If you would have asked Jonas Ellison about his faith life just two years ago, he would have told you, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” He even had a popular daily blog under that heading.
A conversion experience changed that in an instant.
Now his blog is called"Grace Incarnate" and he began a master of divinity degree at LSTC this fall with the goal of being ordained in the ELCA. Grace Incarnate is also the name of the first seminary course he took, with Kurt Hendel, who gave him permission to use the name.
Create the life you want
It was Ellison’s spirituality that brought him Chicago in 2017. “A friend of mine invited me to come here to help him as an assisting minister with a spiritual center he was opening,” Ellison said.
He had done a certificate program to be a minister at the center, but he soon found his own spirituality shifting.
“I was getting more drawn to Christianity, mystical Christianity, and found the writings of Christian thinkers like Richard Rohr, Thomas Merton and Cynthia Bourgeault. It was a move from individualistic spirituality to the mystical – and away from the spiritual center in Chicago, too.”
Ellison was raised Roman Catholic. His mother, who was devout in her faith, died when he was 16 years old and “that’s when I pretty much left the church.”
He attended mass when he and his wife were dating, “but she started to question her faith and we just stepped away from the church,” Ellison said.
The messages Ellison heard at the spiritual centers he attended appealed to him.
“I grew up pretty poor by American standards,” he said. “Poverty was a big deal in our house. I was trying to create security for myself and ‘spiritual not religious’ was part of that. The services I’d go to had messages that were more like TED Talks, motivational speeches. Sometimes they’d bring in a Bible quote and I came out of there feeling like, ‘Great! I can create the life I want!”
After he left the spiritual center, Ellison and his wife decided to go to mass. St. Benedict Catholic Church, on Chicago’s north side, was a nearby parish.
“The message I got and that changed me was that it’s not up to me to create my life. I’m created. I’m being created. This is happening to me. I had a conversion experience there, in a liturgy. It just spoke to me, after all the years away from the Catholic church.”
With all that was going on in the Catholic church, Ellison and his wife decided that they couldn’t be Roman Catholic. That’s when they found Lutheranism.
“I found Nadia Bolz-Weber. I didn’t know who she was before that. I didn’t even know about Lutheranism. It has a liturgy like the Catholic church but more progressive views.”
Through an online search they found Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chicago, and joined.
Side step to seminary
Then he did another online search for Chicago seminaries and found LSTC.
“It’s kind of crazy. I’m Lutheran for a week and I was already looking for a seminary. I thought I’d just come down to LSTC to check it out. I didn’t know that half of Holy Trinity would be here – (Director of Admissions) Matt James, (Communications Specialist- Advancement) Julie Sevig, (Adjunct faculty member) Craig Mueller.”
Ellison said he was on the path to ministry before he became a Christian. Entering seminary wasn’t a new path, just a “side step” for him.
He might have started immediately, but was required to be Lutheran for a year before entering seminary.
While Ellison was clear in his discernment about coming to seminary, the biggest discernment was that he wouldn’t be able to work much and that his wife would have to shoulder the financial load for the family. He does have a scholarship that covers 75% of tuition.
Ellison is taking three courses this semester. “It’s been absolutely fantastic – all of my professors are passionate and helpful.”
His toughest course is History and Theology, an online course taught by his advisor, Peter Vethanayagamony.
“Writing is no problem for me, but remembering the names and details is difficult for me. And then there are so many moving parts to seminary —classes, contextual education, candidacy.”
Ellison has found his “biggest pivot” has been with the daily blog he has written for five years (find it at JonasEllison.com). When he “came out” as Christian, he got feedback from his readers and some no longer follow his blog.
His learning, being at seminary, “only enriches the blog. It’s important to put a thought or idea out there every day.”
Ellison is certain that this is the path he needs to follow, the life that is being created in him.
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