Remembering Formational Stories: 10 Year Celebration

Dr. J. Derek McNeil, president of The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology and Cathy Lorezel, Co-founder of The Allender Center join Dan and Rachael for a special anniversary episode. They share some beginning behind-the scenes stories of how The Allender Center was birthed and what drives us to stay in this work in the future.

Episode Transcript

Dan: We’re inviting you back to a party and you know at times a party, I don’t know how you feel about parties. I am an introvert that, generally speaking, doesn’t like parties thrown in my honor or to actually attend many. But nonetheless, this is such a sweet gift to be able to have two remarkable human beings joining us, Rachael, who truly without their presence, the party of The Allender Center’s 10-year anniversary would not be going on. Cathy Loerzel, our co-founder and Dr. James Derek McNeil, the president of The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. Welcome both of you to, again, I like this party. Did you bring cupcakes or anything along the lines of an adult drink?

Derek: Cupcakes? No cupcakes. We’ll have to work on the adult drinks, but no cupcakes.

Yeah, I kind of like cupcakes and scotch, but that’s not usually most people’s sweetest design. So as we jump in, I would love for you to do, Cathy, is just to begin the process of saying there is no one more central to this whole process than you. How in the name of all that is good, true, and holy did you get caught up in this world.

Cathy: Oh man. I don’t even know how to answer that question anymore. It’s so interesting, you know, Allender Center, I don’t even know how many years ago we got started with all of this but even the attempt to try to tell the story, I don’t even remember it all anymore. And I think that’s part of why I’ve been so grateful for this series because I’m learning, you know more about what other people remember about the start and you know, because I think you can always have a memory of how something got started that is so different than what it actually felt from the outside. For me, it got started because of Ron Carucci. I was working at at the school and Dan your conferences division was, you were doing conferences all over the country but it was kind of like this side section of what the school was doing and we weren’t quite sure the direction it was going to take. If you should continue doing the conferences or if they, if we should stop the venture altogether. And so Ron came to me and asked me if I wanted to take over conferences and see if we, if I, could figure out a future for it. And Dan, I hadn’t been to any of your conferences outside of being in the grad school. And so I said yes because I was young and eager and frankly I wanted a job but I didn’t really know what I was saying yes to and I got on the road with you. Dan, I don’t know if you remember,

Dan: Oh I do. I particularly remember, I remember how you drove and I remember thinking this is going to be an act of God for us to survive, but it also was so much like being on a roller coaster that it was a ball. So yeah, go ahead.

Yeah, well I, so basically you know Ron, and then at that point Keith Anderson, pulled me into the office and said you have a year to figure out what to do with this division. We’re either going to shut it down or you’re going to figure out where it goes next. And so I didn’t know what to do except to just get on the road and figure out who are these crazy people who go to your conferences all over the country and what do they actually want from this, from the work that you’re doing, Dan. And so I got on the road and I remember the first conference I went to was in Birmingham Alabama, and it was an Intimate Mystery Conference and it was at a PC a church in Birmingham. I think was like Oak Hill or something?

Dan: Oah Hill, yeah. A sweet, sweet group of people.

Cathy: Yeah, and I wasn’t married and I was with you on the road as a single woman at a marriage conference. And I, and I sat in the back and listened to you and I remember just weeping through the whole conference and looking around the room and seeing hardly a dry eye in the room and realizing there’s something here that’s important. And I started to talk to people and I remember meeting this one woman who was also single. She and I were the only ones who were single and the whole audience I think, and she was so hungry for a new understanding of God and a new understanding of what it would mean to be whole and to understand trauma and abuse and all these other pieces and I remember sitting with her and having lunch with her and realizing this is something that needs, that people need access to outside of the grad school. And so that was really the beginning for me of realizing that this was something worth saving and worth growing so that more people could have access to your work, Dan. That’s how it started for me.

Dan: Yeah, what a gift for me particularly because I was on the road alone constantly. And if anyone has a sense of how, shall we say scattered I am, it’s amazing that I arrived. I was able to get somewhere, I often had to drive myself to, oh my God, beyond that, just having feedback rather than, you know, what often happens in the context of a conference is you either get superlative, sort of sweet but not connected to the material or you get the particular critiques which sometimes are really helpful but deeply discouraging. So yeah, that the rides and the conversations. And so I want to come back to this in a moment. But Derek, how did you get roped into this?

