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Rev. Lorraine Ceniceros

Biography

The Reverend Lorraine Ceniceros is the first Latina to be called to serve as a Conference Minister in the United Church of Christ (UCC). Included in her story is that she identifies as queer and bisexual and chooses to keep quiet about it unless asked or when it feels helpful. She says these identities do not affect her worldview, mostly because she has been who she is all her life. 

I have navigated walking a fence all my life…
I have walked the border all my life…
I have walked the border of difference all my life,
even theologically.

Lorraine has been a border walker as someone who is not straight and not a lesbian, not white yet not accepted by Spanish-speaking Hispanics, not conservative theologically yet also not Pentecostal. Each of these has left her not fully accepted and even judged by both sides in ways that leave her walking the borders of the two. Lorraine describes her call in life as advocating to shift systems that take life away from people. Her life experience is an important part of the LGBTQ community's history, demonstrating the complexities of the intersections of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic/class, and geographic contexts. Others who walk “the border of difference all (their) life” with multiple experiences and contexts will benefit from knowing her story.

She was born in 1956 in the small Los Angeles County city of Norwalk, California when the city had approximately 22,000 citizens. It was a tract home community created post-World War II where GIs could live and raise their families. Just after World War II, her father served in the Navy Construction Battalion (SeaBees) removing structures and equipment on the Pacific Islands. She remembers the community as mostly a mix of Hispanic and White, with no Black families. They appeared to be more connected by socio-economic status, which could be described as working class, not wealthy, but able to put food on the table. Her dad was the General Manager of Airstream Trailers when she was in elementary school. Until he retired, he worked as a manager of a manufacturing company that built and installed restaurant furnishings. He was a woodworker and craftsman by trade and at heart. 

Her mother worked as a stay-at-home mother for all but one or two years of her childhood. Her mother’s family immigrated to the U.S. in 1915 after coming and going from Mexico and the States. Her great-grandmother crossed the border a few times, once in Texas during a time when Texas Rangers had a shoot-to-kill approval for any Mexican crossing the border. She still did, to escape the Mexican Civil War. Eventually, her great-grandmother settled in California, married three times, and had eight children. Lorraine hopes to have inherited some of the strength of her great-grandmother, to whom she looks similar. 

Lorraine is third in a family of four kids in a Mexican-American household. It was important to her parents and the other parents in the area to assimilate, speak English, and be good American citizens. She said they knew they were in trouble if Mom and Dad spoke Spanish together in the kitchen. “My mother’s goal was to raise good children who knew how to follow rules, to be good citizens, and I learned that.” 

Her early church exposure was in the FourSquare Pentecostal Church, located two miles away. Demographically, the church has an affluent white congregation, a bus would pick up and bring her and her older sister to Sunday School and Sunday services. Throughout her childhood, she and her older sister would attend every Sunday. In her older elementary years, they would attend Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday evenings. Her parents did not attend. Lorraine felt she fit in, but there were still incidents when she was treated badly by the white members. They stopped going as teens, when parents began isolating their kids from them, worried about dating among them. 

“The Pentecostal tenets and beliefs stayed with me all my life, even now.” Rev. Ceniceros shared that the stories and images of the end of times “those beliefs never leave me. I tell people I’m a recovering Pentecostal.” But also through her upbringing, she said the Holy Spirit and her sense of religion is a “felt sense, all the time. I’m always talking to God.” She believes she receives her messages from God in very real ways, by a word, a feeling, a sentence. 

When she started having her children, she started looking for a familiar church. She tried a Pentecostal church but did not feel comfortable there so did not attend for long. Eventually, she moved to Sedona and attempted to reconcile her beliefs with those of the metaphysical beliefs popular there. She learned about the United Church of Christ (UCC) through her teenage daughter, who worked in a nursery at a UCC church. Soon the church hired Lorraine as well, and the mother/daughter team would attend one of the services and then teach Sunday School. She became a member but said the first year there she felt not connected to the other parishioners. Then, the Spirit opened an opportunity to become more active in the congregation as a fill-in Greeter. Soon she knew many of the people coming to service. About a year into worshiping with them, the Spirit highlighted words on the bulletin “interim minister” and said, “This is you.” The calling to ministry became strong for her. Her church introduced her to thoughts about going to seminary and obtaining her M.Div. degree. They also opened the door to other ways to serve the church, on committees and activities beyond teaching Sunday School. 

