July 2, 2015

I Am Starr King: An Interview with Shannon Eizenga

Shannon Eizenga

2nd Year M.Div. Student

Member of Board of Trustees

Shannon EizengaWhy did you decide to become a religious leader?

It has been a gradual unfolding… My path has been quite circuitous and winding. And of course looking back I can see how all of the points lined up. But certainly in my undergraduate years and my first career as a professional actor I would never have thought that I would be here now.

Really the most pivotal experience was my time living in an intentional, multi-faith community called L’Arche. That particular community was back in Toronto, where I am from. L’Arche communities are where people with and without disabilities live together and share daily life. We lived together in a family home, fully integrated into the local neighborhood. I was moved by L’Arche’s emphasis on relationship, particularly on developing mutually transformative relationships. My time there really broke my heart open and helped me to do some deep personal, spiritual healing and exploration. I began to embrace this huge, great, wild place of mystery and to see the exploration of that place as something valuable and good. I was free to not know, to have doubts, to explore my spirituality.

There was one woman in particular that I met and became quite close to while I was living in L’Arche, Jillian Roberts. She very quickly became one of my greatest teachers. She lived with a lot of pain and trauma, and had experienced quite a bit of abuse and prejudice. But she was also an incredible survivor and chose to live with such boldness and courage and sass. She modeled for me courageous vulnerability and an alternative ideal of beauty and strength and wisdom. We became very close and I ended up supporting her while she died in hospice care. That experience of hospice was also very important in my journey towards figuring out my vocation and my calling in the world—although I would not have used that term at the time.

So I think really the experiences in L’Arche of living in community with people who I perceived as being radically different from me (but really weren’t), building this relationship with Jillian, and exploring my faith in a new way laid the groundwork for religious leadership. And in the past couple of years it has just sort of snowballed and gained momentum. And one thing led to another and here I am at Starr King.

Why did you decide to study at Starr King?

Starr King was the only school that I applied to. It was the only one that really called to me. I was drawn in by the educating to counter oppression educational model and the inclusivity that exists at Starr King. Also, the multireligious approach was a huge appeal for me, because it is so needed in the world right now as we are experiencing such huge divisions and animosity. I think the world needs leaders that are interested in creating sacred space and dialogue where everyone has a place at the table. Also the individualized plan of study was a really big appeal for me.

But I think what really hooked me was when I came to visit the school and met staff, faculty and students. I sat in on a class and explored the GTU. Everyone was so warm and welcoming, and it just seemed like such a safe, inclusive, creative, dynamic space. It seemed like Starr King was a place where I could really flourish and share my gifts and skills, and also be challenged to grow.

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

For many reasons…I think it is a really important position. I think it is an incredible opportunity for me to build deeper, more meaningful relationships both with the students and with the broader Starr King community, such as staff, faculty, and other Board members. I think I have a lot to learn about governance. And I think I have a lot that I could contribute.

I hope that I can continue to be a warm and welcoming presence to my fellow students. I hope that I can receive and bring in their concerns and joys to the Board. I know it will be an incredible learning opportunity, and also an opportunity to get to sit alongside some really dynamic leaders. It is a really exciting time to be serving the school in this way.

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

Ooh, that is a tough one… Obviously, the experience of going on the Rumi Immersion pilgrimage with Ibrahim Farajaje was hugely transformative. It was a very special experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

And the other experience that comes to mind was right at the beginning of my time at Starr King, during a chapel service at orientation for new students. Some of the faculty and staff were part of the service where students were getting anointed. And I so clearly remember the blessing that Rosemary Bray McNatt gave. And the songs that Sofia Betancourt and Abbey Tennis sang while we were all sitting along the wall in the round chapel. The sun was streaming through the windows. Rosemary was going around, along with Ibrahim Baba, anointing everyone and giving each of us a blessing. And I just felt this incredibly powerful spirit enter the space. I felt so held in this beloved community.

It was such an experience of love and joy and gratitude. It was a beautiful ritual and I will treasure that throughout the rest of my Starr King career and onward for the rest of my life.


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