Alum Profiles

Shannon Finney (STH’96): Photographer

Shannon Finney is the owner and lead photographer for Shannon Finney Photography and a contributing photographer for Getty Images, WTOPNews, and other outlets. After earning her Master’s of Divinity from the Boston University Graduate School of Theology, she spent a decade in broadcast media and communications, working in radio and television, and then onto Capitol Hill and K Street before merging her love of photography with her interest in storytelling. Her work has appeared online and in numerous print publications, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, USA Today, Vogue, Billboard, Vanity Fair, Politico, The Washingtonian, DownBeat, Modern Luxury DC, Capitol File, Black Enterprise, and Essence.

What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment since graduating from STH?
Finding a true partner in my husband - someone who loves me, encourages me, and teaches me how to be a better person/friend/daughter/wife/aunt.

What advice would you give a current STH student?
Always challenge your sense of vocation and don’t be afraid to expand it beyond the bounds of your comfort. When I arrived at STH I had this very definite plan that fit into a neat little box, and when that wasn’t working I panicked and tried to double-down, to force myself to stay in that neat little box. There were a lot of amazing people who saw a young woman with the talents and gifts for ministry, and it took me a while to realize that those talents and gifts were transferable.

Why did you choose to become a photographer?
After STH I spent years in broadcasting, media relations and communications on Capitol Hill and on K Street and photography had become this place of escape for me. I started with portraits – photographing my family and then friends and then friends of friends, and it was all very organic. I was reluctant to take this thing that was my sanctuary and open it up to the deadlines and demands of “work,” and that’s when I understood that for me photography was my vocation. It is the work of my heart and soul and it is the best of all of me.

What skills or experiences would benefit someone who wants to use their theology degree and work in the arts?
I’ve always thought that the arts and theology have a lot in common. Neither the artists nor the theologians I’ve known entered their respective fields with plans on becoming billionaires. Rather, they want to express who they are, to give their whole selves in the work that they do, and to awaken profound connections among the people they encounter. But, this also exposes us to risks and dangers both spiritual and, sometimes, physical. There are times when the world doesn’t want to hear what you have to preach or see its own brutality reflected back to them in a photograph. The theologian and the artist must challenge, confront and comfort.

Can you give us an example of a mistake you have learned from during your career?/ What was the most important experience you’ve had that has helped you in your career?
One of the biggest mistakes I made early on in my working life was knowing what I wanted and, instead of going for it, I asked permission and then waited, and waited, and waited. There is a runway model I was photographing during New York Fashion Week’s September shows - her name is Shailah Edmonds and she was one of the first group of African American models to walk couture runway shows. She grew up out in Oregon and she said that her dad gave her the best piece of advice when he told her, “remember that you have the right to.” I carry that with me now – I remember that I have the right to.

Nikita McCalister (STH’05): Senior Pastor and Associate Executive Minister

Nikita

Rev. Nikita G. McCalister is an ordained minister of the Gospel.  She is the Senior Pastor of the Bethany Baptist Church in (Pawtucket, RI) and the Associate Executive Minister for the American Baptist Churches of Rhode Island.

She received her B.S. (Central Michigan University), MBA (University of Detroit Mercy), and M.Div from Boston University School of Theology.

She is married to Rev. Jabulani McCalister, Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church (Providence, RI.).  She is the proud parent of two wonderful children: Jaden McCalister and Azriel McCalister.

What advice would you give a current STH student?

I would advise a current STH student to take full advantage of the Boston Theological Institute (BTI). At the time I attended STH, I took my Greek from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Christian Theology from Boston College, Social Justice from the Episcopal Divinity School, Administration from Harvard Divinity School, Preaching from Gordon-Conwell, and Baptist Polity from Andover Newton Theological School. I realize that some of these options are no longer available and that we have very erudite professors at STH, but I think “outside” exposure broadens one’s perspective in beautiful and enriching ways. I say, humorously, broadening your horizons is important even if only to increase your appreciation for what you do have.

What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment since graduating from STH? 

I feel that a list accomplishments as a measure of success is irrelevant.  There are many accolades, speaking invitations, and regional and national opportunities I could mention.  But, if I am pressed to answer that question, I would say my greatest sense of accomplishment is the honor of being used by God.  I seek to be an obedient disciple of Christ.   I am overwhelmed and amazed at the opportunities I have to do just that...to  be a beacon of love and light to the world.

Why did you choose to accept the position of Associate Executive Minister for Administration with the American Baptist Churches of Rhode Island?

I accepted the position of Associate Executive Minister for the American Baptist Churches because of my deep love for my denomination, our congregations, and all of God’s people. In addition, I feel this role allows me to use my varied gifts, skills, and abilities. I feel that my work at the regional level is an extension of the ministry God has assigned.

What skills or experiences would benefit someone who wants to be a senior pastor?

I believe that every pastor should acquire administrative and business skills. I think more and more congregations are in need of people with savvy business acumen (i.e., the array of financial issues, management, investment property, and fund development).

How do you manage two jobs and a family? What advice would you give someone who is going to be in a similar position?

I have found that bi-vocational leadership is not that uncommon. But I believe that both of my “appointment or charges” utilize my skills set. Furthermore, I think that healthy family structures have support systems. I am incredibly blessed with a supportive, loving, engaged spouse who is gifted, talented and committed to our ministry of marriage and family. Hence, we set clear boundaries with our congregations, and we prioritize time for ourselves (date nights) and our children (family nights).

Can you give us an example of a mistake you have learned from during your career?

I think one of the mistakes I made early in my career was underestimating my own worth. I think that theologically I interpreted servant leadership as humble pie. And because I was so grateful for certain opportunities in cracking the “stained glass ceiling” that I did not articulate the social and economic injustices I experienced or witnessed. But I have since learned how to advocate for myself and other women in ministry. I now know that my preparedness, qualifications, experiences, and uniqueness are valuable. Thus, I have learned to advocate for others and myself.

What was the most important experience you’ve had that has helped you in your career?

I think one of the most important experiences I had during seminary was the assignment to worship in a setting that was different from my own tradition and write about the liturgical and theological differences. This experience opened up my experience of God in such a profound way. I was forced to look at my own biases and preconceived notions. I learned that I had placed God in a box based on my limited assumptions and expectations. This exercise has truly allowed me to stretch beyond myself. I do not claim to know everything about God, but I have learned that God is bigger than I previously imaged. Subsequently, I have been able to travel abroad on mission trips and participate in ecumenical associations and worship services with a greater appreciation for the incarnational ways of God. Even as I am fully committed to my theological doctrine, I am more willing to open myself to the mystery of God that allows me to experience God in new remarkable ways.