I sat down to write this letter at least a dozen times. Each attempt has ended with me scribbling down a plethora of thoughts with little direction of where to begin or where to end. Goodbyes are never easy for me. Nor is concisely conveying something as deep as my love for Saint Paul. I decided that perhaps my efforts should not begin with a pen but instead with prayer.
As I sat with the Spirit, I allowed images, names, and memories to rise as I focused on my breath. I did not critique what called to me. I offered thanks for each nudge that floated between my head and my heart. Some of what appeared made complete sense; other images surprised me. I did not question the emerging faces of professors and classmates. Yet, I was taken back when the cover of Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, repeatedly drifted within my meditation.
I could not pinpoint exactly why this text was beckoning, but after I ended my prayer, I grabbed my well-loved copy off my bookshelf and perused the starred passages. These words began to shimmer.
“To make bread or love, to dig in the earth, to feed an animal or cook for a stranger—these activities require no extensive commentary, no lucid theology. All they require is someone willing to bend, reach, chop, stir. Most of these tasks are so full of pleasure that there is no need to complicate things by calling them holy. And yet these are the same activities that change lives, sometimes all at once and sometimes more slowly, the way dripping water changes stone. In a world where faith is often construed as a way of thinking, bodily practices remind the willing that faith is a way of life.”
Ahhh – there it is. Here is where I start. Being an alumni director has not routinely warranted in-depth theological debates or pressed me to flex my exegesis muscles. I have not been writing sermons or performing sacraments. Yet, it has been a time of great holiness. I realize that I have made connection and listening my spiritual practices. Each conversation with an alum, a prayer. Each opportunity to hear and relay the story of our community, an invitation to know the Divine more fully. Each exchange between myself and other graduates about their ministries, an offering to the Spirit. Each detail given about the current state of the seminary, an act of faith.
For this, I am glad. For this, I am thankful. For this, I will miss.
Before I turn in my name badge, I wanted to impart the single most common answer – indeed, it is always given – to the question of what stands out most about your time at Saint Paul. Can you guess the unifying reply? Community. Alumni always speak of the rich community at Saint Paul and how the relationship among classmates, professors, and staff shaped them as much as the carefully planned academic curriculum and exercises. Almost always, community worship and community meal were cited as extended classrooms where lessons of hospitality, friendship, pastoral care, and loving debate were abundant.
The community at Saint Paul, like every living, breathing creation, has changed over the years. Every decade has seen a different grouping of faculty and leaders and over 6000 students have graduated. Community meals and worship have changed spaces and modes. The way students engage with Saint Paul has morphed from one predominate residential campus to two commuter campuses with hybrid delivery systems. Yet, community is still being built and still a driving component of the shaping of our students.
No matter the nuances of the particular community you experienced at Saint Paul, I ask this of you. Celebrate the community that nourished you, but do not forget to hold dear the larger tethering that comes with being a Saint Paul alum. Give honor to graduates that came before you, lift up those who completed their studies after you, and pray for those yet to graduate. Remember that the bread broken together has been on the table for over sixty years, still remains, and has nourished and will continue to nourish a wide breadth of esteemed spiritual leaders.
I leave you with this. Be proud of your seminary. Be thankful for your shaping. Take time to reflect on what Saint Paul has given you. And keep showing the world what you learned. Raise up community that reflects the justice and righteousness of the Gospel. Extend love and grace alongside lessons of self-awareness and spiritual discipline. Teach by example the path of sanctification that includes acts of humility, accountably, and deep love.
And don’t forget to call home every once in a while…
Love to you all,
Melissa Pearce, Alumna, Class of 2015