This week, we’ve interviewed the Rev. Laura Cheifetz. Rev. Cheifetz works as the Director of the Leading Generations Initiative at the Fund for Theological Education, which is located at Emory in Atlanta, GA. Previously, Laura was the Director for the Common Ground Project here at McCormick. That’s where I first met Laura when I was a first-year student. She hired me on as one of her student-assistants; one of the greatest privileges I’ve ever gotten. She has a contagious laugh and always has fun music playing in her office. She also gives pretty good advice. Enjoy!

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m Rev. Laura Mariko Cheifetz and I was born in San Francisco, CA, from Poulsbo, WA. I was a Sociology major (and department student of the year, cum laude, with Honors) at Western Washington University. I graduated from McCormick with an M.Div in 2005 and I lived in the 1400 building while I was there.

What was something you were looking for when considering seminaries?

A couple of things. I looked at the financial package, diversity, urban, a place that would train me for ministry, and mostly… the right community vibe.

What was it that led you to McCormick?

Well, Harvard didn’t give me a great financial package. That helped narrow the field a bit. The other two full rides offers were at seminaries that didn’t give off the right vibe for me. I was led to McCormick based on the awesome vibe from the other students and prospective students. Also, Theresa Cho, on a student panel, said something about Asian American feminist theology and I was sold. I did think that remaining on the West and East coasts was a cop-out and I needed to know what it was like to live in a fly-over part of the country. I also knew that my brain was in fine shape, and so was my ego. I was a little worried that if I went to one of those big-name seminaries at that time I would become even more arrogant. Given my sometimes painful self-awareness, I knew what I really needed more than anything was for my heart to be shaped into the heart of a pastor. McCormick appeared to be the place for that.

Can you tell us a little about your time at McCormick as a student?

I was at McCormick with some really amazing classmates. I will always be grateful for them and for the great faculty I learned from, such as Homer Ashby, Hearn Chun, David Daniels, Joanne Lindstrom, Lib Caldwell, etc.

What was your field site experience like?

I did field studies at Interfaith Council for the Homeless, with the Rev. John Hobbs. He was a really great supervisor, and the social workers there taught me a lot. I think John taught me the most about how to be a really great pastor with parishioners while also being myself. I then did a full-time seven-month internship at a bilingual church in San Francisco. It was a really good growing experience. I was in some really difficult real-life situations in regards to immigration, community and staff relations, etc. I also found that preaching in my second language could be really hit and miss, and preparation was really important.

Well, what are you doing now?

I am working at The Fund for Theological Education as Director of the Leading Generations Initiative. I do alumni relations, development, and work with the Lilly Endowment on the Transition into Ministry project. I get to work with the coolest people in these programs. I feel so fortunate to have great colleagues. I learn something new about leadership every day, and we have a blast together. And, I’m graduating from North Park University in May of 2011 with an MBA!

How did McCormick equip you for ministry?

I could have learned how to be a Presbyterian minister anywhere, but McCormick has made me into myself as a minister! I learned how to listen to others and work together with people very different from myself. I also learned to drive my own learning process. When I needed to get more perspectives, I audited extra courses at McCormick or other seminaries. I learned how to be wrong, because every day I found something to be wrong about. I also learned how to stand my ground when it really mattered. I learned how to analyze and navigate complicated political situations.

I found a really solid and supportive community that has continued to be sustaining as we have all been out working in the world. What has been most helpful was developing my own voice as a person of color in a bipolar racial framework. Now that I live and work in Atlanta, being able to navigate a black-white framework in a much more complicated and diverse world is invaluable.

What would you love to go back and do again?

I would not go back. I went when I went and it was sufficient.

Any parting words of wisdom?

Not all these words are my words: Life is awesome and ministry is a gift. Don’t force it and don’t waste it. Know thyself. As someone who works with people, never underestimate the power of projection. Learn from other people’s mistakes and your own. And hey, God loves you! Try and live that out by being kind (but never a doormat) and making sure everyone gets something to eat.

Awesome! Thanks Laura. For more information on the work that Rev. Cheifetz does, check out the link above for the FUND. There are some great opportunities there!

Until next time!

Peace ~ Shelley D.

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