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Emerging Clergy Cohort

At a time when there are deep divisions in so many areas of life, it is critical to have leaders with relationships across all faiths and life stances, and who are trained to share their understandings and their relationships with their congregations.

Tri-Faith Initiative is pleased to announce the first cohort of the Emerging Clergy Seminar to Advance Interfaith Relationships and Understanding. In 2023-2024, the cohort of 14 emerging leaders across diverse faith and religious traditions are meeting together and developing relationships built over time with trust. The goal of this cohort is to equip these emerging leaders with learning and skill, and the ability to bring these relationships home to their communities.

NANA FIRMAN is deeply passionate about the green and blue sustainability of this beautiful brown earth and has about two decades of experience working with advocacy and awareness-raising on current environmental degradation and climate crisis, advocating urban sustainability for a better future, and developing green economy concepts and strategies. She has been involved in forming the Green Initiative within the Islamic Society of North America. In 2015, she organized the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change and later co-founded the Global Muslim Climate Network, which calls on all Muslim nations to transition from fossil fuel to clean-energy-based development. She believes that environmental degradation and climate change can unite the world community to face the challenges with a deep commitment to sustainability and environmental justice for all people. Nana is currently a Senior Ambassador for GreenFaith, an international, grassroots, multi-faith, and spiritual environment and climate action network.

RENE SLATAPER (he/him/his) is a gay transgender pastor from Texas. He is currently receiving his masters in divinity from Chicago Theological Seminary, he’s a National Scholar through his denomination, and is a mental health advocate. When Rene isn’t pastoring a church or going to school you can find him making online content for faith organizations and telling stories through mixed media. He facilitates a transgender and nonbinary weekly meditation group, sits on the board for ChrysalisQ (an LGBTQ+ organization for families), and has over 1,000 hours mentoring transgender youth. Rene’s theology often calls him to tell people to love themselves and love each other and to also make good choices and do good things.

DR. KAI HORN EL-AMIN is currently the Program Chair of the Religion Department and Research Coordinator for Institutional Research and Effectiveness at Lane College, Jackson, Tennessee. She is also a student at Bayan Islamic Graduate School to obtain a Master of Arts in Islamic Leadership. She holds Post-Doctoral Fellows in Womanist Theology from Princeton University, Katie Geneva Cannon Center for Womanist Leadership; and a 2022 recipient of the Teaching Interfaith, Interfaith America, DePaul University, with a project focus on the impact of Interfaith Immersion on college students transitioning to college campuses. In June 2022 she was chosen to be a presenter at the Tri-Faith Initiative, in Omaha, Nebraska. A proud graduate of the Phillips School of Theology, she was inspired to pursue a career in social education in Islamic Leadership. Her thesis, “When the Earth Yields Her Fruit: Religious Pluralism Growing in the Soil of Social Justice,” further supported her growing thirst for knowledge and her belief in tawhid, the worship of one God alone as the liberating factor of her mind, body, spirit, and work. From her intellectual endeavors, she is Exec. Dir. The S.E.E.D. Program (Social Ethics, Equity, and Diversity) “Where we are intentional about all that is sacred.” “Unto every one of you, we have given a different law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could have made you all one single community.” (Qur’an, The Table, 48) “Whoever of you sees wrong being committed, let him/her change it with his/her hands. If he/she is unable to do that, then with his tongue, and if he is unable to do that, then with his heart, which is the weakest level of faith.” Sahih Muslim 49

SIERRA FOX is a fourth-year Cantorial Ordination student at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. A mezzo-soprano, she is a nationally and internationally regarded soloist and ensemble singer with a background in interfaith outreach. Sierra has sung with a vast number of sacred and secular choirs/organizations, touring throughout the United States, Europe, and South America. Primarily interested in singing as a tool of unification, Sierra has made a focus of music in the service of interconnectedness, bridging faith traditions, cultures, and otherwise distanced communities through song. Sierra holds a Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance and Religion and Society from Syracuse University. Sierra currently serves as Cantorial Intern at Park Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan. She previously served as Student Cantor at Temple Emanuel of South Hills in Pittsburgh, PA, and held a choir residency with the choir “Juniper” this summer at Saint John the Baptist in Cirencester, UK.

