diakonos – Some Huron University College History

Sometimes in my role as Co-President and Secretary for the Bishop Hallam Theological Society Council at Huron I get to do some really neat things.

envelopeOne of my tasks is checking the Society’s mail. I usually check every few days, more or less frequently if there are things I am expecting or if school is not in session. Last week, a small envelope appeared in our mailbox. The address was written with shaky-looking writing and there was no street address or postal code: just “The Bishop Hallam Theological Society, Huron College, London Ontario. The postmark suggested that it had been mailed in December meaning it took two months to find us – but that Canada Post still managed to get it to the right building! (Small miracles!)

Two small pieces of paper torn from a spiral ring notebook were inside, with a return address from a retirement home in Owen Sound, Ontario. It read:

To the Bishop Hallam Theological Society Huron College London Ontario.

Is it possible to obtain copies of diakonos, the theological journal of Huron College London Ontario published by the Bishop Hallam Theological Society Huron College London 1965? My husband was the editor of this journal and we lived in a cottage next door to Huron College.

Would it be possible to obtain copies of this Journal? as I would very much like to be able to give a copy to each of my 3 children.

Your sincerely,

———-

I had no idea what she was talking about. The BHTS no longer publishes a journal – in fact I hadn’t even known we had in the past! Fortunately I happened to be near the Dean’s office when I opened and read the envelope and he and the Assistant to the Dean, both of whom have a long memory of things at the school, were in their offices. When I inquired about the journal, they both knew exactly what our letter writer was talking about!

It turns out that the BHTS did publish a journal, roughly from 1964 to 1967 or 68 from diakonoswhat I can tell. Copies are hard to come by now, for obvious reasons. There is a copy of each issue in the archives and the Dean has a copy of each issue in his office. Coincidentally, fortuitously, or providentially, he had a second copy of the 1965 edition which he was happy to give me. Yes, the surname of the editor is the same as the surname of our letter-writer.

Happily, I have been able to respond to our letter-writer with a note, thanking her for writing and for allowing us to reconnect with a piece of our history and to reconnect with the hundreds of faithful people educated at this seminary before us. I was sorry that I did not have three to send to her, one for each of her children, but so thankful that there “just happened” to be an extra copy of the one her husband was the editor of. I hope that she enjoys reading it as much as we have enjoyed being reconnected with a piece of our history that we had lost.

 

Something New

Something new is happening in our college community.

We’ve all been remarking on it: the atmosphere – it has changed. There is an excitement, an anticipation, a joy that emanates from people as we walk through the halls, gather for conversation, worship and learn together.

We had 28 people at chapel yesterday morning (I counted because I was officiating and had to make note of it!). That may not seem like many to some, but to those of us returning to the college theological community this year, it is huge. We felt like we were doing well with a dozen last year.

And the singing! There are harmonies flying out all over the place as we sing Morning Prayer together. It is lovely to be a part of, to add a voice to the joyous songs we raise to heaven.

 

I never know what to say when someone comes up to me after a service and says, “Thank you.”

          You’re welcome?

          Thanks – couldn’t have done it without you?

It is not me who made that a thank-worthy experience, it is God and the collective expectation of a gathered community. All I do is say and sing the bits assigned to me, prompt the community to do their bit, and join in when it is something we all do together. But somehow, through the grace of God, out of that comes something beautiful and uplifting: the perfect way to start a day.

Morning Prayer is a simple service. However every time I get up to speak or sing (especially sing!) on my own in front of people, no matter how simple the service, there are always some nerves. Yesterday morning I faced them by pacing all four steps possible across the college chapel sacristy, praying before the service began. That gets to the heart of it, I think. Prayerful invitation and expectation. An instructor in Bible College once told us that we could never expect to lead a group of people gathered in worship anywhere we had not gone ourselves in private worship. That is, if I do not and cannot cultivate an active prayer and worship life, I will never be able to lead a community in prayer and worship. 

So I’m still not taking credit for 28 people and glorious chapel yesterday morning. I’m not going to take credit for a new atmosphere at college. I will, however, take credit for my part in prayerfully inviting God into our midst and expecting God to do great things in, among, and through each and every one of us at the college this year.

The Last Few Weeks

The last few weeks of this term (and my first year of seminary) are under way… As a fantastic end-of-term gift, three out of five profs have made 80% of our mark to be determined by papers and presentations due within these final weeks. It is less fun than it sounds.

