This month CCS program staff member Ann Naylor received approval to move from “medical leave” to “long-term disability.” At our recent Annual General Meeting, CCS student Anita Rowland delivered this tribute to Ann…
I don’t know how many of you remember your first few minutes at CCS or your first conversation with Ann but for me, those two things took place at the same time. Within minutes of walking through the door of CCS for the fall learning circle, Ann had greeted me. So early in the morning no one else was around yet. We talked about how long tea can be reused, moved on to the subject of quilting, and then, to the handwork of previous generations of women; and the self-expression which found voice through their work.
Ann has the remarkable ability to find common ground – even with someone so tongue-tied as I was back then. After that conversation I was able to start that first learning circle a little more at ease.
In my preparations for this, I asked other students and recent grads to share their thoughts and experiences of Ann. I want my words this evening to be largely of a common experience. Not surprisingly, I heard that her gentle way of putting people at ease is a frequent occurrence, especially among new students. One person said that if we look up the definition of “non-anxious presence,” Ann’s photo would be there! Ann carries with her a peace that is calming and centering.
Given the peace and calm that is a part of Ann, some people – maybe non-diaconal ones – might be surprised that the words “passion” and “passionate” came up a lot in the responses I got from others. Who of us at CCS haven’t been witness to Ann’s passion for both teaching and social justice?
When I first started reading about the CCS program, it wasn’t long before I had the sense that this was the program for me. Pastoral care, a team approach, and hands-on learning … this was checking all my boxes … then I noticed, “living a theology of justice” … uh oh … That, quite frankly, gave me pause. I felt no huge draw to that – and so I resolved that I’d learn what I needed to learn and then go back to my focus on education and pastoral care. Like some of us starting at CCS, I didn’t know that living and ministering in a way that is socially just was supposed to infuse my whole being – that it can’t be partitioned off as a separate category. Ann met me in my place of unknowing – just as she met all of you wherever you happened to be in that wide spectrum of all things social ministry.
But Ann doesn’t just “meet” us. I knew that where I was, was okay – that I was okay – but that my responsibility as a student of Ann’s was to be open to change, to reach inward to examine long held beliefs, and to gently, lovingly, peel those away. Ann challenges our ground, sometimes takes our breath away with a way of seeing that is new to us. She accompanies us as we grieve the loss of some old ways, ways we thought were right ways. She waits, and holds us all with compassion. Because she knows that for some of us the learning is tough going.
Ann presents to us the many faces of living this life of social justice – it’s so much more than the image I had – and then, into that learning she brings out her guitar and puts the challenge of living a life of social justice to music. Ann shares with us the songs that have encouraged and united others in community – showing us that singing (which I love) can be a subversive act of resistance and change; that it reaches people on a level that words alone cannot.
Ann “teaches us to stand,” as one grad shared, “with all creation and humanity in the chaos – complex, broken and beautiful – with grace and humility”.
Passion. Grace. Humility. These qualities co-exist in Ann – and we benefit from that example. Ann’s passion is quiet, steady and unwavering, and fueled by Light and Love.
For some students it can take a little while – or a longer while – to understand that living a passionate life doesn’t need to look like a blazing fire. When looking for an image that symbolizes this kind of passion, I imagine the embers of that blazing fire that we sing about in More Voices 12. When we’ve enjoyed a fire, it will reach a point where the blaze has died down but the embers remain. Far hotter and longer lasting than the flames of the fire, the embers depend on each other to continue glowing. If one of them is somehow off on its own, it won’t be long before its glow begins to fade – and eventually goes out. Ann’s passion – which is so much a part of her … is lived in community – in relationship with each of us, and all of us together.
Ann listens intently – whether it’s a planned session during circle or a conversation with one or two … she listens, and then may say, “Think about this,” or after a time spent listening she asks a question. As one grad says, “It’s the right question to guide us to what we already know.” That resonates with me as I recall conversations with Ann when that has been the case. She is a wise woman with the ability to see each one of us, encourage us, accompany and support us “when we’re wavering,” as yet another person said, “and offer opportunities in which we can grow”.
All this might suggest that Ann is very serious – and it’s true that Ann is a wary participant in skits and the like that happen during learning circles. But it doesn’t take long to know that there’s a ribbon of humour that runs through Ann. It pops out in unexpected ways and off-handed remarks. She’ll say something that’s the result of a deeply embedded dry wit just waiting to escape.
Speaking of escaping, Ann, you may believe that you’re retiring, but the Centre for Christian Studies might have something in common with the Hotel California of musical fame. You can retire, but I’m not sure if you can actually leave. You are a part of CCS, and CCS is a part of you.
I offer you my sincere gratitude Ann – for all the learning, the challenging ideas and new ways of doing and being. I thank you for your wisdom and your vision … for possibilities.
On behalf of all of us at CCS – those who are students right now, and all those who’ve had the benefit of your teaching, I offer you our thanks. You have been a profound gift to us even when it became so hard to persevere.
In your teaching and your relationships with each one of us who is connected to CCS – student, colleague and volunteer – you have shown us what it is to live out the Theology of Justice.
And so we go – and do likewise.