When De’Anna Monique Daniels enrolled in Union Presbyterian Seminary in 2010, members of the Chicago Pentecostal congregation she had grown up in were not very supportive at first.
“They were worried that I would lose my faith,” she recalls. “But actually, my faith grew much stronger.”
Now, with a M.Div. degree under her belt, Daniels is set to earn her master of theology (Th.M.) at Union in 2014 and has her sights set on pursuing a Ph.D. in religion, gender, and culture.
Meanwhile, her home congregation has affirmed her path. She was ordained to ministry in the Pentecostal church at age 21. Young members see her as a role model—the first person in their congregation to finish college. When Daniels returns to Chicago for visits, church members tell her, “You learn all you can so you can come back here and teach us.”
Since childhood, Daniels has been buoyed by her quest to learn and grow in faith. “Church and books,” she says, “became a way for me to get away” from the stresses of life in Chicago’s inner city. By third grade, she was reading at 12th-grade level and was allowed to skip two grades.
Until just a few years ago, Daniels says, “I didn’t have a clue what Presbyterian was.” In high school, she attended a college fair, looking for a school that would nurture her call to mission service. She discovered Alma College, a small Presbyterian college in Michigan where people understood the language of faith. Four wonderful years later, one of her Alma professors pointed her to Union.
After 24 hours on a Greyhound bus, 20-year-old Daniels arrived in Richmond, VA, just in time for the fall semester. It was her first time on campus. She was the youngest in her class, a Pentecostal at a Presbyterian seminary, an African American from Chicago on a predominantly white campus in the South. “I was in culture shock,” she says.
The culture clash extended to her off-campus job at Walmart, where the Greek flash cards she used for study became the center of attention in the employee break room.
Daniels soon found UPSem to be a welcoming place, even though, as she puts it, “I’m always the one who has a different opinion.” Involvement in the school’s Black Caucus has given her room to “vent, cry, and celebrate.”
Learning to critically engage the biblical text has opened up new levels of meaning in Scripture, she says. “It enriches my preaching and teaching.”
Daniels enjoys sharing her new insights at the Episcopal church in Richmond where she works part-time. She uses references from urban hip-hop culture as entry points to engage young people with the Bible. This book, she tells them, may date back thousands of years, but "it still speaks to our lives today."