Denise Rector: ‘I found the grace that was waiting for me and here I am’

Denise Rector says coming to LSTC for her PhD was a “no brainer.” She was convinced first by the seminary’s diversity, and second, by all the neighboring schools at which she can take classes through the ACTS program. Just ask her about the recent class at the University of Chicago from professor Eve Ewing; she’ll be delighted to tell you. One thing she didn’t expect at LSTC but which has confirmed her decision is the significance of international students: “I am learning so much from the worldly scholars, just to be with them in class and live alongside them is staggering, humbling, enriching.”

Denise received her MDiv degree from Wartburg Theological Seminary (Dubuque, Iowa), but five months into her MDiv internship decided she didn’t want to be a pastor. Her internship supervising pastors were integral in helping her wrestle with that decision.

She had enrolled in seminary as an MA student because she didn’t want to preach. “I thought pastoring was preaching, and too scary.” But after she took an introductory course she fell in love with preaching. Two five-minute sermons were required, and working her way through them was “invigorating.” But eventually, other factors came into play and prevailed: “I realized my feelings of frustration, insecurity, fatigue and anger about racial inequality in the church would not serve me in the pulpit.”

Instead, she tapped into the two things she loves: writing and teaching. Her thesis at Wartburg focused, not surprisingly, on the racial inequity in the ELCA, and it’s where she continually finds herself engaged. “Being a scholar and in academics seems so much clearer to me than pastoral ministry,” she said.

She applied to LSTC, and was “beside herself” when her acceptance email from Ben Stewart arrived, followed by the necessary scholarships and financial aid.

Three other significant life events led her to seminary. One was her mother’s death at age 56. About the same time, “so many of my friend’s parents were dying or going into assisted living.” She decided life was too short to stay in the health care communications job she was in.

The other significant event was her first time in an ELCA church. Growing up in a fundamentalist, Pentecostal/Baptist church left her running from God and the church. But with her best friend, she ventured into an ELCA church “that preached grace.” For several weeks she let everyone crawl over her on their way to communion, and when she finally went to the table, she sobbed there and back. “I found the grace that was waiting for me and here I am.”  

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