I have not, as it may have appeared from my lack of communication in recent months, fallen off the face of the earth. I have simply been consumed by my work here in seminary and without words or the energy to write more than the required papers and reflections. After a lovely but all too short visit with my husband and my parents for Christmas I am back at it again.
Last semester was a more difficult one than I anticipated, with classes in Field Education, Constructive Theology, Ethics, and a Special Reading Course to study the theological and ritual/liturgical responses to Suicide. Immersing myself into my classes is not new, but certainly can be draining when one is also trying to balance it with outside activities and a social life!
I am truly grateful to be in a fabulous Field Education parish: Holy Cross. They view themselves as a teaching parish, and have welcomed me with open arms. I gave the homily at the Blessing of the Animals in October, as well as participating in several small groups – my primary involvement is with the Healing Team – serving on the altar, and most recently, participating in the annual Women’s Retreat. I have also spent the third Sunday of each month, as much as possible, at the local military Chapel. This is giving me a lot of insight into the experiences of a Reservist as well as keeping me connected with my Army community.
Ethics was probably the next easiest, if you could call it that. The professor has a way of teaching that makes almost anything interesting and brings out the best in his students. I was both challenged and strengthened in my understanding of the ethical formation I received within my own development, although I had not realized that I was being formed in such a way. We focused on the Anglican traditions, mostly because they are the most helpful in understanding how our Church has come to believe and act as it does today. To wrestle with my classmates with current issues and see them from various perspectives throughout history was truly informative and I have to say that I have a much deeper appreciation of where we are now and how we have come to take the stands that we have.
I must admit that Constructive Theology is not my strong point, although the class was full of people who bring up the most amazing discussion points out of the readings which provides a rich feast of new ideas and points of view that I suspect I would not have found on my own. The professor gives us readings that challenge as well as teach us, and has high expectations of our writings and engagement with the class material. I often felt as if I were falling short of those expectations but did well enough in the class that clearly something was sinking in!
The class that challenged me the most, however, was my Special Reading Course on Suicide. I worked with my advisor as I researched and formulated the beginnings of a theological response to suicide within the framework of the Episcopal Church. There is not much out there, and in my research I discovered more rabbit-trails to follow that draw me in and inform my ministry. One such area is the development of liturgical/ritual material such as a small Office for use while keeping vigil with someone who is suicidal; there is so much rich imagery to hold onto and pray with in the midst of crisis. I have also become deeply interested in pursuing research into Moral Injury, a concept that is finally being recognized as a possible trigger for suicides among combat veterans.
In November, I planned a Community Night Eucharist that was followed by a forum to honor Veteran’s Day. I was pleasantly surprised by the support I received from the community around this, from the participation in the Eucharist to the discussion and questions that were brought up during the forum. I invited two Chaplains, both Army Reservists, as well as having my husband and one of my classmates and her family; her husband recently retired from a career in the Coast Guard and their children offered their perspectives as well. I am still hearing people’s reactions and so am hoping to plan another one for next year.
During January, I participated in an Intersession course that took us into the inner city of East Oakland and San Francisco. The course was taught by the founder of City of Refuge UCC Church. We met those who minister to and work with populations I probably would never have met, as well as spending time with some of the people who are served by those ministries. These included a Transgender support group, a food pantry, a hot meal program, and a women’s shelter; we also met with the staff or ministers of programs such as transition housing for those who are in recovery and living with HIV/AIDS, and a transitional support program for young offenders leaving Juvenile Hall and returning to their families.
In the coming semester I am taking the second parts of both Field Education and Constructive Theology as well as Homiletics and a class on the Theology and practical responses to Trauma. Both of my Field Ed placements are anxious to have me preach again, and I look forward to the unique challenges that each presents.
I truly hope that each of you continues to be well. You remain in my prayers always and I am grateful for your prayerful support of this work that I am doing.