Why we’re here, together

by Elouise

What’s it all about, anyway? Is there any method to this madness?

This past Saturday I attended a gathering of people from our church, the community, the seminary where I served, and visitors from other churches and states. We celebrated the ordination of a graduate, now a faculty member at the seminary, who has served at our church since the early 1990s. She was one of my students, and later became a colleague on the faculty.

Since retiring in 2011, I haven’t returned to the seminary for social or formal occasions. What happened with the seminary since I departed hasn’t been easy. From my point of view, the less I knew, the better. It was easier to be somewhere else, and better for my health.

But now many colleagues from the seminary were coming to our church for a celebration I wasn’t about to miss.

Was I uneasy? Let’s just say I was a bit short of a basket case last week. First of all, I had to decide what to wear. My normal church clothes (blue jeans, t-shirts and jackets) wouldn’t do.

Yet what to wear was nothing compared with apprehension about seeing colleagues and students I hadn’t seen in years.

I needn’t have worried. From the moment I walked into the sanctuary and saw one of my colleagues, I felt like I’d just come home. In fact, sitting there, surrounded by several rows of ‘us’ felt a bit like going to heaven. I think. I’ve never been there, so I can’t be sure….

Among my colleagues was a woman I’d hired as our director of student formation. My mind went back to the first sermon she ever preached at the seminary. It was about when we all get to heaven.

She asked us why we were all there on the corner of City and Lancaster Avenues, just across the street from the city of Philadelphia and just on the edge of the western suburbs of Philadelphia. And why were we such a diverse group?

We weren’t simply diverse as Americans, but as international students from all over the globe. All now thrown together in this little seminary on the corner of City and Lancaster Avenues. Perhaps feeling culture shock. Never quite sure what someone meant by that turn of phrase, or that look or that comment or question. Or why some people laughed now and some people laughed then. And others didn’t laugh much at all.

At the end of her sermon, she suggested we were at this specific location to  practice getting to know each other now, getting along with each other now, breaking the ice with each other now, so that when we get to heaven we won’t have culture shock when we see who else is there!

I’ll admit to a bit of creative memory here. But I know that was the point of her sermon. We closed with a rousing hymn, “When We All Get to Heaven.”

Just seeing and being with former colleagues and students made me grateful to be welcomed into a seminary alive with humanity. Imperfect, yet alive in ways I’ve rarely experienced in other institutions of so-called ‘higher’ learning.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 June 2018