Risking relationship – Graduating class of 2018

In the Presence of the Creator of the world, eternal God,
We come from many places for a little while.
With the Redeemer of humanity, God with us,
We come with all our differences seeking common ground.
Enlivened with the Spirit of unity, go-between God,
We have come on journeys of our own
to a place where journeys meet.
So here in this place today
Let us take time together.
For when paths cross, there is so much to share and celebrate~
~Call to worship from the 2018 Service of Celebration

Marcie Gibson offered the citation for the 2018 CCS graduates at the Service of Celebration on April 15.

It my pleasure to share with you our graduates of the Centre for Christian Studies Diploma in Diaconal Ministries 2018 class.

Melanie Ihmels, from Victoria British Colombia and BC Conference, Tiffany McNaughton inabstentia from Fernie British Colombia and Alberta Northwest Conference, Anita Rowland from Orangevill Ontario and Toronto Conference, and Catherine Underhill from Peterborough Ontario and Bay of Quinte Conference.

Some of you who attended the graduation banquet last night will have heard a bit about their individual journeys, but today I wish to speak to you about these four students as a graduating class together.

When we think of graduating classes, you may remember a cohort with which you traveled through one education program or another, a class who began together; green behind the ears, earnest in character, and who kept step together until that final moment when your program decided you were done with it, or they were done with you.

Marcie Gibson offers the graduation citation.

One of the gifts of learning at the Centre for Christian Studies, is the interweaving of students at different steps along the program, and the opportunities for co-learning and mentorship. This is all the moreso with the new program model and design, which allows from more part-time studies. However, we still carry these assumptions about the relationships within a graduating class.

The class of 2017-2018 perhaps put that assumption to the test.

Never before had these four individual students been present at any one learning circle together. In fact, a few had never even met face-to-face, and none had been students of mine, so, as the September circle opened, we began from scratch, as CCS does, building community.

Quickly, this became both an opportunity for heathy stretch and listening, and an opportunity to acknowledge the grief that can be present when staff move on, and student relationships change. So much a microcosm of our churches today.

Within this motley crew, they spanned multiple decades, musical taste, energy levels, previous education and experience. We had two students from BC, but opposite sides of the province and in different Conferences. Two students from Ontario, but opposite sides of Toronto, and again two different Conferences. Our graduates sought to find the threads that connected them, at first two by two : A love of plants, a Global Perspectives Experience in Grassy Narrows with Christian Peacemakers Teams, creative ways of thinking or crafting, love of a particular author or prayer or image, a passion for rural ministry, a passion for harm reduction, a passion for diakonia.

These unlikely students, over the course of two learning circles in Winnipeg and 10 online circles by Zoom, began to find – and build – the bridges to be a learning community together.

Grads Anita Rowland, Catherine Underhill, Melanie Ihmels
Grads Anita Rowland, Catherine Underhill, Melanie Ihmels

From the Weslyan quadrilateral to the Lambeth quadrilateral, they challenged each other to find meaning. From theology student-leds to one more book that must be read, they have taken the disciple of study and co-leadership seriously for themselves and for each other. From learning about United Church polity and handbooks with the forever punchline of “and in 6 months, all of this will change”, they encouraged each other to find integrity in their call. From Zooming in for class until 10 pm, or flying to Winnipeg, they have sustained each other with prayer, with laughter, with thoughtfulness and blessed silence. In a program where structure, wording, staff, and weather have been changing all around them, they have offered each other grace and a through-line.

They are a group who have been each others’ pastoral stretch. Contending with abilities, disabilities and limitations. Health concerns and healing journeys. They have become a testament to the compassion, patience, persistence, and grace that we not only need for each other, but also for our own selves in ministry.

This is a group who have risked relationship, and built it from scratch, and they have done this hard thing, beautifully. We wish them well, with blessing.