Last April, The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology announced the hire of Dr. Angela Parker as a core faculty member and Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies, beginning in the Fall 2015 term. “Dr. Parker is very gifted, gregarious, and thoughtful, and I am confident that she will be well received (and well loved) in our community,” says Dr. Chelle Stearns, Associate Professor of Theology. We recently sat down for a conversation with Dr. Parker, who moved from Chicago to Seattle with her husband, Victor, earlier this month.
Can you tell us about the path that brought you to The Seattle School?
This is really a second or third career for me. My first career was as a paralegal for about 10 years. I was dealing with lots of horrible accidents, and I developed into the role of a comforter for the families of people who had died. I had a pastoral presence, but I knew I did not want to serve in a pastoral ministry. I was always gifted—and called, I think—to a teaching ministry. At that time I was also ordained as a Baptist minister, and I decided to go to seminary.
First I had to go back for my bachelor’s. So I went back to school and became a fitness trainer. I would open the gym and teach classes early in the morning, then go to school, and then be home by the time the kids got out of school. I was a trainer with a women’s facility and ended up being a pastoral presence there, too, for women going through divorce, or miscarriages, or dealing with obesity. It was a helping ministry. I felt like God was confirming what I was doing in life. And I had been in a very abusive first marriage, so my own story was part of that and part of how I developed as a person.
I graduated with my master’s, married Victor, then we went to New York City and I started my Ph.D. program at Union Theological Seminary. I was there for two years, then transferred to Chicago Theological Seminary and completed my degree in Bible Culture and Hermeneutics with a New Testament focus.
What is it that you love so much about teaching scripture?
It’s an overall love of the text, love of sacred scripture and its role in the church and in our daily lives. It’s about putting that awareness into folks going into parish ministry or work as therapists—not just putting an arsenal of scripture in our back pockets, but knowing the ancient culture of scripture and what it means for our contemporary culture.
What are some of the ideas you hope to impart to students?
The first thing I always talk about is ethical interpretation of scripture. I never want students to leave a class I taught and think they can use scripture to beat someone over the head.
The second thing is keeping an element of play. Often in our churches, we’re so somber and sad when we’re reading scripture. I hope that I will infuse the idea that this is supposed to be fun—there are puzzle pieces we may not understand, but through spirit, worship, and coming together in community, we can have “Aha!” moments we may not have in a somber reading of text.
Then there’s the willingness to ask hard questions of scripture. There are some pieces that sometimes just don’t make sense, and it’s okay to say, “This doesn’t make sense, let’s ask some questions.”
And finally, a love for scripture—I think that comes in with play as well. It is a privilege to do this, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
New York to Chicago to Seattle—that’s quite a journey. What is it about The Seattle School that made it worth taking such a large step?
For some reason I just knew I had to come to the West Coast. And The Seattle School is doing something innovative that other schools are not doing. It’s the juxtaposition of theology, the Bible, and psychology all together that makes this place have conversations that other schools only have in separate pockets. Here there’s the opportunity to have conversations all together with colleagues from different fields. I feel as though that will broaden all of us—it will broaden theology, it will broaden Biblical studies, it will broaden psychology. Across the country, people are still in their own separate pockets, still keeping some things very separate. There’s something special about this place—both Seattle and The Seattle School.
How are you adapting to life in Seattle?
Right now, we’ve been exploring every Seattle park. Being outside while it’s sunny is a good thing. I keep using the word process. I’m processing everything, processing the environment through being outside in various parks. The other thing is, my husband and I play tennis, but we don’t play it well—it’s about the ability to laugh at ourselves.
Any plans for the rest of the summer?
I’m here. I’ve been in graduate school for the past seven years, so I don’t know what a vacation is just yet. I want to hit the ground running, but I think of something Dr. Stearns said—this is a marathon, not a sprint. I feel like I’ve been sprinting for a very long time, so there’s a switch I need to hit.
And I want to do some more work on the Apostle Paul. I have an article coming out on racial reconciliation in Galatians, and I want to expand that more and explore what it would look like as a book project.
What are you listening to these days?
We went to the Ballard Seafood Fest recently, and they were playing some rap. I was so surprised to see rap in Ballard, and it was old-school rap. I like ‘80s and ‘90s hip-hop—I’m a Salt-N-Pepa girl. And right now, I’ve been playing a lot of Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” so don’t be alarmed if you hear that around here sometimes.
Anything else you’d like to say to The Seattle School community?
First, thank you for welcoming me. I feel very welcomed in this space. Second, I look forward to having conversations and hearing about anything that crosses folks’ minds regarding scripture, theology, or psychology. I look forward to years of future work together.