Dear Friends in Christ,
Last week Oregon Episcopal School (OES) welcomed its students onto campus for the beginning of the school year. It was energizing and fun to be with them and to give the final blessing, but the high point was the ritual bellringing by the 5th graders. Each student walked up into the bell tower and pulled on the rope to ring the bell. One student, one peal of the bell; one for each year that OES has been open – that’s 152 years in 2021.
I love being on a school campus – it reminds me of my many years on college campuses serving as dean of religious life. The air is thick with promise, dreams, and aspirations on campuses like OES. The faculty and administration reflect that same ideal: what more can we learn? Be? Do? And: how can we do it together – helping each other along the way?
After the 5th graders arrived for the ceremony, they stood with their arms outstretched to make sure they were at a safe distance from each other. Then they plopped down on the cold hard sidewalk to wait for the opening words. Watching them, I commented to Mo, the Head of School, standing next to me, “I remember well those days when sitting, cross-legged on cold hard concrete was just another way to rest!” We chuckled with admiration.
Driving back to the office, I reflected on the image of the 5th graders with their arms outstretched. They cooperated in observing the COVID protocols with laughter and chatter – not because the protocols brought them joy but because they were finally together and were going to sit in classes with their friends. The joy of being back in community was palpable that morning. For the grown-ups, their joy that day came from witnessing the results of their hard work to create a safe way to be in community. For the students, it was about cooperating, happily, because being together means you get to have fun learning with friends, while also making your school pal laugh at your antics.
Making community and connection through cooperation — this is where the greatest joy is often experienced. We’ve learned this in new and unwelcome ways this past year and a half. The point really is learning it; our capacity to adapt, pivot, and remain open to one another teaches us new ways to be present to each other. Although we are now beyond tired of the ways this pandemic imposes restrictions on us, we have also learned some about our creativity and cooperation – the human desire for community is God-given. We are created to seek out each other in community and to adjust and make sacrifices in order to build relationships that will change us. Truly, this has always been God’s plan for us – to find one another, to love one another, and to challenge one another to be more of what we have been created to be.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is
born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7)
Amidst our heartbreak and anxiety and frustration, God loves us. This is not passive loving, it is a loving that continues to form us. We are being remade, through this incomprehensible divine love, for one another, and to bring into this world the Beloved Community of God’s desiring.
As we prepare for another virtual Diocesan Convention/Annual Meeting, I pray that our patience and forbearance are not marked by gritted teeth, but instead by the love that embraces us during our great discomfort.
I can still see those 5th graders standing next to each other with their arms outstretched. By cooperating as a community, they can reach toward each other with anticipation and joy. The Holy Spirit prevails as community is formed in yet a new way!