Stephani Pescitelli, who graduated April 30, 2023 with an MDiv in Theology and the Arts, admits that United wasn’t even on her radar when she first felt called to seminary. She intended to enroll in a Unitarian Universalist (UU) seminary. Still, after a phone call with a kind soul in United’s admissions office, followed by a whirlwind visit with faculty, alums, and students during a February blizzard (naturally), the uniquely heartfelt and open sense of welcome, and United’s arts and theology program won her over. As she recalls, “I walked out into the bitter cold after that day carrying a warm, welcoming, enthusiastic YES!
Lessons Learned at United
Though she could have safely stayed in her UU community, Stephani is thankful she was exposed to so many differing faith traditions and histories at United. One “gift of learning…in classrooms and conversations with voices from other traditions,” she shares, “is appreciating how all of our traditions have evolved in relation, often in syncretic ways, even when in opposition.”
“Sometimes,” she adds, “confronting these differences and histories is uncomfortable and has meant learning to speak and listen to different… perspectives, letting go of the coziness of knowing, and stepping into the practice of saying YES, AND to others.” This practice of affirmation and openness is important for spiritual leaders who must face myriad challenges in today’s world.
Personal relationships are also key. “The relationships I’ve cultivated at United,” Stephani emphasizes, “are the most important gift I’ve received.…I can’t imagine any other graduate program or learning community where I could have truly practiced the messy, beautiful new ways of creating, relating, and leading together.”
“United to me is what I wanted and needed church to be,” Marjorie asserts. “It is a non-judgemental place where I am able to think theologically, I'm able to experience the spirit, but also to have intellectual discourse around what I believe to be true and what it is like to be with other Christ-centered people who believe differently than I do, but we have this core place of connection.”
Looking to the Future
Thanks to connections made while in seminary, Stephani’s future is rapidly taking shape. Through a research project for Dr. Awes Freeman’s Images and Ideologies course about the changing landscape of monuments, last summer she was able to intern with a national nonprofit, Monument Lab.
Now, since presenting research about a community arts approach to saving memories and sharing stories at the Midwest American Academy of Religion Meeting, she’s Monument Lab’s part-time partnership research associate. “I am grateful,” Stephani says, “to be able to bring this unique perspective and the holistic formational and practical leadership training I received as an MDiv student to this important art and social justice work at Monument Lab.”
At the same time, Stephani is exploring a call to support people one-on-one, and hopes to focus on “offering discernment and relational spiritual care to makers, seekers, and activists through creative embodied practice.” Learn more on her website: stephanipescitelli.com.
Stephani credits her experiences and education at United for making these and other vocational options possible. As she explains, “Engaging in rigorous academic and rich formational learning within a community full of diverse, dynamic beliefs and spiritual backgrounds has helped me to contextualize and deepen my own theologies. It has also increased my desire and capacity for building coalitions across differences in my leadership work and in relationships beyond seminary.”
No matter where she goes after commencement, Stephani now knows “that the most important repair and liberation is done…within our five-foot radius.” She adds, “I am lucky that my immediate circle has included some of the finest faculty, co-conspirators, dance—and wrestling—partners, and humans, and even luckier to be able to carry these relationships with me in whatever lies ahead.”