Earlier this term I did some writing for the blog on the Diocese of BC website. It was published this week: What I learned from singing…

Enjoy.

Off and Away

I’m off on another adventure!

Today I leave, with a group of others from London-area, to spend the next nine days in El Salvador. We will be UN observers at the upcoming presidential election in El Salvador and then will have the opportunity to visit PWRDF partners there: the Cristosal Foundation and CoCoSi. I’m looking forward to learning more about the work that these two partners do.

I may have been quiet on here as of late, but I have been writing! Stay tuned to justgeneration.ca (or like it on Facebook!) to see updates from me as I am able to send them back from El Salvador. I do not expect to have regular and amazing access to the Internet there, so sending blogs and photos back to justgeneration.ca will be a priority over putting them up on this blog. A large story will come when I return, however!

In the meantime, I am anticipating warmth for the first time since…. August?! In a temperature change felt only when I moved to Australia (or on extreme chinook days in Southern Alberta!) I’ll be going from a balmy -19C (-30 with the windchill, I’m told) here in London to a gorgeous high of +32C in San Salvador today. Bring it on!

Hoops

Insomnia is a bitch. I was doing really well at sleeping through the night, up until last night. Now it seems that I’m back to wee-hours of the morning awakenings.

On the plus side, it leaves me more time to read and think.

I keep discovering more things that I have to do on this process towards ordination. It is frustrating at times because it seems like so much is required when there is often such a miserable return (yes, I have clergy friends. I know how tough it is at times! I also know how rewarding it is at other times.) I have been reflecting on the idea of “hoops” – those requirements that seem like they are requirements for the sake of being requirements, not for any other purpose – and recalled some advise given to me by an unnamed person in a collar: “Just jump through the hoops that you need to in order to get where you are called to be.”

Yesterday was a cold-day in London. All of the schools, including the university, were either closed or had all classes cancelled. So I went for a walk. Well, a walk to the bus stop and then took a bus downtown for coffee and a change of scenery in which to read. I brought along Nadia Bolz-Weber‘s book, Pastrixwhich a friend was kind enough to loan me and I have been meaning to read all holiday.

In it she tells the story of being asked to preach at an ELCA service to recognize LGBTQ clergy being brought back onto the official clergy roster, one of whom being the pastor who, as she describes it, introduced her to grace. The text she was given was the parable about the Kingdom of God and the landowner who hires labourers in the morning, midday, and in the afternoon, paying them all the same at the end of the day.

I said that the text for the day is not the parable of the workers. It’s the parable of the landowner. What makes this the kingdom of God is not the worthiness or piety or social justicey-ness or the hard work of the labourers… none of that matters. It’s the fact that the trampy landowner couldn’t manage to keep out of the marketplace. He goes back and back and back, interrupting lives…coming to get his people. Grace tapping us on the shoulder.

And so, I reminded those seven pastors specifically, including the man who introduced me to grace, that the kingdom of God was just like that exact moment in which sinners/saints are reconciled to God and to one another. The kingdom of God is like that very moment when God was making all things new. In the end, their calling, and their value in the kingdom of God comes not from the approval of a denomination or of the other workers, but in their having been come-and-gotten by God. It is the pure and unfathomable mercy of God that defines them and that says, “Pay attention, this is for you.”

This morning, when I could not sleep, I pulled out Malcolm Guite’s Sounding the Seasons and re-read the sonnets for epiphany. Again, I found words of affirmation.

The Call of the Disciples

He calls us all to step aboard his ship,

Take the adventure on this morning’s wing,

Raise sail with him, launch out into the deep,

Whatever storms or floods are threatening.

If faith gives way to doubt, or love to fear,

Then, as on Galilee, we’ll rouse the Lord,

For he is always with us and will hear,

And make our peace with his creative Word,

Who made us, loved us, formed us and has set

All his beloved lovers in an ark;

Borne upwards by his Spirit, we will float

Above the rising waves, the falling dark,

As fellow pilgrims, driven towards that haven,

Where all will be redeemed, fulfilled, forgiven.

I’m right where I should be.

Happy New Year

I’m writing from work on what will probably be the first New Year’s Eve midnight that I will be awake for in years. It is a quiet night, and the remote log in to work-related things is not working at the moment, giving me time to do a bit of reflecting on the year that has passed (sorry. I hate those posts too).

