A Graduate's Reflection on her Seminary Experience
MBBS Grad Banquet Presentation by Suzy Ward—May 15, 2009
“Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves, set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be formed to the desires that your formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-6)
I started taking classes here in the Spring of 2000. That was just after Mark Baker had published Recovering the Scandal of the Cross. It was before Valerie Rempel had finished her doctorate. Pierre Gilbert still came down from Canada every summer to teach us about curses in the Old Testament, prophets, psalms and biblical Interpretation. Ray Bystrom was here long enough to ask me to sell my bed for books more times than I could count. Elmer Martens still was teaching fulltime. And the bookstore was a tiny little room just east of the library.
I have seen many students come through my classes and graduate ahead of me. Like Phil Skye. It was good to see Phil on our cross-cultural encounter this winter. Or a fellow Anglican Studies student Michele,who will soon become priest-incharge of a church here in Fresno. Times have changed. Students have moved on. Class formats have changed. But the seminary has tried to stay true to its mission of inspiring and equipping men and women to live as disciples of Jesus Christ and to serve and lead in the church and in the world.
This last year has been difficult for students and more so for the faculty. I would never suggest that I had the wisdom or insight to teach the likes of Tim, or John, or Mark or Valerie or Lynn. As graduates we are filled with hope that comes from the anticipation of what lies ahead. We are eager to begin. We are thrilled the years of work are finally complete. So, pastorally how can I speak to such a diverse audience? How do we balance the struggle to live incarnationally in the midst of conflict and disappointment? How do we remember to live faithfully when we are so filled with eagerness and an anticipation that we may be too bold as we step out of the safety of these holy and sacred spaces into a world that is neither as loving nor nurturing? No, I would not presume to preach to such a gathering so I will just offer a few of my reflections on nine years of seminary.
My time here, first and foremost, has been about learning. My mind has struggled more times that I like to admit to grasp some theological understanding. Yet isn’t this what creates growth? I will continue to wrestle with the questions that have come up in class. I will continue to struggle to understand certain theologians. I will continue to read, digest, paraphrase and reread scripture to find the meanings behind, in front, underneath, or hanging over the words. Mark’s class last fall, may have ruined my grade point average but it will be the one that I continually come back to, rereading and rethinking what does Christ’s death and resurrection mean to me and to the world? What a legacy of learning this place has created! This sacred space has prepared my mind to think, to question, to search and to evaluate. This sacred space has taught me to listen to the voice of God in all its hues and colors and in all the languages of the world, ancient or modern. Our minds and our hearts were being reshaped and reborn through study and prayer whether we realized it or not. This sacred space has helped each of us take the next steps, the next action required by our faith, sometimes baby steps and sometimes great leaps.
My years here have also taught me about the significance of structure and discipline. Not the kind that has me planning my whole semester out so I can easily finish assignments, meeting all the appropriate deadlines, never having to stay up until 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning to get the penultimate copy to Tim or Delores. Oh, if only I had learned that kind of discipline. No, this structure comes from having a grounded foundation, firm footings for support, and beams that can support heavy loads. It is a structure and a discipline that comes from a maturing faith. This structure and discipline comes from witnessing the faith of those whom we see as our mentors, our professors, the staff here who has committed their time, their talents, and their love of Christ to our growth, to our learning, and to our maturity as leaders in the community and as pastors or teachers in congregations, or even to our individual clients. The discipline of faith that is witnessed here by all the staff offers me encouragement; it offers me courage; it offers me the support of a community. It offers me relationships. These are relationships that help me glimpse the greatest relationship of all time, my relationship with God, which brought me to this holy place so long ago. These relationships with professors, with staff, and with fellow students have encouraged me and others in so many ways. For me the men and women of this institution have encouraged me to stay even when the world and life wanted to get in the way. Such a structure of discipleship can not be created by bringing just any group of individuals together. It grows from the shared sense of faithfulness to the Gospel. It also grow into the lived out faithfulness to that Gospel that I have seen witnessed in the classrooms and in the offices. Such discipleship comes from a shared sense of mission to the central valley, to us here tonight, and to the students who have yet to arrive. It is a shared calling to serve God through the mission of teaching and learning. We here who are preparing to graduate have been given the gift of witnessing this lived out discipline.
Now, we who are preparing to leave here and the staff and faculty who will be continuing to work through the current struggles, all of us are united in the same difficult task ahead. We are called to be “hopeful". We are called to be "hopeful” because we are a “holy people.” A “holy people” blessed by grace.
Grace has always been a word I have stumbled over, because it seems too simple. I wanted to make it hard. I want grace to be difficult like writing an exegetical paper from a difficult passage in Romans or John. I want it to be a struggle, a debate like we might have in Lynn’s class on whether it is OK to throw the Bible down on the ground. I want grace to be hard work like reading the 1200 pages for a three unit class. But grace slides as simply into our lives as it slips off our tongues. It was grace that brought me here, nine years ago when I was trying to discern what God really wanted me to do with my life. It was grace that helped each one of us through the months and months of financial struggles, marital struggles, and vocational struggles. It was grace that was manifested in our relationships, in our sacred and holy time together in study and in our learning together, both professor and student that has made this experience not only unique but holy.
Now the mess that infiltrates our lives seems so unholy. But grace enters into the mess to transform it. Grace enters into our lives and into our relationships to transform them. We are no longer students and professors; we are joint heirs of all the learning that has been bestowed on us. Now, both professor and student, both administration and support staff, are one in the grace of holy living because we are a holy people.
This is what nine years has taught me. Maybe I could have learned it someplace else, but I didn’t. I learned it here. I experienced it, I have tired to live it, and soon I will be call to teach it myself. Thank you to Lynn. Thanks to all my professors, and thank you to my fellow students. Thank you, all of you, for modeling for me the action and discipline of a lived-out faith, the commitment to be disciplined, and the witness to accept and to offer the hope and the grace found in Jesus Christ. I hope nine years was enough to learn it all, but I doubt it.
Posted: June 22, 2009