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By the time she entered an Episcopal seminary in 2004, Shannon MacVean-Brown thought she knew what sort of priest she wanted to be. In her 30s and pregnant, the seminarian had already run a design business, taught elementary school art and become a preacher at her unconventional childhood church in Detroit. She saw full priesthood as a way to take her creative approach to other congregations.

MacVean-Brown did not initially see her race as particularly important to her ministry. That began to change when she entered Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., where, as one of the few nonwhite students, she was confronted with a church that wasn’t quite living up to its ideals.

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