At that point, Lorraine had no Bachelor’s degree required to do a Master’s of Divinity (M.Div.), so she had a lot of schooling to do. While she worked in Sedona, she began working for her Associate’s degree, which took over six years. When she transferred to undergraduate studies, 9/11 had just happened, and she wanted to know more about “why we [the US] were there [in Iraq]” and our history with the Middle East. She learned much about U.S. history and “the meddling of our country.” She shared that her classes would often bring tears to her eyes. 

She chose Political Science as a major and a stepping stone to law school. At the same time, her degree’s focus on race, class, and gender kept calling to her heart to pursue social justice. She said she felt called to the UCC, and their call to social justice inspired her. She received her Political Science degree and applied to Law School and seminary. Lorraine planned to attend law school first, but she felt divided. The Spirit guided her to choose whichever chose her first. Seminary called first, and there she went. 

Lorraine attended Claremont School of Theology (CST), only half an hour from where her parents lived. She received a full-ride scholarship, including room and board. She called her mom and said “I'm worried that I’m going backwards (by coming home).’ And her mom’s answer was ‘You can’t be going backward because you aren’t the person you were when you left.’’’ She said she and her 16-year-old daughter moved to housing at Claremont. Over the few years of seminary, she learned about the options for ministry. She knew she did not want to be a local church pastor or a lawyer. She became curious about chaplaincy and did a chaplain residency, which gave her four units of CPE. 

After seminary and the chaplain residency, she submitted her ministerial papers to find a church. She received so many rejections “ I could have wallpapered several bathrooms with all the ‘nos’ I got.” In due course, she received a call from a Southern California church and stayed there for two years. “It was a pastor-eating church. It was hard.” Her brother helped her through the power dynamics of the church. They grew closer during that time. He was conservative, a “bible-thumper” despite not going to church himself. However, he was thrilled to hear of his sister’s call to seminary and church. 

While pastoring this church part-time, she worked as an administrative assistant at CST. She became a pediatric hospice chaplain for a while, then a manager of Spiritual Care in a 600- bed hospital until the hospital. When the manager position was affected by a layoff, she interviewed for a position in a different hospital near her parents. She also interviewed for the Associate Conference Minister position in Wisconsin, which offered a chance to work in middle judicatory, something that she wanted. When asked what her calling was, some of what she shared is “I seem to have a skill for honing in on the truth - with no judgment… I think my call also now includes speaking truth to power.” 

“As a child, I can now see that I was attracted to both boys and girls, mostly boys.” It wasn’t until her mid-20s that she considered her bisexuality more. Lorraine met a beautiful woman in the dog park who gave her her number. “I was so appreciative… but I thought ‘Life is hard enough’ to follow through with the woman. Though I kept her number for a really long time.” She lived for 16 years in Sedona, Arizona, where she dated both women and men and came out to her children and her parents. The seminary became a place for her to openly express her sexuality as well. 

Rev. Ceniceros discussed how in her professional life she came out as bisexual and queer among her colleagues in the church first in the national setting. Many people assume that she is straight as she is 32 years divorced. She finds it easier to not talk about it unless brought up. She wonders why ministers’ private lives are part of the conversation of their professional lives. “It’s (my sexuality) a part of me, but it’s not the defining point of me. And that’s where I am.” 

While discussing the new trans laws in Kansas, Rev. Ceniceros shared she is part of an advocacy group where she wrote testimony to the legislature against the laws. She shared how she and the Holy Spirit had an argument and the Spirit won. In 2023 she ran for local public office against incumbents and lost by only a few votes. She said the City Commission is run by the Good Old Boys behind closed doors making decisions and deals. “I just try to do what is right for people.” 

Rev. Ceniceros is working on her dissertation for a Doctor of Ministry from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She started the degree wanting to discover an authentic Hispanic preaching voice, which became informed by anti-racist work about reconciling and rejecting the assimilation she experienced. She discovered as she studied that she had perpetuated the myth of her whiteness internally. Having just finished her coursework, she is focused on her dissertation, which is “an ethnography of my life that includes the cycle of socialization that led to my almost total assimilation into the dominant White culture and the cycle of socialization, or the cycle out of my assimilation and into the fullness of my true identity as a Latina.” While her hope lies in stepping “into the wholeness of who I am,” her voice may inspire others, especially a younger generation, to look at their assimilation and their ability to embrace their identities as Latinx.

(This biographical statement written by Regan Saoirse for a Queer & Trans Theologies class at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities from an interview with Lorraine Ceniceros and was approved by Ceniceros.)

Biography Date: December 2023

Tags

United Church of Christ/Congregational Church | Clergy Activist | Bisexual activism | Latinx | Racism

Citation

“Rev. Lorraine Ceniceros | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed May 30, 2024, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/lorraine-ceniceros.

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