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Trauma leads to ministry helping others face trauma

Growing up in Southeast Virginia, where Southern Baptist views were “in the air” she breathed there, Carson Hawks looked for other ways to be in relationship with God.

Carson Hawks seeks to help others heal from trauma.

Her trauma growing up led to her ministry.

In 1982, she began studying religion at Averett College, a Southern Baptist college in Danville, VA, but left because she refused to disown gay friends when the church told her to do that.

In 1985, Carson realized she was lesbian, leading to rejection by her family, who believed she could not be gay and Christian.

With that background, she experienced 30 years of trauma, convinced God hated her and organized religion was not for her.

“I went back occasionally longing to fit, but found more trauma,” said Carson, who tried the Metropolitan Community Church. She did not find the UCC until she was in seminary.

In 1990, she earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education at the University of South Carolina and taught physical education.

“I taught physical education off and on, did substitute teaching, worked as a waitress on weekends along with working for Walmart and Sam’s Club for 15 years and doing different jobs to figure where I fit in,” she said.

Later Carson returned to do a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in school counseling, completing that degree in 2005 at Old Dominion University in Norfolk.

That year her mother, who she had been taking care of, died.

“I realized I could go anywhere, so I went with a friend to Phoenix, Ariz., and was school counselor in a Gila River, Pema and Tohono O’odham Indian community,” she said.

Because she let students talk about sexuality and spirituality, school officials were concerned, Carson said.

“I began to understand I needed to work where I could allow people to talk about LGBTQIA issues,” she said. “I believed that God loves people no matter what, but I did not yet believe that for me because the trauma was ingrained.”

In 2010, Carson realized that for her health and wellbeing, she needed to fulfill her longing to help in the world. That meant going to seminary, but she did not think there was a seminary where she could be herself and be openly gay.

Online, she discovered Pacific School or Religion and knew she had found her school.

“I cried for three hours,” she said, thinking mid-June was too late for her to apply for enrollment, financial aid and housing.

“God poked me. Even though I thought there was no way I could get in by August, I applied and left it to God. All fell in place miraculously. Eight weeks later I was in my dorm room in Berkeley,” she said.

Carson graduated in 2016.

“PSR was a safe and loving environment for me. The walls from my trauma crashed down,” she said. “PSR is UCC, Methodist and Disciples, and is part of the ecumenical Graduate Theological Union, so I took classes with Jesuits and other faiths, while being introduced to the UCC.”

While working through PTSD, she struggled even to walk across the threshold of a church into a sanctuary. Most were working toward their ordination while in seminary, but Carson did not affiliate with a church while there. She didn’t think she could find a church.

Her ex-partner’s sister died and needed help caring for her 10-year-old niece, so Carson went to Phoenix to help her.

“There I stumbled on First Church UCC. I was there until 2020,” she said.

Michael Haven, who lived across the hall from her in PSR, invited her to Seattle. There she connected with Magnolia UCC and became a covenant minister helping people with spiritual growth and with healing from trauma, especially religious trauma.

Carson offers retreats and classes, does pulpit supply and helps lead worship with Marci Scott-Weiss, the pastor.

Magnolia UCC called her to covenant ministry, and she was approved for ordination at Magnolia, but she has moved to Tucson, where she is now based and works remotely leading spiritual growth and grief groups on Zoom.

In Tucson, Carson is working with Excellent Way as director of program development and customer care.

“When I am financially more secure, I’ll return to Seattle,” she said.

Meanwhile, Carson, who continues to work with a therapist and spiritual director on her own PTSD, recently led a spiritual retreat and did a book study by Zoom.

For information, call 480-274-5840 or email



Pacific NW United Church of Christ Conference News © October 2023


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