Like most of the world as we know it, the School for Ministry hit the pandemic curve-ball in March and we opted to start sheltering-in-place early. So much was unknown and we decided to err on the side of safety hoping that such a decision would be very temporary.
We now know much more and are grateful that we stopped our weekend gatherings in March. However, that does not mean that we stopped learning, living, loving, or doing ministry. As the students adjusted to their new reality, each having a different challenge in creating a safe response to the pandemic, I pivoted to design and implementation of online instruction. I collaborated with The Rev. Deacon Clelia Garrity, the Contextual Education instructor, and we set forth a plan to continue our teaching and mentoring with the students until June 15, 2020.
There were many questions to address, many items to asses and to collect as the students closed in on their original ordination date of April 25, 2020. It soon became obvious that the ordinations would not happen at that time and we shared a sense of collective disappointment. As many people are grieving the loss of such milestones now, we did not get to see our students graduate or be ordained as we had hoped.
However, I am proud to report that there remains an amazing readiness to reschedule and adapt as time and protocols allow. Bishop Russell has met with the students using the Zoom format and they have come to a mutual agreement to wait until the time is right to proceed with the Commission on Ministry interviews and all other necessary steps for ordination. This is a challenging time in discernment for all people, but especially for our students as they gaze over an ever-changing horizon.
Because we do not have clarity on when it will be safe for such meetings and steps to take place for the approval for ordinations, we have continued with a weekly study in sacramental theology and ethics while the students have readjusted their contextual formation projects and final papers to reflect the unforeseen effects of a pandemic on each project. I am incredibly proud of how our students have been able to accept the radical disruption of their plans, their projects, and papers to focus on what is truly important: cultivating a faithful posture in times of grief and anxiety with a readiness to support each other in whatever may come.
Our time together has been very rich as we check-in with one another via Zoom while also delving into some of the wonderful foundations of sacramental theology. The Rev. Deacon Clelia Garrity has done the same with Zoom conferences and phone calls. It is my hope that these foundations and conversations will serve the students well as they eventually move into ministry in a time when we are all learning new things and doing our best to be the Body of Christ in a hurting world.
I know I have said it already, but I am very proud of our students. They have modeled beautifully the bonds of community both in person and online. They are delving into some very dense systematic theology while also writing a comprehensive Contextual Education paper. They do this while also being teachers to their young children or balancing a home workplace with little help, or no longer having the job or income they once did.
It is quite challenging to learn during times of trial, but our students have really come to the table ready to engage, pray, and serve the world as it changes around us daily. I remain very grateful for my time teaching and learning with them.
Respectfully, Joy Blaylock Dean