2015-2017 Cohort

Congratulations to the inaugural cohort of the Chicago Commons Project!


Rebecca Anderson moved to Chicago in 2007 to get an M. Div. at the University of Chicago and has a BA in playwriting from Ham​pshire College.  She’s been a stand-up comic, a gardener, an ox-drover, a nanny, a weaver, and she ran an after-school program. Now she's the Associate Minister at Glencoe Union Church on the north shore of Chicago. A participant in the Chicago story-telling scene, she enjoys narrative podcasts likeThe Moth, Start-Up, and Love & Radio. This interest has turned into an artistic collaboration in her current congregation, a side-project offering story-telling workshops in other churches and non-profits, and finally a new church plant founded on telling true stories that can save lives. Willing to run outdoors in (almost) any weather, Rebecca only bikes when it’s over 55, and is a year-round world-class putterer. She also recently began working out with a trainer and hardly knows who she is anymore. 



Shawna Bowman loves to wrestle with God at the intersection of creativity, spirituality, queer theology and pastoral care. She pastors a quirky and radically gracious community called Friendship Presbyterian Church that meets in the Norwood Park Metra Station here in Chicago. Shawna works with churches, faith communities and not-for-profit organizations to help them tell their story through visual arts. She paints, builds and invites others to encounter God through art-making during worship, conferences, performances and storytelling events. Shawna is passionate about empowering others to integrate the creative process in their spiritual and worshiping life. She teaches workshops and leads retreats in order to provide space for artists to experiment, foster creativity and learn how to incorporate creativity into their faith and worshiping communities. You can find Shawna's work and words at artforgodsake.com and her sermons and lectionary reflections at shawnabowman.com. Her church is also on the web at fpcchicago.org

Danielle Buhuro is new to Lincoln Memorial UCC and has helped the community of faith continue to grow spiritually as well as increase social consciousness. She facilitates innovative and educational bible studies, along with spirited worship services. Rev. Danielle's vision is grounded in family systems theory and she seeks to help the faith community of Lincoln carve out a new identity and purpose for the 21rst century. Rev. Danielle's vision has pushed us to engage in radical, innovative community outreach where we've recently instituted an affirming girls and boys mentoring program, a thriving middle-aged mens' club, an inclusive married couples ministry, and a loving, supportive weekly seniors social hour. Rev. Danielle is a graduate of Chicago Theological Seminary, where she earned her Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry in Religion and Health. She currently works as a Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor at Advocate Trinity and South Suburban Hospitals and is a Board-Certified Chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains. Rev. Danielle also serves as an adjunct faculty of the Seminary Consortium of Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE), where she teaches courses on Pastoral Care.

Seth Ethan Carey hails from the shores of New England, where his Congregationalist pilgrim ancestors fled in the pursuit of religious freedom and the right to wear funny hats without fear of reprisal. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy & Religious Studies and a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School. As Executive Minister for the First Congregational Church of Glen Ellyn, Seth serves as head of staff, oversees community programming and administrative functions, and coordinates the day to day operations of the church. Seth is also a husband and proud father of two boys, who probably feature a bit too prominently in his sermons.  His call to do God's work came when he realized that his pursuit of divine mysteries and his fascination with the secrets of the universe might be pointing him towards a career in the ministry, a deeply rewarding vocation that is also devoid of manual labor. His spiritual and academic focus includes the study of the theodicy, Judeo-Christian mythology, and the occult. 

Erik Christensen is the pastor of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square, a redevelopment congregation of the ELCA.  A graduate of Macalester College (’95), Candler School of Theology at Emory University (’02), and the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (’04), Erik came to parish ministry after working as an advocate with and for runaway, homeless and street-dependent youth in Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Washington, DC. He was “extraordinarily ordained” in 2006, three years before the ELCA changed its policies to allow publicly identified LGBTQ persons to serve on the roster of ordained ministers, and was officially brought onto the ELCA’s clergy roster in 2010. He has served on the boards of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, and is currently the Vice-Chair of The Beatitudes Society. He has contributed to a number of publications including “Worship Matters: An Introduction to Worship” (Augsburg Fortress, 2012) and “In These or Similar Words: Crafting Language for Worship” (Augsburg Fortress, 2015). Erik and his husband Kerry were married earlier this summer, less than a week before the Supreme Court’s historic Obergefell v. Hodges decision, and they are still celebrating a season of surprising joy.

Paula Cripps-Vallejo is a United Methodist clergywoman. She is delighted to be married to her husband, Santos, and share life together with their toddler girl, and their  dog. Paula is a Euro-American, who is honored to serve with two Latin@ UMC's in Northwest Chicago (Lead Pastor of Humboldt Park UMC & Associate Pastor of Emanuel UMC). There is always abounding grace and deep joy in cross-lingual and multi-cultural ministry for her. Paula is also blessed to be the Chair of the Board of Directors, for Northern Illinois Justice for our Neighbors (JFON), a UM related immigration and advocacy ministry. For fun, she enjoys playing in God's creation, just relaxing with family and friends, reading novels, and eating a variety of global foods. Born and raised in Sioux City, Iowa, and a graduate of Simpson College (Indianola, Iowa) and Claremont School of Theology (Claremont, California), Paula is excited to be in Chicago for this chapter of ministry and life.


