Stepping Stones: Orientation Overload

Union has welcomed us, the 175th class to enter this seminary, with the theme of Stepping Stones. It is certainly fitting, as we’re all on a journey… wading into sometimes unfamiliar waters, not quite sure where we’re going to put our feet next. The Dean of Academic Affairs, Daisy Machado, talked to us about the story of Jesus walking on the water; Peter had faith enough to step out of the boat and was fine, until a storm came. Then he sank, but called out “Lord, save me.” Peter may have lost his step, but he didn’t lose his faith. He didn’t know where the next stepping stone was, but he was pretty sure there was one, and he reached out in faith in order to find it.

It’s that image that carries me, too, into seminary. In my piece on Getting to the Yes, I talked about Kierkegaard’s idea that we live life forward but understand it backward – and some of that is stepping out, seeking the next stone, not sure where it is or what it looks like. I have no idea where I’m going (woyaya!) but in faith (and with a lot of hard work) I’ll get there.

And so… all of this is but an introduction, to say that I’ll be using the category “Stepping Stones” to talk specifically about the seminary journey.

And what a journey it has been! A week in, and already my head is going to explode with all the richness and joy. Yes, I know, I’m still in those glory days… ten miles away from the muddy concert site as it were… classes don’t start until late next week. But we had an incredible week of orientation, everything crammed into fewer days because of the hurricane. Some highlights:

I met some of the most amazing people who will be on this journey with me – they are young and old, every race, every gender. Gay, straight. Christian, Jewish, other. They are still in school mode, or long out of college. They are already ministers or not sure they want to be minister. And their stories! Amazing stories of faith, hardship, struggle, and hope. Every one hearing a call to serve somehow, many – like me – unsure what form the call will take.

I met some of the most committed faculty and staff – from the facilities people to the president – all with a sense of calling, a sense of family, a sense that Union is someplace different. I know this place is special – it’s got a long history of being on the cutting edge of theological education, and situated as it is in a world class city, it’s got a special calling to be there.

I have already made some friends I feel will be with me for many years after our degrees are completed – people with whom I instantly clicked, who have a variety of experiences I can learn from. Some, like Tiara, are fellow Unitarian Universalists. Some, like Valerie, are close to my age. Some, like Clayton, are opposites in many ways but still feel like kindred spirits.

There was a delightful moment, speaking with Ruth Tonkiss Cameron, the Burke Library archivist: she shared the story of going through a professor’s papers and books – someone who taught in the first half of the last century. On the general list of contents was a note “book, Spanish”…when she got to it, she discovered it was one of the original accounts from the Spanish Inquisition. And yes, she too had that uniquely Monty Python moment: “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

There was a moment that moved me to tears – when, during a dinner, Dean Yvette Wilson came up to me, hugged me, and said “I am SO glad you are here – I remember fondly our conversation last fall.” She remembered some salient details from it…that conversation that convinced me that Union was where I should go. That she remembered me and welcomed me personally…wow.

There is, admittedly, some growing sense of “what the hell have I gotten myself into”… the workload will be heavy, and I do carry some fears about my ability to get through it all. And yet, I am comforted by the fact that I was chosen out of hundreds of people who applied, that something about my application made them say ‘this woman will fit in here’. I’m sure most of my fellow classmates are wondering the same thing – what have we gotten into – and yet we will be there for each other.

There are so many more moments from last week that I can’t even remember right now. Much of the week was a blur, with so much information and sharing and feeling brought into the fold. And this coming week will be filled with so much more – advisement, meeting faculty, and the opening day of classes. But I feel blessed, and happy to be on this journey. Not sure where the next stepping stone will be, but I have faith that I’ll find it – or at least be able to call out for help if I can’t.

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