Rev. Dr. Dottie Escobedo-Frank grew up on the mission-field in Nogales, Arizona and Mexico and has devoted her life to community. Serving as a social worker for 15 years, then as an ordained deacon, and currently as an elder in The United Methodist Church, Dottie works tirelessly to lead the church into new life. She has served in four churches (small, medium, and mega-sized) and as a District Superintendent in the Desert Southwest Conference – always calling on “heretics and edge-dwellers” to lead the church forward.
She says, “Institutions, including the Church, are led by people who are in the center of the institution. This means the institution ‘feeds’ them, and there is a need for the institution to continue in its current form. They benefit from the status quo. They are not the ones to lead the church to a new place. However, it takes the vision and creativity that exists within the people who dwell on ‘the edge’ of institutions to bring change. They are not stuck, and they have little to lose. Martin Luther and John Wesley were edge-dwellers: pushed to the edge of their churches. Most of our great change-makers have been called heretics. The ones who make change happen are often called troublemakers, rebels, sarcastics, and irreverents. Jesus himself was at the edge of his religious community. Heretics and edge-dwellers are deep in our faith tradition. We are in a time in the church when edge-dwellers are necessary for our future. Without them, we will die a stale death.”
For Dottie, living in a time of great culture shift requires that the church find sacred ways to die in order to be reborn. For her, death sets off the necessary resurrection of the church. Now is the time, she says, to push these new leaders, these edge-dwellers, to the forefront of church restarts and new birth.
In December of 2016, Dottie helped launch The Inn Project. ICE approached Bishop Robert Hoshibata’s office to see if churches would house asylees temporarily so that children (and their families) could be released from detention without long waits. (They were previously dumping them in bus depots.) Dottie recalls, “I was District Superintendent then and worked with two local UM Churches to open up space. Today I am the Chair of the Advisory Board for The Inn (we dropped “project” because it wasn’t temporary anymore). We house around 500 children and parents after they are released from detention. They are weary, scared, hungry, and shell-shocked when they come to us. With a meal, a shower, new clothes, and a call to their families in the U.S, they quickly get re-energized before they board a bus to meet their families. The people are courageous, full of faith in God, and hoping for a better life without threat of harm. It is a privilege to host these amazing guests.”
Recently Dottie started a faith networking group, Southern Arizona Border Care, to coordinate all the faith communities in caring for migrant guests. They gather monthly to share needs and resources with the faith entities that are working to care for the travelers.
Dottie is also a sought-after national and international speaker on such topics as creative worship, restart churches, and leadership from the edge. She is a prolific writer and blogger. Her books include: Christmas and Advent, Igniting Worship Series; Sermon Seeds, 40 Creative Sermon Starters; Jesus Insurgency: Church Revolution from the Edge (co-authored with Rudy Rasmus); ReStart Your Church; Our Common Sins, Converge Bible Studies; Give It Up! A Lenten Study for Adults; and The Sacred Secular: How God is Using the World to Shape the Church (co-authored with Rob Rynders, another CST graduate and previous Distinguished Alumnus).
On her book, The Sacred Secular, she says, “I had been noticing how parts of ‘church’ were happening outside the church. In a conversation with Rob, we began to note all the places where ‘church’ happened without the church in culture. And we wondered what that was about. The scripture that focused us was Luke 19:40: ‘He answered, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.”’ This is a period when the church’s praise is (perhaps) quieter than normal, and so the stones are crying out in the world. We looked at various places we see the church outside of the church, like yoga studios, community potlucks, TED talks, bars, online crowdsourcing, etc. This is a book about taking note of where God is working (even without the Church) and learning from the culture.”
Dottie earned her Master of Divinity degree from CST and is grateful for the commuter option that was available then. She says, “I loved my time at CST. I was spiritually and intellectually challenged, and I was surrounded by a community that was seeking to know God more. I was living in Arizona with my little children and couldn’t move to California, and CST provided the precursor to the online program: we traveled to CST weekly and crammed a week of classes into 1 and 1/2 days (commuter schedule). CST made it possible for this mother of young children to be able to go to seminary. Today, I am imagining what new possibilities are being born out of the travails of The United Methodist Church’s state of affairs. But, that’s just my next thing.” Dottie stays connected to CST as an annual donor and by serving on our board of trustees.
Worship, preaching, justice, mercy, and creating space for revolutionary change define Dottie’s work and passion, and it is for these reasons and more that she has been chosen as one of CST’s Distinguished Alumni/ae.
You can follow Dottie on her blog: https://revdottie.org/ or on Facebook and Twitter.