A year ago I was desperately trying to sleep as music blasted at the next camp over from where we were staying in Maun, Botswana. We had enjoyed a beautiful day of travelling around the Okavango Delta by makoro and were anticipating a long day of travel to the other side of the country the next day.

How things have changed. From the desert of southern Africa to the cold and blowing snow of my walk into work this evening, a lot has happened this year. I have spent time in several different countries this year and I have moved nearly all the way across this one. I have started the formal educational path towards ordination. My first term of school is over and, all things considered, it seems to have gone well. I am adjusting to life here in Ontario and am finding my way around town quite easily now. Day after day of snow no longer seems strange and unusual and I have been enjoying the beautiful quiet that comes with a late night walk in falling snow.

One term of classes is over: I passed Hebrew with flying colours and am reasonably happy with the other grades I have received back. I have begun to find my place within the school atmosphere and am enjoying the academics of being back in school and the challenges that come with that. The biggest bonus: I have access to an entire university full of library books! Most of my papers this term, with the exception of church history, were looking at various angles on postcolonial feminist discourse. Its been a lot of fun (school, fun?!? I know!) immersing myself in that world and I have learned a lot.

Next term will be more of the same, with some scheduled class-skipping. One year to the day that I returned from South Africa I will be taking off for ten days in El Salvador. This will be my first Latin American adventure (unless you count a week at an all-inclusive in Cuba. Which I do not) and likely the only adventure of this sort in 2014. I will be travelling down with a group of people from London to be elections observers and then will spend some time visiting the Cristosal foundation, a partner with PWRDF.

It is weird how these things work out: Latin America has never been one of the “must visit” destinations for me (though I said the same thing about China before I went there for the first time and I LOVED it there) and I know very little Spanish. Following conversations with a former coworker, I began to do some more research on the history of the region. Then, out of the blue, this opportunity to go to El Salvador landed in my lap. Not usually being one to pass up an adventure, I hesitated a little bit because of the school I would miss, but in the end I have signed on and will be headed off in just under a month. Hopefully that will be the impetus I need to do a little more non-school-related writing as I plan to blog for PWRDF and justgeneration.ca while I am away.

So 2013 has been a year of change and transition and I am excited to see what 2014 might hold.

Self + Image

The thought first occurred to me when I was meeting people at my new job for the first time.

“So, what brought you to London?”

     “I’m studying at Huron College”

“What are you studying?”

     “Theology”

And just like that, I am the Christian kid. I can see it happen. I am immediately in one of two boxes: the “oh brother, here we go” box or the “interesting, tell me more” box. My time on the West Coast has conditioned me to assume it will always be the former, though I’ve been pleasantly surprised when that hasn’t always been the case.

It is strange for me to be reconstructing myself in a new place. I knew very few people in London before moving here and so have been starting over in a lot of different ways. A lot of the things that were central to my way of life and who I am in community are no longer with me. I am re-finding myself but also reconstructing myself and reconstructing the self that others see.

In my last job in Victoria I was just another person working alongside people with similar values and beliefs. It was over time that it “came out” that I was a Christian and, for the most part, people were pretty cool with that. In fact, it became a great way to break down some of the bad stereotypes of Christians not caring about marginalized populations. However I was able to start from a place of presenting myself without the preconceived notions of who I should be as a Christian person. In my new job I don’t have that and it feels like an added pressure or weight on me as I go about my work.

Every church that I visit in London soon discovers that I am a new theological student and suddenly I am no longer looking for a place to call home and worship but am seeking a potential field placement for second year.

School is the other place where I find myself having to forge an identity. I rewrote a paper three times before submitting it today. It was a reflection paper that was meant to delve into the question “What I bring to ministry” but I did not agree with the starting point for the paper and thus struggled with the whole thing. How does one gracefully reject the premise of the first paper submitted for a course, make a good impression, but not present a false self? On a graded assignment? (That reflection papers can even be graded is another source of tension for me.)

I know that all I can do is “be myself”. However self is formed in relationship with others and when new relationships occur, especially a lot at once, self has to adjust. It is a lot like a mobile: when some of the figures shift, all of them must move around until a new balance is achieved. It is hard not to be reactionary and head to one polar extreme when faced with something so different from what feels normal. It is tempting to be someone I am not just to make the point of what I am really not…

I came to Ontario to challenge my West Coast worldview. I guess I am getting what I asked for!

