Oasis - About Us
Joe Summer's Bio
I entered seminary after realizing that many of the happiest times of my life
involved being part of a eucharistic community engaged in social change. I
grew up in St. Louis, Missouri in the era of segregation. We were members
of Trinity Church, an inner-city, inter-racial Episcopal Church where, among other
things, I experienced the tragedy of seeing a black child die after being hit by a
car, because the hospital where the poor were treated was thirteen miles away.
Martin Luther King's vision of the beloved community profoundly spoke to us,
and my older sister and other members of the church went to Selma and Montgomery
to help overthrow segregation.
In high school, I was a member of another inner-city Episcopal Church in
Rochester, New York. There, I became a member of a Diocesan Youth group that
helped organize the anti-war movement in the city. I went to the University of
Michigan where I majored in English Literature but also spent a good amount of my
time working with different social change groups including the United Farm
Workers, the Catholic Worker Movement, and the movement for Human Rights in
Latin America. During this time Dorothy Day and Paulo Freire became two of
my important mentors.
I went to graduate school in American Studies so that I could understand more about
the relationship between culture and social change in the United States. I ended
up dropping out when it felt like I was getting farther and farther away from
any community base which could make use of what I was learning. It was in this
period that, inspired by the work of my local parish priest at St. Andrew's
Church, the Rev. Jim Lewis, and by the challenges of the Brazilian educator
Paulo Freire, I came to conclude that the place I could contribute most to
social change was through the church. This decision led me to Yale Divinity
School where a lot of my time was spent trying to understand what a liberation
theology for middle class people might look like.