Tanya Regli recently graduated Princeton Seminary with an MDiv. Having earned two Masters’ degrees 23 years earlier, she began at Princeton Seminary in the first year of the pandemic. As an undergrad women’s studies major the late 80s, she found it refreshing to see things she had learned back then brought back into the study of theology.
“Coming to PTS was a powerful experience, as I didn’t realize how rich the community is,” she says. “I found lots of Latina women in the process with me – a real community of support, with so much openness to have difficult conversations. I haven’t met anyone from another seminary who has had that same experience.”
Two summers ago, while serving as the lay leader of Philadelphia-based Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields’ Refugee Resettlement Ministry, she spent a few weeks volunteering at Annunciation House, which offers hospitality to migrants, immigrants and refugees in the El Paso, Texas region. The opportunity, which came about during an independent study on the history of sanctuary movements and asylum, is particularly meaningful for Regli – her family left Venezuela for Columbia when she was nine, and her father was a liberation theologian.
“For me, this was part of my journey,” Regli explains. “The numbers of people coming in were so extraordinary, I wanted to go to the border to better understand what it was like for them. It was incredibly enlightening to be there at that time and support people as much as possible, and to hear how kind and welcoming the people of Juarez, Mexico had been to those who waited in Mexico before coming to the United States.”
Regli has also been a passionate activist on behalf of those with disabilities. From 2013 to 2018, she served as executive director of the Arc of Philadelphia, an organization dedicated to educating the community about inclusion and employment for people with disabilities. Her role included working with SAP, EY and other companies to help them achieve their goal of hiring more people with autism. She also worked with SAP to build the Autism at Work initiative in the US, which was initially led by SAP employees who have children or family with autism.
“I knew the value of inclusion as my oldest child has autism and we struggled to get him fully included,” she says. One turning point for Regli occurred when All Hallows Episcopal Church in Wyncote, Pennsylvania opened its arms and accepted her family. “I saw how different it made us and my son feel. Churches can be places that are truly inclusive of everyone, practicing radical inclusion like Jesus models in the Gospels.”
In 2021, she spoke at Let My People Go, an interfaith conference on mass incarceration at Yale that explored the role of faith communities in dismantling mass incarceration. Participation was a logical extension of her activism in disability rights and her work with the attorney general of Pennsylvania on strategies to address the high number of people with autism and other developmental disabilities that end up in the prison system.
“People with developmental disabilities face a lot of misunderstanding and danger in the prison system, and I hope that by talking about this issue we will see people with developmental disabilities be included as speakers at events like that,” Regli says.
She is currently in the ordination process in The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, serving in a few different congregations within the diocese to get a feel for the various communities, and looks forward to learning where she will be called to serve.
“Being fully involved as a rector of a church, that’s something I know I’m called to do.”