Derek: Good question, I’m still trying to figure that out. You know, I’ll go back a little bit to Cathy’s early memory and kind of the, at least as the academic dean at the time, a conversation about an Allender Center. And very important conversation was about how do we shepherd a legacy? How do we shepherd a legacy? How do we hold on to something that is more than just simply learning in the life of the mind sort of way? But life of the body, life of the spirit, life of relationships and how do we do learning and healing around that. Initially as an academic, I struggle with the word healing, don’t, you know, I think I had a conversation Cathy healing, I don’t do that healing thing in graduate school, but I think I’ve come to realize this is more and it’s made us more than just a graduate school and we stepped into something very early about what I think schools will be: life centers, in a way, not to simply learning centers. And we step into that, not knowing what we’re stepping into. Dan, my earliest memory of you was sitting in the corner in a faculty meeting wishing you weren’t there and you were on the road. So I don’t know how to work with the road on the road and by myself because I sat and watched you for two hours every week or so, every couple weeks, quietly wondering why am I in this room with these people? And I think The Allender Center at its birthing and its development as we’ve reached this milestone of the place we pick up stones and remind ourselves we were here and in its birthing of why are we here? And what are we doing has continued to be a gift to us, not always an easy one to receive. Sometimes there’s tough tussle and struggle when we try to do something new and I think I had in my own body some tussle and struggle. How is this going to fit? How is this going to work? How do we make sure it’s going to be a good thing because in some ways it was so deep into people’s lives and so deep into their concerns and so deep into their hurts and their wounds that have frightened me too. And I have appreciated the way it’s grown, grown in its care, grown in its wisdom, grown in its desire and hunger for healing and wholeness making. So I don’t know how I got roped into it. It’s maybe even a bit more seductive in that I realized pretty early on this is more than just simply talking with people, this is more than just simply hearing their hurt, it is touching their hurt. And I think from the very beginning that was evident, how do we touch, put hands on, be close to, which means we also feel the hurt. And that has been a lovely thing to watch grow up in journey and mature. And we’re in this process of maturing even as we benchmark or memorialize where we’ve come from and what we’ve gotten to. So roped in, yeah, maybe. And responsible for and I think I’ve said this to Cathy and Dan at one point, we cannot mess this up. This is more than all of us. God is doing some work in this, we cannot mess this up, let’s keep going.

Dan: Well if, if there’s a group of people who can mess something up but also remain directionally moving toward goodness, I would say that’s been the case and there’s been a lot of stumbling. And Rachel, before we come back to either Cathy or Derek, you know, you were there from the beginning, girl. So as you hear them talk, what thoughts are rolling through your mind.

Rachael: Well, I mean I, obviously, if I love The Seattle School and I love The Allender Center, then I love stories. So it’s a given at this point, I think our listeners know that, but I just am finding myself more like, Cathy, I don’t think I’ve ever heard, out of all the stories we’ve shared together of the origins and even ones you’ve told me for the parts that I wasn’t, I didn’t have a front row seat to, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard that particular story. And, you know, Derek, you and I have a good trusting, tussling, collegial relationship. So I certainly have encountered you as a wrestler and one who has asked good, hard, you know, holy questions throughout. So I don’t think there’s anything that’s surprising to me about what’s been shared, but I think it’s really powerful to like, as you said Derek, to lift up the stones and to go back and to remember. Because my beginning with The Allender Center was so unique in that I was just coming out of graduating from the Master of Divinity program at The Seattle School. And within a year of that had taken a position with the admissions department at The Seattle School recruiting for the theology programs. So my beginning with The Allender Center was, I would say like a good southern baptist, like full immersion, like I’m in, you know, I want to be a part of this, but also still very devoted and connected to the graduate programs at The Seattle School. And so in many ways, Derek as you’re talking, I can feel in my own body just some of those early, you know, questions and conversations and what it was like to have a foot kind of in both the academic graduate school program world of The Seattle School and this emerging center. And for me, as someone coming out of a, you know, an MDiv is typically a pastoral formation, pastoral vocational oriented degree where many people coming out of an MDiv are going in to do pastoral work, even if it’s in a non-traditional way. The Allender Center really appealed to me because I really wrestled with, am I called to be in the academy or am I called to, in some ways, help build bridges between the academy and the church, if you will, just very simplistically. And so this opportunity, as you’re saying, Cathy, to get into more, get more access to people who are looking for deeper healing, deeper, I think also deeper growing of wisdom who may not have access to a graduate degree program to do that kind of formation or that formation and training. And I think even in those early days we had, you had an impulse that there was both healing and training opportunities and that they would probably be, I think that’s what you’re saying, Derek, a little more mixed up, not as clear and clean cut as they can be in other kinds of formation processes. And so it was a very exciting opportunity to get to take some of what I had gotten to learn in an academic environment and try to imagine how could I come alongside pastors and ministry leaders and people who might have an opportunity to come do a training or come do a story workshop and see what could come of that? Now, obviously, there are lots of people who have done stuff with The Allender Center who have come on to become Seattle School students. And that was also kind of a fun and surprising mix to what I was doing recruitment work. So this is kind of where my brain went.