JEN SCOTT (she/her) has been passionate about the interconnectedness of the environment, the world’s belief systems, and their peoples since she was very young. As she entered college and dual majored in nursing and religious studies her spark of interest became a field of study which led her to discover her own spiritual path. In 2015 she became a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and in 2022 she joined the Ancient Order of Druids in America. She discovered her path was of a spiritual and scholarly nature and enrolled at Chicago Theological Seminary where she is currently pursuing her Master of Divinity with a focus on LGBTQIA+ and Interfaith studies. The culmination of her work in nursing, Druidry, CTS, and more has shown Jen that her calling is to assist in the healing of her community by helping others mend generational religious trauma and to aid those seeking a connection to the Divine.

BHUMIKA BHATIA was born and raised in India, where she grew up in a multicultural environment amongst the four major faiths practiced – Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism and Christianity. At the age of 21, Bhumika left her homeland and moved to the United States, where she experienced a major culture shock. She is a bachelor’s degree holder in Psychology, and she joined the US Military to explore career options. Currently, Bhumika is pursuing a Master’s degree in Divinity with a focus on chaplaincy and interfaith. Additionally, she is a proud mother of a 4-year-old child. She is passionate about connecting with people from all different backgrounds, and she enjoys organizing unique events.

THORNTON MUNCHER (he/him) is a Master of Divinity student at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Birmingham-Southern College with a Bachelor of Arts in Literature, Religion, and Mythology. Thornton is currently pursuing ordination in The United Methodist Church and preparing for doctoral research, focusing on Jewish-Christian relations and the ethics of biblical interpretation. He is a lifelong resident of Alabama and hopes to serve Appalachian communities through the intersection of religious and educational leadership.

ANTHONY CRUZ PANTOJAS (they/them) is an innovative spiritual director, chaplain, educator, and scholar who redefines spiritual accompaniment with a decolonial praxis. Through curated transformative experiences blending art, spirituality, and community engagement, Anthony fosters a transcultural approach to spiritual exploration. Grounded in Afro-Caribbean humanist and freethought philosophies, Anthony promotes critical thinking, and self-discovery, inspiring individuals to question and reimagine their inner/outer worlds.

ERLINDA PERLADO-MERTENS (she/her/they) is a Filipino-Asian American and queer catholic chaplain. She is working her path to an ordained ministry with the Roman Catholic Women PriestS (RCWP). Interreligious and ecumenical dialogue is an important part of her ministry. Erlin belongs to the Therese of Divine Peace Inclusive Catholic Community and the Federation of Christian Ministries (FCM). She worked with an interfaith group in the Philippines in preparation for the Beijing Women Conference to share on spirituality and Women. They have also incorporated Filipino indigenous cultural beliefs in understanding what it means to be Christian. Currently Erlin is a candidate for ordination with RCWP.

DR. ZARIA DAVIS is a spiritual care provider, mentor, educator, and advocate, who completed her MDiv in August 2023 and is completing her ordination with the United Church of Christ. She holds a DSW (Social Work) from Capella University, MSW from the University of Cincinnati, and BA in Sociology from Wilberforce University. She is trained in Mental Health First Aid, is a certified reiki practitioner, is trained restorative justice practitioner, and is trained in healing circles focusing on trauma and harm in the community, the workplace, and due to mass incarcerations. Dr. Davis provides coaching, consulting, presentations, and facilitation, as well as public speaking engagements throughout the country through New Direction Coaching & Consulting, LLC.

