Greetings, friends. My name is Dean Aponte-Safe, and I am thrilled to be here at Incarnation as your pastor. My name, “Dean” means “person of the valley”, and I have come to inhabit this imagery in meaningful ways across my 32 years. I grew up on my family’s dairy farm in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, in the northern end of the Driftless Region of the Midwest. My childhood was shaped by rolling prairie hills and deep valleys and steep bluffs. Faith and community in that landscape where inherently bound together as I attended Spring Garden Lutheran Church from an infant well into adulthood. My family is a 7th generation family at the congregation. My grandmother taught me to sing as she pointed to the words in our worship hymnal. It was in the prairies that I understood that the Church can be a safe place. My pastors at Spring Garden modeled the love of God by ensuring the belonging of all people, the safety of all people, and the love of all people; something that I needed as I was beginning to understand my sexuality at the tender age of thirteen. I knew that I wasn’t straight, but I didn’t have sufficient language for how I identified. In my rural community, there weren’t yet visible mirrors of my experience or feelings.
As I grew, I knew that I wanted to do something in the Church. I graduated from Cannon Falls High School in 2008 and attended Waldorf University from 2008-2012. On Waldorf’s campus, I flourished. I double majored in English Literature and Creative Writing, was involved in campus ministry and the Wind Symphony, and took studio drawing and piano. I also heard the beginnings of a call to ministry and applied to Luther Seminary as a way to begin thinking about what the next steps in service might look like.
After graduating college, I took a gap year. I went to work at Holden Village in May 2012, a remote and intentional Lutheran community cradled in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. There, I worked as a Lead Cook, served as a community worship sacristan, and engaged in community life. After my time at Holden Village, I began in the Master of Divinity program at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota in the fall of 2013. I studied rural ministry and worked closely with Dr. Alvin Luedke and am grateful for the mentorship of Pastor Megan Crouch and Pastor Dale Pepelnjak. During my time at seminary, I also began the process of coming out as a gay man – to my myself, to my family, and to my close friends. I completed my M.Div. studies in December of 2016.
Soon after leaving seminary, I began my first call in January of 2017 to Henrytown and Union Prairie Lutheran Churches in Canton and Lanesboro, Minnesota. Shortly after beginning my call, I enrolled at Chicago Theological Seminary as a Master of Sacred Theology (S.T.M.) student. Concentrating in LGBTQIA+ Studies and Theology, I wrote my S.T.M. thesis on LGBTQIA+ identity negotiation in rural faith communities. Theologians and writers such as Linn Tonstad, Carter Heyward, Gustavo Gutierrez, Michel Foucault, Martha Nussbaum, Mary Gray, and Ellen Davis guided and continue to guide my work for LGBTQIA+ people. Soon after completing my S.T.M. degree, I joined the fall 2020 Doctor of Ministry cohort at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. As a doctoral student, I am currently engaging in research and interviews for my dissertation in response to the key question: “How have your Christian practices evolved as you have integrated your LGBTQIA+ and rural identities?” I am interested in how LGBTQIA+ rural Christians build their spiritual resiliency in response to harmful experiences from their church or community and have loved being the keeper of stories that speak to a profound sense of self and worth in spaces where my participants have not always been valued, seen, or heard. Dr. Jim Lawrence, Dr. Benard Schlager, and Bishop Rev. Regina Hassanally and my doctoral colleagues continue to be important conversation partners in my forthcoming work.
My husband, Gerardo Aponte-Safe, also serves as an Episcopal clergy member. Currently he is a transitional deacon at St. John’s Episcopal in Royal Oak, MI. We have been married for over three years, and recently welcomed a new addition to our home: our six-month-old golden retriever puppy, Finnegan. Outside of church, you’ll find me either cooking or baking, reading, or playing the piano. Walks with Finn are another cherished pastime, as well as working on my dissertation and scheming my first book.
Friends, I am thrilled to be with you at Incarnation. I am hopeful that as we serve together, we continue to make Incarnation a place where all people are valued, all voices are heard, and all people are seen. I hope that we will engage diligently and intentionally with where the Holy Spirit might be calling us as we move forward into the future with both our struggles and our joys in this increasingly demanding social and political time. I’m grateful to be here, and for you all: for the gifts you bring into the world, and how through our gifts we will continue to transform it to God’s justice and vision.
If you would like to get in touch with me, please email me at email@example.com.