Dan: Well, let’s use the metaphor of immersion for a moment. Your history is Southern Baptist and I’m Presbyterian and we we don’t like getting all wet having that the nuisance of changing clothes, so we sprinkle and to underscore that another way of saying it is, you know, I’m reluctant, I was a reluctant participant in this, to me mad dream of starting an institute in an academic institution regarding legacy, which I’ve never believed in, never will believe in. Nonetheless, there’s both honor and, you know, some level of oddity of being memorialized with my name attached to something other than my being. So all that to say, there have been moments where I’m sure both of you, all three of us, all four of us have been reluctant. Sprinkling rather than immersion. So speak about where you have known reluctance in this mad dream,

Cathy: You know, I feel… Dan when I, when we first approached you around the idea of the Allender Center you know I had seen enough of your leadership, you’d just stepped out of the presidency of the school, you know there had been conflict and difficulty happening.

Dan: Oh some of the happiest moments of my whole freaking existence to step out of the role that Dr. McNeal yes, tends to each and every day. Sorry Derek, I really am, but I’m not,

Cathy: It’s not an easy role and and I think I didn’t understand when I, when Keith Anderson and I started to talk about the idea of the Allender Center it for me, it was really because, you know, my life had been changed by the work of the school. My life had been changed by my story being read by the classes that I took, you know, Dan by your training and other professors at the school and for me I was eager to, to see other people gain access to what had been life changing for me. And again that that’s why being on the road was so powerful for me because it showed me that more people like Rachel saying need access to this as well. So I felt incredibly eager to get started and looking back, incredibly naive to what it would take. Incredibly naive. And, and in some ways I’m so grateful for my blessed naivete because if I knew what I knew now, then, I wouldn’t have done it.

Dan: Amen.

Cathy: And that’s not true. It’s true and it’s not true, right? And you know, I could get teary eyed thinking about it, Derek, I’ll Derek when, when you have conversations with Derek, he recognizes when he gets teary eyed. But I feel teary talking about it because in some ways I’m so glad I didn’t know and, and because to not have done it would have been such a mistake. Yeah.

To underscore you, one can honor reluctance and not diminish gratitude. Like if I had to do it over again. Oh, I wouldn’t do it. Absolutely. I’m not that crazy. I wouldn’t do the school. I wouldn’t do the Allender Center, but that doesn’t mean that I am not deeply grateful and I think it’s really important beyond just the celebration of of our 10th year to be able to say, look, most dreams begin with some degree of naivete and the years in are so costly for anything truly kingdom meaning oriented. That if there’s not reluctance, then your ambition scares me. Faithfulness in the face of reluctance bears the possibility of a deeper perseverance. Then ambition that fuels, from my standpoint, just the laundry list of self righteousness. But so your words are well said.

