A Caring Presence in the Circle

A Caring Presence in the Circle

This past year our students have benefitted from caring presence of spiritual care providing chaplains during many of their learning circles.

Chaplains have been a part of CCS learning circles for many years. Learning circles can be stressful: traveling to Winnipeg for class, being away from family, trying to set other work demands aside for a time to focus on learning, opening oneself to new understandings and confronting pain and injustice in the world, not to mention navigating the personalities, relationships, and inevitable conflicts that come with learning in community – these can all cause stress. And though students are there to support one another (and are in fact learning how to be emotional and spiritual supports to others), it is handy sometimes to know that there’s a designated someone there for you if you need them.

In the spring of 2020, when we suddenly moved our April learning circles online due to the global pandemic, we debated whether chaplains would be necessary. Our practice had not to not provide chaplains for our “intentionally” online learning circles (that is to say, the circles that we’d previously planned on holding online, which are held over the course of six weeks rather than six days, with two video sessions per week). The pace of these online circles was not as “pressure cooker” as the in-person circles, the need to carve out time not as stark, and regular support networks more available. However, when the Fall and Spring in-person circles because online intensives, with the added pressures of spending long days in a row in front of a video screen, not to mention the anxieties of a worldwide health crisis, we decided that chaplains would be a helpful support to our students. 

It was also a way to expand and deepen the conversations in the circle. We often invited chaplains who had some experiential connection to the theme of the learning circle or who had a history or an approach to ministry that our students could benefit from. Some chaplains dove into the give-and-take of small group discussions; some stayed back so as to not risk monopolizing a conversation. Some chaplains were called on by individuals to be a listening ear as student’s talked through a problem they were facing; some were a quiet but encouraging presence in large group discussions. Some held the group in their prayers; some asked challenging questions. We’ve had a variety, and we have been blessed by them all.

Diane Dwarka was the chaplain for the Oppression and Resistance circle in the spring of 2020, the first of our “surprise” online intensives, followed by Sarah Bruer who accompanied us through Ages and Stages. Last fall Annette Hoare was our chaplain for Ministry as Listening, and Allison Brooks-Starks was chaplain/guest-facilitator for Eco-Justice. This spring Bob Gibson joined us for the Living Scripture learning circle, and June Anderson was our spiritual care provider for Grief and Loss.

Learning circle chaplains: Diane Dwarka, Annette Hoare, Bob Gibson, Sarah Bruer, Alison Brooks-Starks, June Anderson

We asked June for some of her impressions and reflections of the Grief and Loss intensive. She noted that it didn’t take long for her previous experience in a CCS learning circle, 29 years ago, to come rushing back. “I had forgotten how much pre-course work was involved – setting learning goals, completing readings, etc.” June was reminded of when she was a student and every free moment was taken up with reading for the next class. But she was also grateful to be reminded of the wonderful atmosphere of her preparation for ministry.

June found it challenging sitting in front of a computer 6 hours a day, working through a difficult topic like grief and loss. “Who knew there were eye exercises specifically for fatigue from zoom?” In her role as chaplain, June could also see the tiredness of others over the course of the week, which she describes as “testimony to the commitment that CCS students make to pushing the edges of learning to a higher level.”

June was somewhat disappointed to hear that there were no Anglican students in attendance.  But, as someone who has devoted her 29 years of ministry to non-profit work, she was delighted to see that some of the students in the Grief and Loss circle were open to pursuing alternative ministry. 

“I could not help but reflect on the pathway that I and a number of my classmates had chosen.  As I became more familiar with the dreams and expectations of these current students, I realized that they are aware of the challenges facing them. Certainly, the changing church will require these graduates to be creative, resourceful, and realistic about the future. The fences around the churches are being taken down.  A wonderful opportunity to do our work.”

Thank you to all our chaplains for your care and your presence.