by Shakeisha Gray, Guest Contributor

Why am I at Wake Forest School of Divinity? I often ask myself that every morning when I get up. In the terms of honesty we set for ourselves here, it’s been difficult, to say the least, for me to feel wholly embraced by our community. The reason is multifaceted and most of it falls on me. For starters, I live an hour away and commute into campus. That’s an average of eight hours a week this semester that I’ll spend driving to Wake Div. for classes and does not include the driving I do for “normal” every day affairs. (Thank goodness for the audio bible online!) It’s hard to become fully engaged in activities that require late night gatherings or afternoon meetings when I have a job and a family to get back to in Salisbury. Secondly, I’m sick. Genuinely, chronically sick. I have multiple autoimmune diseases, and somedays am in constant pain and fatigue. Every eight weeks, I receive medication via an IV infusion (this doesn’t include the other daily and weekly meds I take). There are times that when I am here, the normal full-time student, full-time parent, part-time employee exhaustion that several of us feel, is compounded with dull chronic pain that adds to the exhaustion. There are days that even though I’m present physically, mentally I am not. Finally, and most notably, one of the reasons I feel distanced is that I don’t identify as a Christian, and that freaks people out. Why would a secular person come to divinity school? In the hopes of helping both you, and me, understand that, I wrote this article.

I mostly call myself a Secular Humanist. Humanism holds humanity morally culpable on its own without a god or creed, but I still often struggle to be defined in that way. I’m not fully atheist, I’m not fully agnostic, I’m not fully Humanist…I’m a mix of all those things. I’m also a mix of a Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Wiccan, and Jewish. As a Unitarian Universalist, all of those traditions (and more) play heavily into my overall philosophical life view. What I’m getting at is that my theology is undetermined and I’m okay with that.

Not knowing is one of the reasons that led me to Wake Div., and it’s one of the reasons that keeps me here. I’m fine with having this plethora of traditions to look to for meaning and guidance, and for me that mostly happens without the idea of G-d being behind it. I am called here because members of my congregation saw in me the potential to be a leader. They saw a leader for social justice, community welcoming, and spiritual compassion. I continue to be called here when I have a deeply moving conversation with a cohort, read something that stirs my emotions or challenges my thoughts on G-d, or when I’m simply able to laugh at our jokes, vent about our frustrations, and share our stories. If there is a G-d for me, then G-d exists in those moments.

A minister is defined as someone who tends to the needs of others. Without realizing it, I’ve been a minister my whole life. Always reaching out to help someone in whatever way I can. Always learning from others and knowing that I’ll probably never have an answer and being content with that. For me, the burden of morality falls on the shoulders of humanity, not just Christians, or ministers, but all of us.

I am here to challenge myself. To learn. To discover what my faith looks like. To cultivate in my peers a better understanding of secularism. There is no one reason why I am here, or why any of us are here, I’m sure of that. We should focus on what brings us together, not on what divides us. We’re all ministers in our own right, getting down on our knees to help others in a fashion that is unique to the individual. Our relationships with G-d and faith are personal, they are unique to us. What we find truth in today, we may not find truth in tomorrow. It’s this understanding that draws us nearer to each other on our journey at Wake Div., and while I struggle to find my place here, I know there’s a purpose for it, I just don’t what that purpose looks like yet!