IMAM RUSHDAN MUJAHID-DEEN works as an Associate Imam at Masjid Bilal Islamic Center. His interfaith work has given him the opportunity to work in various settings, such as hospitals, law enforcement, and educational institutions. Rushdan is a graduate from Bayan Islamic Graduate School, where he received his Master’s in Divinity (MDiv) with a concentration on Islamic Chaplaincy. He is currently pursuing a Doctorate of Ministry in Islamic Leadership at Bayan Islamic Graduate School/Chicago Theological Seminary. m the University of Cincinnati, and BA in Sociology from Wilberforce University. She is trained in Mental Health First Aid, is a certified reiki practitioner, is trained restorative justice practitioner, and is trained in healing circles focusing on trauma and harm in the community, the workplace, and due to mass incarcerations. Dr. Davis provides coaching, consulting, presentations, and facilitation, as well as public speaking engagements throughout the country through New Direction Coaching & Consulting, LLC.

RABBI ARI JUN is a respected spiritual leader, scholar, and community activist. Trained in advanced religious studies and equipped with a compassionate heart, Jun has dedicated his life to guiding and inspiring individuals on their spiritual and cultural journeys. As the director of Cincinnati’s Jewish Community Relations Council, Rabbi Jun’s devotion to social justice and tikkun olam (repairing the world) are evident in his tireless efforts to fight antisemitism and hate, address pressing issues, and create positive change. He is a strategic thinker and a community convener.

RABBI ARIEL TOVLEV (he/him or they/them) is a queer and trans Reform rabbi in the DC area. He is among the first out trans rabbis to be ordained by Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. Rabbi Tovlev combines his love of Judaism with his background in poetry to create new ritual and liturgy which speaks to the trans Jewish experience. He has been published in Mishkan Ga’avah: Where Pride Dwells, Prophetic Voices: Renewing and Reimagining Haftarah, and The First Fifty Years: a Jubilee in Prose and Poetry Honoring Women Rabbis. Rabbi Tovlev has taught and spoken in Jewish and non-Jewish communities across the US. He is currently developing a trans Jewish theology. More information can be found on his website, www.transrabbi.org.

ALSO IN THE COHORT:

DANIEL SPISAK 

THE EMERGING CLERGY COHORT DIRECTORS:

AISHA SUBHAN is a PhD student at the Chicago Theological Seminary in Islamic and Interreligious Studies. Previously, Aisha graduated from Bayan Islamic Graduate School. Aisha’s work largely engages mysticism, gender, and metaphysics within her own tradition of Islam and others. She is interested in uncovering pathways towards healing both within and without and contemplation as a source of action in the world. Interfaith has always been a part of her life and she is excited about discovering new possibilities in interreligious engagement that work towards common goals of community building and social justice. In the future, Aisha hopes to become a professor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies. 

BECCA BLACKBURN hails from southern Michigan and has lived in California, Washington, and now Chicago, Illinois. She enjoyed a first career in student development, working with college students and campus employees to create conditions for student thriving. Becca is now pursuing a PhD in Biblical Hermeneutics from Chicago Theological Seminary, and serves as the Program Operations Manager at Interfaith America. The many communities she has been a part of over the years have each widened her love for difference. Becca cares
deeply about the relationships, dialogue, and shared commitments that can emerge from interfaith engagement.

RABBI EDIE YAKUTIS was ordained as a Rabbi from HUC-JIR in May. This achievement marks 5 years of study in Cincinnati, after 23 years at Microsoft Corporation. She looks forward to a blended rabbinate of congregational work as well as serving as a chaplain to individuals of all faiths, and none. Her corporate experience honed her leadership and listening skills through a variety of team and managerial positions, as well as project management. She and her husband, Leo, were one of the 11 founding families of Temple Solel, in Fort Mill, SC. She served there as a lay leader. In addition to her husband, Rabbi Yakutis has a son and daughter-in-law and nephew living nearby, each with a beloved assortment of pets, and garden-plots. 

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