Phil Hooper, an experienced non-profit fundraiser and postulant from the Diocese of Nevada, has been named a Bishop’s Scholar at CDSP.
When Hooper, who was raised in northern California, heads to Berkeley later this month to begin his master of divinity studies, the trip will be another stage in what he calls a “long personal and spiritual journey to figure out what place I might have in my faith community.”
His call to ordained ministry began in high school when he moved to Michigan to finish high school and friends invited him to church. “I was raised in a family of spiritual seekers, but not in a church community,” Hooper says. “But when I was invited to a Lutheran [ELCA] church, I became aware in a conscious way of God’s presence in the world. Church became not just this place that people go to on Sunday morning, but Christian community that I wanted to understand and embrace.”
In college at the University of Mary Washington, however, Hooper came out as a gay man, and at the time, he felt as if he had to choose between his sexuality and his faith.
“I did walk away for awhile,” he says. “Not because I didn’t love God or the church, but I had to figure out a way to be authentic and hold those two parts of myself in communion with each other. Once I came to Las Vegas and found the Episcopal Church, it all clicked.” His current parish, Grace in the Desert, where he has been a member since 2014, is sponsoring him for ordination.
“Phil Hooper has been a real blessing to his Nevada congregation as leader of everything from the Holy Doubt millennials class to the stewardship campaign,” says the Rt. Rev. Dan Edwards, bishop of Nevada. “He brings intelligence and a gentle spirit to ministry. CDSP will be just the place to add the necessary academic foundation for what I know will be a missional vocation for years to come.”
For the last nine years, Hooper has worked for non-profit organizations in Las Vegas, including the state chapter of the ACLU and Nevada Ballet Theatre. Along the way, he earned a master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in nonprofit management.
“I’ve learned how to inspire people to support a cause,” he says. “I’ve found in this professional experience, like most things in life, it’s about building relationships. Now these skills I’ve been acquiring in the last nine years are pointing me toward a different path from what I expected, but maybe toward what God had been asking me all along.”
Not surprisingly, Hooper had choices about where to attend seminary. “People were offering all kinds of advice,” he says. “Before I visited CDSP, there were one or two other schools I was leaning toward. But from the moment I arrived on campus, I felt at home. There was academic rigor, and a commitment to community and prayer and all of the tools you need to pursue this path. But there was also a sense of humor and sense of humility. I just knew that’s where I was meant to do my studies.”
It makes sense to Hooper that rediscovering his faith in Las Vegas would lead him to seminary at CDSP. “I identify with the church in the west, where we have an understanding of our counter-cultural identity,” he says. In 2015, the religion research firm Barna reported that nearly 60% of Las Vegas residents qualify as post-Christian. “I’ve lived a lot of my life trying to understand my identity as someone at the periphery, and I live in an environment where people are devoted to God and the church, but understand our place in the broader context. I felt that same understanding more strongly at CDSP than anywhere else I visited.”
The Rev. Andrew Hybl, CDSP’s director of admissions says Hooper will fit well in the seminary’s community. “At CDSP, we’re continually seeking candidates with a natural ability to create community and challenge one another to live out their values,” says Hybl, CAS ’12, director of admissions. “Upon first meeting Phil in the fall of 2015 it was clear that he embodies these characteristics. We are fortunate to welcome him to our residential community and look forward to being a part of his further development.”
As he prepares to head to campus in a few weeks, Hooper particularly looks forward to CDSP’s new curriculum with its increased emphasis on spiritual formation and the opportunity, which began with the new summer reading list to study the bible from the perspectives of other cultures and contexts. Reading “Santa Biblia: The Bible Through Hispanic Eyes,” for example, pushed him to think about how his own experiences have shaped his faith and his understanding of scripture. “That’s when growth as a Christian really occurs,” he says.
“I’m ready to jump in and be challenged in all ways.”