Derek: I appreciate both of what you’re saying and again can feel it. You know, it’s funny, I’m cut slightly from a different cloth a little bit because some of the things I could anticipate, but I didn’t know. And the reluctance Dan comes into like, oh, oh my goodness, that’s going to be or that could be. And I probably hold both those feelings that, that could be, that really could be. And I think from the beginning it was like, how do we move the all the rubbish out of the way to clear some space for this. That’s the reluctance. What it takes to get there is the reluctance. The sense of, oh, that’s going to mean that and that’s going to mean this and Rachel the reason I ask tough questions because I wanted to be better. I always wanted to be better. My kids probably can get annoyed with me because that’s the push. There’s always this sort of, it could be better than that. And I can recall even in terms of how the Allender Center has impacted and involved itself with the school. I was talking to one family member years ago and I was talking about students and she said, “You know, they’re, they’re more wounded than you want them to be like,” yeah, but they can kind of grow to something. She said, “No, you know, you need to take in consideration that they’re really more hurt than you want them to be.” And I think of centers as doing those things that the full body of the school can’t do. And so this tending to wounded hearts is something that I could see was there in the center that we couldn’t do in the grad school. Not completely not enough. You can certainly ask people to think about their stories which we have and think about their lives and begin this process in group to kind of mend and heal, because I think that’s really it’s in group, you’re wounded even if you’re by yourself and it’s in group you heal. And I could see this being again someplace for participants and students to find more healing than could be offered in an education degree program. And the question for me has always been can this institution the Seattle school and the Allender Center in that regard become a leader from out of a rebel. Can the rebel become the holder. The holder of the promise. The holder of the thing that God wants to work through. And very much in some ways the story of Jacob who is a schemer and he has to wrestle, tussle, be broken if you will. And I always thought that text meant, hey you get a new character, you get broken, get a new character. It’s really not what the text says. It really says, you got a new authorization and so where you were serving yourself now you’re serving something larger. And so for me the whole endeavor. Both the Allender Center and the school have been searching for that identity of can we now be the holders of the promise? Can we be those who walk faithfully? And again, it’s interesting a couple chapters after Jacob has this tussle meets his brother and they come okay. His kids act out and he still has act out in him. Doesn’t quite change. And he has to be reminded, didn’t I tell you a while back that the promise has to come through you. You seem to have forgotten, you’ve lost that. And I think in this journey, this moment to me this 10th anniversary is a reminder that something has to come through us. And sometimes that means it will wound us. It will break a leg even in the process of coming through. So that’s why no one wants to have, you know of course no one wants to do this again. No one wants to come this way again. But it is the price of holding and bearing. It is the price of leading and speaking a direction and being trustworthy enough, quite frankly, to say, I believe God wants us to do this. And so and so many, too many people, have heard from God and want to tell you what God told you. And it’s hard to trust them without some degree of breaking.

Dan: So, Rachel if I can ask you to… Derek has just spoken in tongues. Mhm. And could you offer an interpretation particularly to the schemers in this podcast?

Can you clarify what it is you’re asking of me? Because I feel like I understand sure I heard Derek loud and clear.

Dan: Classic, this is classic, Yeah, we’re not cutting this out, by the way. the fact is I as often occurs, you know, Derek has the ability with brilliance with Syncopation, two call you to something greater, so I’m hearing it, but I don’t want to hear it. So I’m asking one of you to put words to what he’s actually asking us at least me to become sure.

