After days of pitching out momentos and piles of paper, sending books to new homes, taking no longer needed clothing to a place where it was more in need and building furniture with confusing but ultimately accurate cartoon drawings to guide my assembly process…after all those days doing cleanup and reorganization the day finally came: the first day of orientation.
And so I spent yesterday getting to know this new community into which I have been led. I met people who had arrived on campus after 16 and 19 hour long flights — their first airplane flight ever, their first visit to the United States, their first trip to any continent other than their own. They came to study because their Bishop sent them. They had never visited the school, they did not know where they were going or what to expect, they left families and loved ones in far away places like Tanzinia and in violence-torn places like Palestine and southern Sudan (oh yes, and one native Hawaiian). And then, there were those of us who drove 10 minutes from Capitol Hill (at least a few of us, anyway).
Fifty-nine students met in that room yesterday. Thirty-two are men and 27 women; twenty-six are single while another 33 are married or partnered; the average age of the incoming class is 37 while the median age is 30. Twelve of these students begin the Master of Arts program with me.
Oh yes, and three of us were not Episcopalian — one Evangelical Lutheran, one non-denominational, and well, me…the Baptist.
And yes, I did spend a great deal of yesterday talking to people who “grew up Baptist”, “used to be Baptist”, “have a wife who is still Baptist” or simply said, “so, you are the Baptist?”. I was exhausted but by the end of the day I had my elevator speech well in place and had begun to turn the tables (I learn languages quickly): I learned to ask what diocese was supporting them, how long their discernment process had been, were the heading toward the diaconate or the priesthood. And I didn’t do such a bad job of handling both the Book of Common Prayer and the Hymnal during the worship service, but I am looking forward to the day when I can actually remember the Nicene creed I memorized in my Presbyterian youth and no longer have to look it up (that was, of course, after I realized they meant the Nicene and not the Apostle’s when they simply published the instruction “The Creed” in the bulletin.) And I’m pretty certain that I was the only person there with a special “first day of school” dress.
But despite the different language, the different liturgy, the new faces, what I heard most yesterday was confirmation that I was right in my choice of communities for this next step in my life: above all, they value community and the ways in which that community forms and nurtures the disciple. I heard quotes like this one: “If when you leave here, it is possible in your mind to have a day without prayer and reflection, then we have not done our jobs,” and “This is not like any academic experience you have ever had. If your grades slip because of your 15 hours of field work each week, do the field work and take the lower grade. Never skip chapel to study; never skip your daily devotation for 10 extra minutes memorizing for a test.” Clearly, success is measured by something else in this new place.
And so, dear friends, my preparation continues. Today we have exciting topics like how to use the web site and financial aid, but the day promises to end on a cool and creamy note with an ice cream social. Thank you so much for all of you who are praying with me and supporting me as I step out…