Freedom & Risk

Brief Bio: I’m currently a theology teacher in San Francisco. I also regularly preach and preside at Dignity SF services in San Francisco. When I’m not working on lesson plans or homilies you can usually find me at the beach or an aquarium learning about whales, cephalopods, and other ocean creatures.

I earned a B.A. in Religious Studies at Loyola University Chicago where I was a member of the Ricci Scholars Program, which allowed me to do a year of research in Rome, Italy, and Beijing, China. While in the program I researched the functionality of sacred space in modern society, specifically Catholic churches in Rome and Buddhist temples in Beijing. At the end of my time at Loyola University, I worked as the University’s first interfaith intern and had the privilege of meeting the Dalai Lama when he came to Loyola to speak on interfaith dialogue. After graduating from college I worked as a Jesuit Volunteer with the Northern Cheyenne and Crow Tribes of Eastern Montana. I completed my graduate studies at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley where I received a Masters of Divinity in 2018. During my graduate studies, I worked at the Ignatian Spiritual Life Center in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco.

Response to Welcome Prompt 

Before I even began to type a response to this prompt I began to feel overwhelmed with how to begin. As with most of us my story is a long one with many twists and turns, ups and downs. So, I decided to watch the lecture by Cecilia González-Andrieu for some guidance. Near the end of the lecture she said that some male readers have written to her and said, “women just need to stop complaining about lacking power in the Church,  isn’t that the definition of being a woman after all?” She followed this by saying, “No it’s not.” 

This struck too close to home for me. As a student at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley I was traumatized by the way I was treated by many of my peers as well as administrators and staff in positions of great privilege and power. I remember one day going in complete desperation to see my faculty advisor, a lay woman who I respected and admired as an advocate for women. When I told her how I had been harassed by priests in formation who literally laughed in my face when I told them I had a call to ordained ministry, she told me that what I was experiencing was good training for what I would experience once I graduated. I was devastated as she explained to me that this is just the way it is. 

I knew long before that moment that I could not stay in the Catholic Church, but it was in the second half of my M.Div that I realized that I was in an abusive relationship with the Catholic Church and I not only wanted to leave – I desperately needed to. It wasn’t until a year later that I found some interior freedom to realize that I didn’t have to feel guilty for this choice. Then came the big question – what now? Now that I have mostly removed myself from the institutional Church, what do I do with my call to ordained ministry?

My current spiritual home is DignitySF where I have become a regular preacher and presider. Dignity/San Francisco is a self-governing faith community of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered Catholics, our families and our friends. Our community is based in, and strengthened by, the participation and leadership of our members. I thank God every week for this place where my queer identity and my call to ordained ministry are celebrated and loved unconditionally. I love this community, but the Spirit keeps whispering gently in heart that there is something more. 

There are weeks where I will go from being certain that I should be a Roman Catholic Woman Priest to being certain I should join the Episcopal Church to being certain that I have no idea what the right path is for me. Many times I feel alone in this discernment, and so I come to this workshop seeking community. I’m seeking to find that there are others on the journey with me, even if we are on parallel or intersecting roads. I want to deepen the freedom God has given me, and I want to use that freedom to dream. I want to use that freedom to leave fear behind for a while. I want to ask God where She is calling me to serve, where does She want me to make change? Who are Her people that I am being called to serve? 

I’m excited for this opportunity to embrace where I am, fear and all, with discernment partners that I can support in return. I want to risk touching wounds that are not yet healed in order to see if there is hope in the pain. I want to risk opening myself up to the challenge of listening to God. I want to risk listening to the voice of God through others. I want to risk not knowing the answers. 

I would like to invoke Mechthild of Magdeburg, a thirteenth century German mystic, to walk with me in this workshop. She was a feminist, queer, liberation theologian before her time. This is part of one of my favorite writings by her: 

“A fish in water does not drown.

A bird in the air does not plummet.

Gold in fire does not perish.

Rather, it gets its purity and its radiant color there.

God has created all creatures to live according to their nature.

How, then, am I to resist my nature?”

10 thoughts on “Freedom & Risk

  1. Dear Elainajo, I wept when I read your story. I could feel the pain, heartache and longing in your heart to be true to who you are and who God is calling you to be. I pray that you find the community here that you are searching for to know where Sophia is leading you! Blessings to you!

  2. “God has created all creatures to live according to their nature.

    How, then, am I to resist my nature?” What a beautiful call. Thank you!

  3. Elainajo, I am so blessed to be on this journey with you! I look forward to learning from one another. I appreciate so much that your life has been interwoven through several faith traditions, and I truly believe that the Lord is using you in that way for a powerful reason. Lots of respect from me to you!

  4. I too, have stepped away from the Roman Catholic Church and, like you, there are weeks where I will go from being certain that I should be a Roman Catholic Woman Priest to being certain I should join the Episcopal Church to being certain that I have no idea what the right path is for me.” But I still identify as Roman Catholic and struggle with making a clean break. I tell myself that if I don’t stay and continue the fight with so many others, then how will the Church ever change? God bless you for your work with Dignity, I am glad you found a home there and look forward to making this journey with you.

  5. Elainajo, I am so heartened by the authenticity of your journey and your confidence in following God’s Spirit!

  6. Hi Elainajo – thank you for the depth of your sharing. I am grateful that we will walk together on this part of life’s journey together. Diane

  7. Thank you for sharing this story. Your ministry is very important. I am sorry you have had such a painful time. We need to make the Church into a place where “lacking power” is not the definition of womanhood.

  8. Elainajo, I appreciate your courage and vulnerability in laying out your intention for this workshop:
    “I want to risk touching wounds that are not yet healed in order to see if there is hope in the pain. I want to risk opening myself up to the challenge of listening to God. I want to risk listening to the voice of God through others. I want to risk not knowing the answers.”

  9. Elainajo, thank you for your honesty and thoughtfulness in your introduction. And thank you for the powerful words from Mechtild of Magdeburg which resonate deeply. Grateful to be on this journey with you.

  10. My spiritual director of 25 years, an eminent Jesuit, now of blessed memory and among my cloud of witnesses, many years ago remarked, “If you truly feel called to orders, to remain in the Church might be a kind of idolatry.” Pretty strong language that, and of course, both the call and the choice are far more complicated than that. It was, nonetheless, a wake-up call and an invitation to much deeper discernment on many levels. Take heart. God loves and believes in you. No matter which path you choose, there will be loss and gain, joy and sorrow, but grace abounds.

Leave a Reply