a gay male, I struggled with some theological issues around Catholicism and Christianity in general, and I thought that that wasn’t a possibility anymore. I became a little disillusioned with religion and considered myself one of those “spiritual but not religious” people. I was very interested in spiritual practices and meditation. It wasn’t until college when I met the person that would become my husband – Elliot had grown up Unitarian Universalist in Seattle – that I had this moment where I said “We need a community. We need a place where we can belong.” We talked about churches and Elliot said he was fine going to a UU church, so we started going. For me, it reawakened that call that I had in 3rd grade, that feeling that I wanted to be Catholic priest, a religious leader. Up until that point, if my beliefs did not align with those of the community, I had to leave. I had to seek somewhere else. Now I see that there is a community that provides a framework. It provides a way for us to come together, but doesn’t require that we all believe the same thing. This was huge to me and really inspired me to want to be a part of that. I think that it’s an important mission to bring people together. I guess at the heart of it, my inspiration to be a minister, to be a religious leader, is really about bringing people together.

 Why did you decide to study at Starr King?

When I was looking at seminaries, Starr King was a place that provided an opportunity that other schools didn’t provide. A place where a student can say “Here are my interests and personal gifts” and fit them into a degree while continuing to explore things that are essential to their call to ministry. I looked at several schools at first. Some of them felt very rigid. It seemed like more of the education I had gone through during my undergraduate years, where it was “Here is your program, here are the classes you need to take, jump through all these hoops and when you’re done we will give you your degree.” I looked at Meadville Lombard but decided the low residency model that they had wasn’t really in line with me. As I kept looking, Starr King had come up again and again. So I decided I’d really give it consideration. I came down and spent a week in Berkeley, toured the facility here, met with Jeremiah our Admissions Director, and was blown away by the way Starr King helps students identify that passion in themselves and bring it forth into the world. It was a model that said “How can we approach this holistically? How can we bring our full selves into this educational experience?” I realized if I wanted to do academics or very serious research I could go to a number of places, but if I wanted to be an effective minister who connects with people and draws them together I need to work on more than just my academics. I need to ask “Who am I?” and “How does that impact my relationships with others?” And so Starr King offers a type of education that I think you would have a hard time finding anywhere else.

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

The most memorable experience would probably have been my entering as a first year student and going through the Threshold Ceremony. I often feel in academics there’s a big celebration when you graduate, but few academic communities welcome you in too. It felt like a different way to start. It was very emotional, very moving. I just remember feeling like I belonged to this community. I was brought in and told that I’m a part of this. I remember when they gave me the key to the school and I felt like I belonged to something. I’m not just a student, I’m part of this community. That was a very memorable experience. I don’t think you get that same intentional welcoming in a lot of environments.

Can you tell us a little about your work outside of Starr King?

This year I’m serving as the Ministerial Intern at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley. So I’m there full time. It’s kind of funny because in some ways being in a parish is extremely fulfilling and meaningful. At other times it can be a little de-energizing. So I’m balancing these things, but most of my work has focused on leading worship, preaching, leading vespers services, some community outreach and social justice work, especially in the Richmond area. Our church participates with the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP), which does a lot of work with marginalized communities in the Richmond area. As a minister, you often are the person people come to. You’re constantly in this role of trying to address the needs of the larger whole, but also realizing sometimes individuals have fires in their lives. So it’s a lot of balancing and prioritizing, but also just being present. It’s definitely not like any other job I’ve had. It’s up to you to develop because each of us has our own way of being.

What do you plan to do with your Starr King education moving forward?

I’m very much looking forward to bringing some of this experience from the parish into my last year of academic work and using it to inform things I may still need to work on. I plan to do a chaplaincy internship or residency after I graduate in 2017, and will seek fellowship as a Unitarian Universalist minister. From there I plan on seeking settlement in a parish and I’m open to going just about anywhere. I think, especially because I’m younger, that this is an opportunity for me to go somewhere that I wouldn’t have considered before and to experience a different region. I’m approaching things with the philosophy “proceed as the way opens.” There’s a lot of uncertainty as you finish seminary and look toward being a settled minister. I’m just going to try to remain open to possibilities as they present themselves.

 

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