College Graduation back in 2011 was glorious. It was filled with tears and laughs, with much joy and was quite a celebration. Ultimately, I knew where I was going after caps were thrown, after diplomas were passed around a circle to find your own (a Smith tradition – if you don’t know, when you walk across the stage, you don’t get your own diploma, but someone else’s, and it isn’t until after graduation that you find yours. Concentric circles are formed and diplomas are passed around civilly at first, as grads look for their diplomas and then civility turns into a frantic search for the proper name delicately embossed in gold upon the front.), and so for me, this whole day was a stepping stone, a part of the journey, and yes, the closing of one door, but the opening of another. Tears were indeed shed, but I knew that in eight short weeks, I would be answering God’s call and meeting my long lost best friends in Princeton – they just didn’t know it yet. But never would I have imagined that I would be meeting people who would change my life, and people I would consider my family.
Graduating a few short days ago from seminary was something different. I think I now understand the meaning of pure joy, as there were no tears, only elation. It felt exciting to be in the university chapel, but also a bit strange as well – strange that my time had come to receive a diploma, and my time to depart from this place.
Now what? Princeton prepares you for a lot of things. To think theologically, to speak in large words, to argue with colleagues about eschatology, ecclesiology, sacramentology and a whole lot of other theologies. And yet, they don’t prepare you for what comes next. For the adjustment to a community that is no longer yours, for what it means to call yourself a graduate from the seminary, not a seminary student, looking for a call, or transitioning into a call (in my case), looking for new housing, and all the emotional mess of not living with your bestest of friends anymore. Lets face it, seminary is three years of easy access to the best theological minds, the most incredible people, and the greatest library in the US, and once you’ve been handed the diploma, you’re off into the wide world of ministry to teach, preach, and as Dr. Barnes said yesterday morning, “be amazing.” Well, that’s a lofty expectation for us, and my class is certainly capable of such a statement, but a bit of a transition period should be expected as well.
This amazing place that I have called home for the last three years will always carry a special place in my heart, and yet, it will no longer be the community I love after commencement. When the people I care greatly about move on to their own ministries, calls and mission fields, the feel of the place will naturally change, and my space in it will close, slowly pushing me out. This is all normal – the normal ebb and flow of time that I have grown to depend on, look forward to, and look to for the comings and goings of my daily existence no longer include me, no longer exist. Princeton as it was a few weeks ago is no longer as it stands now. It is summer in Princeton, as it was in 2013, 2012, and 2011 when I was here in years past, and yet, the sounds made, the way the wind moves and the smell of the air is different. Everything is bittersweet, as each day is a last in its own way.
I still feel a great sense of joy about this past weekend, about receiving my diploma, and about walking up to shake the hand of the president who has come to hear the story of how I arrived to be where I am, and in doing so has called me a miracle. Every step I have taken over the last few years has had a purpose, even if for no one else, it has had purpose for me. I have learned here, been called here, fallen here, been nurtured here, and now, am being pushed into the great unknown from here.
Perhaps it is with this amalgamation of emotions that I greet this new chapter of my life – with great joy, and also with a great deal of trepidation – am I truly called? Did God get all this right in calling someone as fearful, inferior and unprepared as me? I am ready – ready for this next hop, skip and a jump, ready for the beginning of the next chapter, ready for whatever small challenges are thrown at me.
But to do it outside the bounds of this community is frightening – all my challenges and battles have been fought and won here – all the difficult life lessons have been learned here. Will life be harder when I don’t have the soft cushion of my wonderful community? God is everywhere, and therefore, God will be with me no matter where I go, and no matter what ministry I am a part of, who I am serving, and what area I am in service to, and the problems I face will be rather interchangeable. Same problems, different clothing location.
Seminary prepares you for the book stuff – the heady knowledge that is nice, but you’ll likely see on occasions that come few and far between. Seminary doesn’t prepare you for the transition away from the place – the saying of goodbyes, the finding of jobs, the searching for calls, and the looking for the Spirit in all sorts of places. That’s where your friends, your community of faith, and your deep down hard and home-grown faith comes in. That’s where your ability to be selfless and not egotistical comes in.
So as I head into a summer of working in the administration office of the seminary that has just given me the stamp of approval to head into my Father’s world. I don’t feel ready right now, but if I don’t go, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be. I’ve been deemed ready and fit, and been told that I’m quite something, and if that’s not reason enough, then I might as well get the heck out there and see what this world has to hold for me. It was created for me, just as much as I was created for it, and at some point, I need to just get out there and see what needs to be done, however scary it feels to be the new kid on the block again! And by the grace of God, community will form elsewhere, in a new form, with new people, and with a new purpose.