Looking Forward

This can probably be filed under the category of “rant”. Also, under the category of “Gillian is procrastinating from writing a paper”.

I am constantly asked what kind of church or other setting I would like to end up in once I have completed my studies here. The question came up again this week with someone at school and I think that I gave my most coherent answer to date. Reflecting on my answer later at home I realized I’d still gotten it wrong. Or, rather, the question we are asking is wrong.

So I put the question out on twitter and continued to think about the subject.

 

I was surprised when I was interviewed by the Diocesan Committee on Ordained Ministry last year to be asked questions about parish specifics: size and location of where I might want to work, whether I would like to be full- or part-time, paid or unpaid. While I understand that they have to work out if the diocese even needs more priests, I had hoped that they would have had a more forward-looking view of things: Will this model of ministry that we have inherited over the last five billion years (only a slight exaggeration) still be functional and/or relevant when I am finished? When I shared this observation with my bishop, I added that I did not really want to leave my job, move across the country, and go to school for three years in order to maintain a status quo that is broken. (Or, as Dr Horrible says: “Because the status is not quo!”)

It is broken because we are spending more money on maintaining our buildings than on active ministry. It is broken because it isn’t working: the average age of people attending (mainline) churches is increasing and the number of people attending is decreasing. Soon we are all going to die out. Die out, that is, unless we can figure out a different way to do things.

So don’t ask me what kind of priest I want to be when I am all done. Instead ask what your community needs and let us work together to figure out what we can do and where a priest might fit into the mix.

Week One: The Theological School Edition

It has been awhile since I had to build a life that revolves around a school schedule. My last degree, my MA, did not have a physical class schedule and, as we were all located in many different time zones, school happened when I fit it into my life. Now, however, my life is having to have a distinct school rhythm. I need to regain the art of packed lunches that can be eaten in the classroom. My lack of foresight around this became very evident on Thursday: between 8:40am when chapel begins and 2:30pm when my last class ends I have no breaks. To make matters worse, the last two hours were two instead of the one I was expecting, they happened in an airtight sauna of a room, and they were my first class of attempting to learn a new language (Biblical Hebrew). To say I was cranky would have been an understatement.

With nine textbooks to read from weekly, plus the book for my “book report” in one class, I have never been so thankful that I am a fast reader. Mid-week, my head threatened to explode with the stress of having to figure out when everything was due. So I made a handy colour-coded schedule that is stuck to my cupboard door. Then, when my eyes mutinied in a staggering headache from over use (both from reading and from the scourge that is Plants vs. Zombies), my godmother came to the rescue and took me away from the house for several hours of shopping – both the necessary supplies shopping and the for-fun shopping – and we discovered a fantastic cafe for lunch. (Incidentally, it is in this cafe that I now sit as they have the perfect atmosphere for me to be able to think, read, and write. And they have wifi.) Feeling energized by that and by some living room floor yoga, I was able to tackle the Hebrew alphabet for several hours last night.

But I think the class I have engaged with most, at this point, has been Systematic Theology. My prof looks like Bob Ross (though with slightly less hair on the top of his head) and has nearly as soothing a voice but a superior sense of humour. We spent most of our last class talking about some of the influences existentialism, in particular Kierkegaard, has had on our current ways of thinking theologically. Having read a fair bit of Kierkegaard and having spent a great deal of time immersed in existentialist theories of counselling practice, I found it fascinating. I have filed away these ideas in the “When I actually have time to think about other things” file so that I can further process how my ideas of how I practice as a counsellor fit, or do not fit, with my theology and my views of the individual and society.

Today is my favourite kind of day. It is sunny and cool, but not too cool. Instead of the 35C+ we experienced earlier this week, or the muggy thunder and lighting with tornado warning storms of Wednesday, it is a perfect 18C with a cool breeze that makes cycling perfect. It has the feel of an end-of-summer-beginning-of-autumn day. I’ve cycled about 17km so far today, with another 5 or so before I get home, and that has done wonders for my sense of well-being. I have read a chapter of Church History, glanced at the Hebrew alphabet, and done some work on my bicycle (it is going to take some time to get my bike back to top shape after the movers messed some things up. Fortunately that is the only damage they did to my belongings.). This afternoon will include tea and textbooks before making applesauce while watching a movie recommended by a good friend.

Week one, I own you!