April 2, 2015

I Am Starr King: Interview with Lauren Way

Lauren Way

2nd Year, M.Div. Student

What inspired you to become a religious leader?

I have loved church and religion my whole life. My grandparents would occasionally bring me to their Disciples of Christ church when I was very little. It was a special treat to go to Sunday school when I was young. And then when I was in high school, I became involved with the Unitarian Universalist church in San Diego pretty actively. And that is when I blossomed; I really found myself and found the place where things made sense, the place where I just wanted to be all the time. It was a, “Oh, you need to do a thing—Well, let me do the thing,” kind of scenario. At that point I wanted to be a minister, but I thought ministers were special. I thought it was a magical kind of person who became a minister—somehow inherently better than regular folk, and I was just a regular person.

So I let go of that dream and was a lay leader for a long time. And I sort of took a break from religion for about ten years. I came back when I was 28. I came back to the church, and, again, I found myself in lay leadership positions. Our intern minister, who was a Starr King student at the time, Sue Magidson, who is now a minister up here, led an adult religious education class on ‘Exploring Prayer Through a Unitarian Universalist Lens.’ And I was on her Intern Committee, so I went to the class as an observer and was transformed by it. I started leading a prayer class that she helped me create. And that was when I realized, “I have to do this.”

Why did you decide to study at Starr King?

I have had a seminary-crush on Starr King since the ‘90s, when I found out about it. I think I was called to Starr King because it is in Berkeley. I was called to it because it is a UU identity seminary—that was really important for me. The people who I most want to emulate in our movement, as a general rule, came from Starr King. And I really just love the pedagogy. I love the student-based learning. I am not an academic; I am not someone who thrives in an academic setting. I love exploration in intellectual things and experiential learning. And that really feels captured by Starr King.

It is like Starr King sees you and makes you the best you and shapes your specific ministry. The more I spoke to Starr King and the more I researched Starr King, the more I knew that this was home, that this was where I belonged.

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

During my first week of school as a seminarian, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died five months later. Throughout that entire process, the school loved me and held me and supported me. And fortunately—it is weird to say that anything is fortunate in that situation—my mother lived in the Bay Area. So my teachers and advisors made it so that I could go and move in with her as a permanent caregiver, and just Skype into classes and be as present as I could be.

My mother died a few hours after Ibrahim’s father died, and so it became this really powerful connection. My mother really didn’t have a community, so the school held her memorial. It was held in the Fireside Room. And Rebecca Parker was the accompanist for the hymns and blessed the ashes. And the school just rallied and supported me in ways I just never would have imagined.

And then, forty days later, Ibrahim was having a sitting with his father to pray for him, as one does in Ibrahim’s tradition. And I was just there as one of the Starr King singers, to sing for him as he had requested. And he saw that I was there and said, “No, you are at the same point of mourning.” And so he brought me up and had me sit right next to him, and made the entire multiple-hour ritual be about his dad and my mom.

So those things were more than I could have ever asked for, or imagined, or dreamed. And really sort of solidified for me that this is where I am supposed to be. It just made me know that this is a place of love, and this is a place of caring, and this is a place of people who are as flawed and challenging as we all are. But, ultimately, that this is a place of support.

What do you hope to do with your Starr King education going forward?

The ever-challenging question… I am still in discernment about what my ministry will look like. I have gone through these phases of, “Well, maybe I would like to be affiliated with a parish, but not lead or associate at a parish at the start of my professional ministry.” I saw five options of what professional ministry could look like: parish, chaplaincy, non-profit management/adding religious perspective to secular justice work, creating an entirely new path, or becoming the President of the Unitarian Universalist Association. None of those felt exactly like where I wanted to be headed initially. But I’ve been working at the front desk at Starr King and that’s given me some more perspectives of potential ministries. And recently there were some postings for denominational leadership within the Pacific Western Region of the UUA and I realized the people who did that work were ministers. So, right now, it looks like I’m headed toward some form of localized denominational ministry — with occasional preaching, teaching and leadership development, and providing congregational support. I’m excited and anxious and a bit frightened to see where this path takes me.


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