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Meet Maria Alejandra Salazar

Maria Alejandra Salazar
Rather than feeling inadequate for not having a “church home,” I now feel called to build it, even if I am unsure or afraid of what that will look like.

Master of Divinity

What is your hometown and educational background?

I’m a 1.5 generation immigrant. My hometowns are Lima, Peru, and Skokie, Illinois. I earned my undergraduate degree in education and social policy with a minor in Latina/o studies from Northwestern University.

How has your time at Garrett-Evangelical shaped your ministry and calling?

My time at Garrett-Evangelical gave me the space and support I needed to heal from past wounds and tackle head on the questions that kept me up at night. Were it not for this time, I would not have been able to recognize the work of community organizing as a form of ministry. My time at Garrett-Evangelical helped me to articulate my call, denounce the death-dealing forces that dehumanize marginalized communities, and understand we must “announce the dream of a new society” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom). I was raised Catholic in Peru and have since wondered where I fit in. As a non-UMC student not seeking ordination, I questioned whether I belonged at Garrett-Evangelical. Thanks to faculty, peers, and the staff who work the dining hall, I realized there is a place for me — and that voices like mine are much needed. The future of theological education will be determined by what seminaries offer people like me, who seek theological grounding to do social justice work outside of the formally established church. Ultimately, I realized I am seeking wholeness for myself and my people. The people I feel called to minister with are not unlike me: religious “nones,” women of color, former or current organizers, immigrants who had to grow up too fast, individuals who carry rage, and those not connected to a traditional church and feel alone and like they do not belong anywhere, perhaps other than their movement organizing homes. Rather than feeling inadequate for not having a “church home,” I now feel called to build it, even if I am unsure or afraid of what that will look like.

What is your most transformative experience at Garrett-Evangelical?

Garrett-Evangelical has helped me articulate my calling through reflection in courses, exposure to public theologians, and experiences like the Clergy Call to Action in Standing Rock in November 2016, and studying in Chiapas in January 2017. I’ve been challenged and pushed to name my theology and find ways of living it publicly. My most transformative experiences have been:

  • Seeing first-hand how spiritual practices can build resiliency
  • Taking initiative on building an altar for Dia de los Muertos and inviting the community to participate in prayer and activities
  • Integrating art into my Garrett-Evangelical experience (doing a mini-podcast as a final project, decorating classrooms and chalking outside with messages inspired from our time in Chiapas, dropping a banner from the Cross Tower)

In all of these, I brought my full self and was in relationship with others. Work like this addresses intergenerational trauma, which I view as my sacred task.

What are your plans or your hopes for your future?

Early in the spring semester, I accepted a position as a program associate for immigration initiatives at Borealis Philanthropy. I started working part time and will transition to full-time work in June. I hope to continue developing the research I started at Garrett-Evangelical, exploring community organizers and burnout and what it means to be a public theologian.