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“It’s Never Too Late” is a series that tells the story of people who decide to pursue their dreams on their own terms.

Ever since Vica Steel was a child, she dreamed of becoming a priest, of making her way into church leadership. But she had given up on this dream for a long time. She felt out of step with her Catholic education. She didn’t feel in tune with herself at the time.

Clarity came to her two and a half years ago after Ms Steel, a married schoolteacher who lives in Madison, Wisconsin, found herself with such severe anxiety that she landed in the emergency room with what she was thinking. be having a heart attack. It was not.

While working with a counselor, she realized that for most of her life she had struggled to come to terms with her identity. She came out as a transgender woman soon after. His wife accepted it. Her family accepted her.

Ms Steel said the urge to explore a new vocation was already developing. And although many of her colleagues and students were supportive of her, she said she felt a reaction from some areas of the school district, especially because of her use of the designated student restrooms. Madison Metropolitan School District spokesperson Tim LeMonds said the issue was Ms Steel’s use of a student bathroom, not gender. Ms Steel said it was common practice among teachers, adding that the adult toilet was too far from her classroom.

Despite all of this, there was still one place that was dear to her and that she felt would never accept. Until now.

At 56, Ms. Steel retired in June from her career as a public school teacher for almost 24 years. This month, she began studying at Wartburg Theological Seminary, in Dubuque, Iowa, on a scholarship with the goal of becoming a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (or ELCA), a major denomination in the Lutheran Church that allows LGBTQ clergy. (The following interview has been edited and condensed.)

Was there a time when you felt compelled to go this route?

It was October 2020, when the Lutheran Seminary in Chicago offered a full week of classes that prospective students could sit on. It was such a wonderful revelation. That’s when I really heard that level of talk: the ELCA branch doesn’t just question, but recognize, the ways in which wrong has been done, and is still being done, in the world. name of the church, and is working to change that.

It made me realize, “Oh. Yeah. That’s something I could probably think of doing. And then it was just step by step from there.

What prompted the idea of ​​preaching?

I feel like I have the opportunity to do something really powerful.

What attracted you to the Lutheran Church?

A friend from Minnesota wrote to me to tell me how welcoming her church is. I love the rituals and traditions that I grew up with. And the Lutheran church has these same or similar rituals and traditions.

But what I especially liked about ELCA is that they work so hard to be radically inclusive. They ask all the right questions. They really think about it. They have a queer affirmation team that gets the job done. And I think there is a lot to do.

Have you always been religious?

As a child, I really imagined myself becoming a priest or becoming some kind of spiritual leader in the Catholic Church.

Probably until about 14 years old, I remained active. I read the readings and the gospel in mass. I served as an altar boy.

But I also knew, without really having the words for it, that I didn’t fit. I realized that the church had no room for someone like me and all that I was. I just couldn’t stay with it. And I started to feel this distance. No religion at that time, to my knowledge anyway, was welcoming or inclusive to queer or trans people.

Is spirituality a defining characteristic for you?

From my teenage years I began to call myself everything from “fallen Catholic” to “atheist” to “agnostic” or simply pushing aside religious thoughts. By the time I was in my thirties, I was starting to think of myself as spiritual. Even though I enter into the Lutheran tradition, the heart of this work is above all spiritual.

And when I become a pastor, I really want a world where he’s right, “We’re here to worship and love together. “

What have been your challenges so far?

It is difficult for me to say, “I am a Christian. It’s hard for me to say, “I believe in God,” it’s hard for me to say, “I pray. Because all of these words have been used as weapons against me, and they are still used as weapons to say that we do not belong and that we are not right.

One of the most common phrases is that people say, “Oh, we pray for you, Vica”. No, you are not praying for me, you are praying that I will become what you want me to become.

What are your goals now?

Acknowledgement. So many queer people in the church didn’t come out. They keep their identity hidden because they know that it is more difficult to obtain a traditional pastorate, even in places that are assertive.

I want to change that with my presence. I won’t hide who I am. I can not. I’m six feet tall, broad shoulders, my voice sounds like a man’s, but I’m going to be exactly who I am. And I’m going to show people that we can be powerful together.

What lessons can people learn from your experience?

Be as open as possible. Be as honest as possible about who you are. Because ultimately, love wins.

We’re looking for people who decide it’s never too late to change course, change their life, and pursue their dreams. Should we talk to you or someone you know? Share your story here.