Julian “J.Kwest” DeShazier currently serves as pastor of University Church in Chicago. As national speaker, advocate and artist, Julian has appeared on ABC, CBS, FOX, and Dr. Maya Angelou’s “Oprah &  Friends” radio program. J.Kwest is also an Emmy Award-winning musician, featured in the video  “Strange Fruit,” a commemoration of the Billie Holiday song and a meditation on racial violence.  In 2012  he and his group, Verbal Kwest, appeared in the OXFAM and Bread for the World-produced  documentary The Line, providing a critical voice against poverty and violence in the US. The Chicago  native and graduate of Morehouse College and the University of Chicago is also an adjunct professor at  the University of Chicago Divinity School and McCormick Theological Seminary, and is a regular contributor to Sojourners and UrbanFaith publications. Learn more and listen in at: www.jkwest.com


Carol Hill, is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, currently serving at Epworth UMC in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago. Carol grew up in middle Tennessee, and is the eighth consecutive generation of Methodist pastors.  She graduated from Vanderbilt University with a bachelors degree, with majors in Political Science and Religious Studies.  Having studied at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington DC, Carol finished her M.Div. at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in 2009.  Carol identifies as a white, cisgender female who is an advocate for racial, LGBTQ, and economic justice in the church and world.  Married with three children, Carol strives to balance church, family, advocacy, and fun - and feels especially fulfilled when all of those things happen at the same time!

Matthew Johnson is Pastor to the Community at Grace United Methodist Church in Naperville, IL, where he’s launching a mixed-reality faith community. Before ministry, he ran a newspaper in small-town USA, wrote songs and toured with a rock band, served as a communications director for a global science not-for-profit, and attempted to make a movie. Now, he's looking for meaningful conversations, opportunities to extend grace, and relationships with people who are audacious enough to believe that the world can be changed with love.


Matthew S. O’Donnell was ordained a Catholic priest on May 12, 2012 at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. He currently serves as the Pastor of St. Columbanus Church (71st Street & Calumet Ave., Chicago), where he has been blessed to serve since July 1, 2013. Prior to St. Columbanus, he served as the Associate Pastor of St. Ailbe Church from July 2012-June 2013. Matthew grew up in Chicago’s southwest suburb of Bridgeview, attending St. Fabian Catholic Church. His parents have been married for 32 years, and he has one younger brother. He graduated from St. Laurence High School in Burbank in 2004. After graduating from St. Laurence, Matthew attended Loyola University Chicago. In the fall of 2006, he entered St. Joseph College Seminary and graduated from Loyola in 2008 with a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and Philosophy. He continued my studies and preparation for the priesthood at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, IL where he graduated with a Master of Divinity degree in May 2012. During the summer of 2011 he completed one unit of CPE at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center in California working with patients and families in the ICU and a telemetry floor. He also completed a Master’s in Theology (Th.M.) from the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana in July 2015.

Dan Puchalla is originally from Lombard, IL. He lived in Florida during high school and college and attended Stetson University for his bachelor’s. He returned to the Chicago area in 2005 to attend the University of Chicago Divinity School where he received his Master of Divinity. In 2008, Dan began work at St. Paul & the Redeemer Episcopal Church as Associate for Communications & Administration. In 2011, Dan was ordained and became Assistant Rector at St. Paul & the Redeemer. In June 2015, he was promoted to Associate Rector. Dan is a fan of modern classical music, experimental theater, and indie video games; he hikes and camps; and you can often find him biking on the Lakeshore or wandering aimlessly about the Art Institute.



David Wayne Watkins, III serves as Senior Pastor of the Greater Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church. David has witnessed firsthand the devastating effects that poverty, violence, and poor education has on the community and the local church. As God’s agent for transformation in the world, David insists the church has a vested interest in the holistic wellbeing of the communities where we live, learn, work and worship because the renewal of the church is “inextricably bound” to the renewal of the community. With a passion for leadership, church renewal, and community revitalization, David is encouraging and equipping disciples to engage the community with God’s love and participate in God’s mission to transform it through service, particularly in the areas of education equality; youth mentoring and empowerment; anti-violence and restorative justice initiatives; and (socio)economic development. As a “co-vocational” pastor, David also serves as the Associate Director of Experiential Education and Field Studies at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois. Additionally, Pastor Watkins currently serves in a leadership capacity on several boards/committees, including the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago; the Washington Park Consortium; and the Greater New Era Baptist District Association of Chicago and Vicinity. Rev. Watkins is happily married to his beautiful college sweetheart, Latasha and they are the proud parents of two sons, Jadon and Jonathan.