This has been a tough semester, and our graduating seniors in the U of R Graduate School of Theology’s San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS) have not been untouched. They have experienced death in their families, illness, money worries, anxieties about jobs and vocation, solitude, home-schooling children, and the gnawing concerns we all share for the fate of our country and planet.
As the teacher of the SFTS Senior Capstone class, I am moved watching the students navigate these difficulties. I have been inspired as they begin to articulate their vision for ministry. They dream of a Church and a world invested with radical compassion, nurture for the needy, hope for our assaulted ecosystems, celebration of diversity, and justice that is not conditioned by race, or gender, or sexuality, or income, or religion, or ethnicity, or anything else. Their passion to alleviate suffering and quell inequities reinvigorates hope in our dark times.
Each of our seniors has a unique angle on what ministry can look like. They are not cookies, fresh from the cookie-cutter. From their different perspectives, many share a sense that models of ministry they have inherited may not be enough to inspire their own work or the transformation of the Church for the next generation.
They may or may not seek ordination. They may or may not become a senior pastor. But wherever their vocation takes them, they will provide a hospitable and loving presence to those they encounter—in churches and choirs, but also in hospitals and fledgling schools in Pakistan. They will be found on street corners, among LGBTQ+ youth, and working beside environmental activists. They will engage interfaith conversations and practices of hospitality.
They bring many gifts to their ministry: a genius for music or a beautiful voice, disciplines of contemplative practice, preaching, a loving presence to young people who have known little but rejection, community building here and abroad. They are weaving the sacred and the mundane, committing themselves to churches but also bringing their faithfulness out into the world in its beauty, tragedy, and infinite variety.
While the pandemic rages and the economy wobbles, our students are choosing to bring hope into difficult places. They are rooted in traditions that have held through millennia and through seemingly world-ending disasters. Steadied by these deep roots, they are envisioning Christian practice, love, and justice for the 21st century. Churches are transfiguring themselves for technological and social changes we are now only beginning to perceive.
It has been inspiring to work with our graduating seniors as they envision what their ministry will look like in these times. It gives me hope, not that everything will magically work out fine, but that our students will be among those serving the spirit of Goodness wherever it is to be found.
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