Unpacked boxes and piles of new office supplies surround Allison Lanza, leaving the room with an air of anticipation. In only a few breaths, the eager young minister has created more than enough energy to fill her new work place.
The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life consulted a panel of students before selecting Lanza as the new associate chaplain for the university. Rev. Angela Kaufman said Lanza would use her experience in student ministries to mentor TCU students to search for their calling. Katherine Wright, a senior religion major and intern at the office, said Lanza brought a fresh wave of enthusiasm to the office.
“It’s impossible to be around Allison without being impacted by her warmth and infectious enthusiasm,” Todd Boling, Lanza’s fellow associate chaplain, said.
While the position is a new role for Lanza, the university’s campus and the Fort Worth community are familiar territory. In fact, the seeds of her passion for social justice and service were sown not far from Addison and Randolph’s gaze.
Lanza’s mother, Janet Lanza, earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the university. She then went on to teach in the TCU Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders for more than 20 years. Growing up, Lanza said she recalls spending time on campus and having TCU students babysit her and her younger brother.
Lanza’s connection to the university was strengthened by a common influence-the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). As active members of the Ridglea Christian Church, Lanza’s family traces its ties back to her grandparents, who were among the founding members of the Fort Worth church
Paulette Burns, Dean of Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences, and wife to the church’s former pastor, said she considered Lanza’s family a “pillar” to the church. She said she witnessed Lanza’s growth both on campus and at Ridglea Christian Church and said her “whirlwind of energy” is magnetic to people in all walks of life.
The church pushes members to take personal responsibility for their religious life, Burns said. Lanza fulfills this philosophy by actively living out her faith in her various leadership roles.
“Disciples have the open table where anyone can come, and TCU seems to really embrace that idea that all are welcome; all of us are a value,” Lanza said.
The church’s open-door policy on different faith traditions as well as their active stance in issues of social justice created a launch pad for Lanza as she studied religion and sociology at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. She served as the director the of Trinity University Volunteer Action Community, an organization which worked with 25 volunteer programs in the area. Through this role, she said she discovered her interest in helping others to find their ability to inspire change.
“That’s what really got me passionate. Not only about doing service, because I was already passionate about that, but helping others to find their place and how they can use their gifts and their passions to do service,” she said.
Leaving her home state to continue her religious studies, Lanza worked with several area church youth groups while studying at Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School in Nashville. She continued to work with church ministries when she graduated in 2008 and moved to Olathe, Kansas. While working as a minister in residency at St. Andrews Christian Church, she encountered future Horned Frogs such as Disciples on Campus members Emily Atteberry, Lauren Burns, Caitlin Jordan and Tony Stripling.
Instead of following the Frogs back to Fort Worth, Lanza began her first associate pastor job in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was there she took on her life’s work in full force as she lead college students in a program called Love Wins. This program works to to reach out to the local homeless community.
“We were at church downtown and did a lot of work with the homeless,” she said.“Instead of just offering program-based help, we worked with the homeless on relationship building.”
Lanza said her first exposure to a different social economic setting was during her younger years at William James Middle School in Fort Worth. The school was located in the city’s lower east side, a few miles from the Presbyterian night shelter Lanza began volunteering at while at Paschal High School.
“I had never seen poverty really until then and that made a big influence on me to see more sides of Fort Worth than I had grown up with,” she said. “I really became passionate about how do we work together so our whole city can be lifted up together,”
Lanza said her sense of empowerment and open-minded interactions were nurtured at a young age through her participation in the youth theater company Kids Who Care. Every summer, the non-profit brings in international kids to partner with local children to develop a show which addresses a current global issue of the kids’ choosing. Lanza hosted the international students in her family’s home and then had the opportunity to visit some of them in their home countries.
Kids Who Care traveled to a new city each year to connect with a new culture through visiting with performance partners and putting on a show. Lanza said she was part of the Youth Leadership Board, which encouraged kids to make decisions and learn about the world around them at an early age.
“That really gave me a voice and helped me learn, particularly as a kid. I was in the fifth grade, and I was able to learn that my voice in the world mattered and I could speak it and share it,” Lanza said.
The way she used her voice to influence others in her career path was no surprise to Kids Who Care’s Founder and Executive Director Deborah Jung.
“It was really obvious to me that anything to do with taking care of other people and changing people’s lives and making the world a better place for them was already a part of her personality,” Jung said about watching Lanza as a child.
Jung was present for Lanza’s ordination and Sunday sermons during her visits home. She said she was glad Lanza was able to bring her experience back to benefit her home community.
Lanza’s work in church student ministries and social awareness met the needs for the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life’s opening, Boling said. Kaufman said Lanza will bring her expertise to the This I Believe program, which encourages students to share their stories, and TCU’s Hunger Week programming. She said she will also be starting the FaithActs program, which will encourage students to connect their faith with acts of service.
Although her experience has mostly been through the Disciples Church, Lanza said she looked forward to learning more about the variety of faith traditions on campus.
“What I see on TCU’s campus is diversity and I think that’s a real value. I think that’s a huge value actually because when you go out into the world there’s such a diversity of beliefs,” she said.
“I think so much of what we see in the world that is problematic comes when people believe different things and don’t know how to work together.”