One of the calendars that has most affected my life–perhaps most of all–is the academic calendar. Not only did I go to school for a bunch of years, but my parents, brother, and wife have all been academics at some time or other. There were always the two seasons of the year, late winter and spring, when we knew not to bother my father–grading papers was on and it was ALL that was happening in our house. For heaven’s sake, we had to schedule my father’s memorial service around a combination of the academic and athletic calendars! People thought we were crazy, but it’s the nature of things in Hometown Collegetown.
And then there’s being a UU, where staff members talk about “semesters” of religious education and music programming. Where some churches (though fewer and fewer all the time) close their doors in the summer or only have lectures, not services, each Sunday.
And then, of course, there’s the commencement season. Colleagues at Union and Andover Newton seminaries and the Starr King School for the Ministry and other schools of theology and practice are all being graduated. And I was graduated this past Monday from Wesley Theological Seminary.
This ceremony of commencement, this ritual of graduation, is the penultimate thing I need to be cleared for fellowshipped ordination in the UU tradition. Once I finish my internship, I’ll be free to go. Free to be welcomed as a fully fellowshipped (that is to say, credentialed) and ordained member of the clergy.
After five years of trying in the early nineties to get my Bachelor of Arts, I left school Depression had destroyed my grades and it was clear I needed some time off. Time off became nearly a decade, and I came to believe that I’d never get my BA. That I’d continue as I had through the nineties and the early aughts, getting jobs based on experience, charisma, and well-crafted argument. But then, thanks in great part to the generosity of my parents, I had the chance to go back to school. My depression was well treated and I knew I could do it this time. And I did. I was graduated cum laude nearly twenty years after I was graduated from high school. And then I went straight on to seminary, where I’ve also finished with honors–not that any church I serve will ever look at my GPA. Still, it makes me happy.
I wasn’t at my commencement ceremony this past week. I was at work in my internship three thousand miles away. But there were pictures and smiles and pings and notes and phone calls. It was a lovely week. And I’ve been thinking about that word, “Commencement,”
In the film The Dark Crystal, my favorite character, the witch Aughra, hunches down on her old creaky knees and says in her voice like gravel sliding out of a corregated bucket, “End. Begin. Begin. End. All the same.” Now she’s talking about the end of the world. But I’m talking about seminary It is an end. An end of many relationships–many people who have touched my life I will never see again. And it is a beginning, or at least another important step, for ministry. I will miss the laughs of the people with whom I share classes. I will (and do!) cherish the relationships that have remained since I left for internship. And I will go forward, knowing this time is also a beginning. Forward in love, taking all that can in my knapsack of tools, wisdom, love, and care for ministry.