Rachel: I mean, I would probably just Use a personal anecdote because that’s where I went when Derek was talking, I was thinking about yeah, where has that felt true in my journey with the islander center. And you know, when I started at the same school, I was 24 and that was profound like adult shaping, being in a graduate program that was setting the stage for a vocational trajectory that felt deeply connected to calling. And so when I started with the Allender Center, I was at the end of my twenties, my early thirties and I’m about to turn 40 in a couple of, like in a month and a half. So this 10 year anniversary actually has followed like my 30th decade of life, which is a thing in and of itself. It’s a whole new existential crisis, but thinking about the formation, the vocational formation and the calling formation, both, of the Allender Center and the Seattle School, this shifting of our culture. There was a time because this was so, I’m so loyal and I when I say immersion, I just mean like when I, you know, I’m married to someone who will probably always be involved in like five different things that are all connected and that’s how his brain works and that’s what he likes. And I am definitely more of like, this is my thing and I’m going deep and I’m going wide and I’ll stay forever. And it’s not like an eversion to change, it’s just, I like creating a sense of home and I like doing God’s work with people I love and trust and that takes time to build. And so when I think about this, the rebel being invited to become, what I hear is a journey of maturity, and I think so much of maturity, at least for myself… I hit like five years into the Allender Center, I kind of hit this place with God where I was like this this place is my calling and you better make that work. Which is a little bit like Jacob, right, like listen I’ll go to the mat with you, but I have some thoughts and feelings and demands and they’re good, they’re not like I’m not telling you, I’m not rebelling in a way that’s like I’m leaving this calling and I’m going over here. It’s just like this is the way I think it needs to go and a profound season of almost being invited to go pursue a job at a church, which led to a lot of what I would say, a season of putting everything back on the table and really having to contend with my entitlement and probably some of my confusion of a missional belonging actually being collapsed with a deeper sense of calling. Which I think is about who we are being called to become and how we live that out. And so that allowed me to have a much more, I think probably wise, mature and less entitled connection to the Allender Center one with the one hand saying yes, I will, I will participate and be a part of this as long as I feel called to and my hand is open. And that’s hard because that means you have to give of yourself in a way that might not mean you get to see all the fruit of what you’ve given or that you may not get to dictate the direction that it goes or you know, you might have to be a part of creating something that eventually might need to be stewarded by other people in order for it to become what it’s most meant to become. And so when I hear Derek saying that, that’s what I hear, that sense of to give and to be a part of something in many ways will shape you and break you and invite you to a deeper kind of maturity. And that very maturing invites you to hold things actually more loosely, which is the paradox I think of the kingdom because it didn’t mean that I was asked to depart. Actually, I was asked to take a step deeper in but with a looser grip. And I think that that’s when I when I think of what 10 years has brought, that’s more what feels true.

Dan: And Cathy, same question. Where, as you hear what Derek is saying, what does that move in you as we celebrate this sweet, odd 10-year-old birthday.

Cathy: Yeah. You know, I think a lot of right of the idea of the hero’s journey and I don’t and I don’t mean that in the sense of like us being the hero, you know, or or any or putting us at the center, but that sense of kind of Joseph Campbell’s, you know, trajectory of of what people need to go through in order to be able to not deserve but have the maturity to be able to steward well what’s been given to them. And I think in some ways, you know the gift of the Allender Center, the gift of the theory and the potency of it, what was was was given to us when we were young and we, we did the best that we could with it. I think. And made just so many mistakes, but, but also I tried to be as loyal as we could to to where we were. And again not and I don’t say that to remove any accountability or, or a sense, but, now there does seem to be this trajectory where we’ve all gone through our paths of, of maturity and formation where there has been breaking. There has been a sense of insight into who we really are and I think for each of us there’s been this question of, of of recognizing our own faults. Of recognizing both what we bring to the world that’s beautiful and what we bring to the world that is broken. And in some ways we’re having to figure out how to live out the theory, live, in our own lives. And, so we, captured this thing early on and now it’s forming us. It’s kind of wicked that way, in a beautiful way. But you know, even Dan writing the book, like how many times have we gone back to what we wrote in Redeeming Heartache in that queen chapter and said, oh my gosh, we’re living this out right now and and we wrote it, but in some ways it’s now living us and and we’re having to choose what we’re going to do with what we’ve taught all these years. Are we going to become the people worthy of being able to be associated with it? And we’re all having to choose in our different ways of, do we give ourselves over to the formation that God has before us and allow ourselves to be taken in by the crucible and be changed by the work that we believe so deeply in regardless of what that means on the outset. So, you know, we we may never come back in the same way that that we started 10 years ago and nor should we. And not all of us will stay with the Allender Center, not not all of us will continue the work in the way that it is, but but will we be brave enough to allow it to change us so that we can become closer to God more like Jesus and and then figure out what we’re going to do on the back end of it.

