‘My Ministry Is In the Birthing Rooms’

May 29, 2009

Author: Alvin Powell

Source: The Harvard University Gazette


To Cemelli de Aztlan, th e U.S.-Mexico border region is not just a line on a map dividing two nations and two cultures, it’s a place of its own, different from the countries whose edges define it; and it has its own culture of transition, of blending, and sometimes of violence.

De Aztlan, graduating this year from Harvard Divinity School (HDS) with a master in divinity degree, is herself a product of the border. She grew up in El Paso, Texas, just a short walk from the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez. She knows the reality there is complex and that many families straddle the border, refusing to be torn apart. Despite travel advisories by the U.S. State Department, residents of El Paso visit Ciudad Juárez regularly.

A Native American, de Aztlan grew up in the Native American church, which she said allows more freedom for personal vision than the majority of Christian churches nearby. She began theological studies at Concordia University in Texas in 2000 and spent a semester at Oak Hill Theological College in London. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in religion and English in 2004.

But de Aztlan felt out of place at Concordia. She felt that her classmates didn’t believe that a woman could be a pastor or leader of a church. After her first year, she decided to leave. As she was saying goodbye to her professors, one in particular urged her to stay, asking her how things would ever change if she left. He gave her a copy of “A New Religious America” by Harvard Professor Diana Eck, head of the Pluralism Project and professor of comparative religion and Indian studies in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and member of the Faculty of Divinity. After reading it, de Aztlan decided she would stay at Concordia and that she would one day study with Eck at HDS.