Dan: Again. So, well said, you know, as Derek speaks of that transformative process as I read that passage, I don’t think there’s been a section of scripture that I have returned to except for a few Psalms as much as that story. So obviously there’s something about Jacob’s life that I find some parallel with and that sense of, look, I went into this with not just reluctance, but a kind of this is something that might make sense for the first two or three years at the extreme. And you know, when you cross the jabback and you go into the dark, you don’t know in heaven what you’re about to meet. And it has felt very much like wrestling for 10 years. But again with goodness, terrifying goodness, life changing, limping goodness. But as I think about where I’m at at this 10 year anniversary, particularly, you know, Rachel, as you speak about rising to 40 well, I’m rising to 70 and that, you know, I’ve never really been impressed with birthdays with zeros after it, but it does have some cultural personal meaning. And I find myself saying, I can’t get out damn it. You know, I don’t know what the future holds with great clarity, but I also know that the sense of what we get to bring the human heart, human lives into engagement, I don’t see a lot of opportunities elsewhere to be able to do what we get to do, particularly in the context, you know, of a robust theological institution with lovely human beings like Derek. So that sense of, you know, maybe we’ll cross back over, but maybe this wrestling is part of the very calling itself. That if we’re inviting people to change and we’re not willing to change already, there is something so deeply flawed that it has no right to be making something of the claims we make at the Allender Center. So as we come to an end, I just want to see if they’re just a couple of thoughts that each of you have as you come to, you know, our version of a party which still with COVID… feels like it might be another 10 years from now before we are able to actually physically be together to eat cupcakes and at least for me to get sprinkled with Scotch. Thoughts before we end.

Derek: Well. I just want to pick up on saying to all of you, congratulations. And, that’s the marking of the moment that feels important and necessary. And then something Cathy said about the heroic journey. I think I’m reminded in that, that the whole purpose of the journey is to return. And as we’re out there, under duress and under stress, I think sometimes we Westernize that sort of hero’s journey a little bit too much. We make it about the individual and not about the community and we are being shaped for us. You are being shaped for us. And sometimes that’s an onerous task of being shaped for somebody else. And I don’t mean that individual, somebody else, but the collective us as the body of Christ. And so for us to gain that sort of trust to wield the gifts that come on the journey, it requires that brokenness. but it is our task to return home. And for all of us, we are on our way home. So Dan even as you talk about, hey, I’m reaching another birthday with another zero. The question for all of us is where is home and Cathy as you journey on and decide, hey, what’s the path in front of me? It… all of those paths lead to someplace that means home returning. Returning with the gifts that you’ve been given. And Rachel full of gifts and full of vitality that I hope is recovered in these spaces to bring them. And I always encourage you to bring the things, the messages that God puts on your heart, those are the things that lead to home. So congratulations. It is, it’s a hard, it’s a hard thing to say because it doesn’t hold the weight of all of what’s been gone through, but it’s sincere and grateful for what you have invested of your life and the making that God has allowed in these places.

Dan: Thank you Derek, Thank you. Thank you. Cathy?

Cathy: I, I love, I love the image of returning home and, and I think there is, so much of story for me has, has been holding room for different seasons and knowing that. I think when we built, when we built the Allender Center in the beginning, we really thought we could create a family that would not leave us and that we would not leave each other and there’s something so good in that. And I think the idea that, you know that that, that’s not realistic. But it’s also it’s also seasonal and that there, I think we’re in seasons where they’re deep shifts happening at the Allender Center and to hold that as Rachel is saying with open hands and also knowing that there’s still something that we desire from God, from one another from this community that, that there is still something of home embedded in it for each of us. Even if it never looks the same as it did. You know when we first started in Dan’s house, you know the seven of us together meeting and talking about our stories. You know that that will never happen again. And yet there’s something in that that’s still in our bodies and still in our minds and still matters. And that like how how can we open our hearts up to seasons, knowing that this is one of the seasons that that we don’t know the end yet and this work is not done. it will continue. And and our hope, my hope is to, is to just be part of stewarding that with as much integrity and wisdom as as possible.

Dan: and Rachel.

Rachel: I don’t I there I don’t find that I have a lot more words to offer other than just a deep, deep sense of gratitude that kind of holy undoing gratitude. And anticipation of what does this next season hold and yeah. I’m there personally. I also think just professionally and I find those seasons can be really daunting but also really stunning.

Dan: Well on our behalf I say it would be great, would be, grant would be a gift for you listener to join us. I recommend a cupcake, I’m not drinking scotch anymore, but symbolically when I drink a brownish liquid, kombucha, it is my version of it. So to hold with us, something of both, the marvel, the goodness, the heartache, but also the reality that there is more work to be done on behalf of Jacob and Jacob’s community. And so we thank you, we thank you for celebrating with us and I thank you each for bringing such goodness not only to this podcast but to the labor that we have all been involved in over 10 years, but frankly in the Allender Center we do it by dog years. So I still think we have been around about 70. So with that we will say again as you said, well Rachel, we are grateful.