One Step at a Time
Last August we asked CCS program staff person Marcie Gibson about her entry into doctoral studies with a focus on diaconal pedagogy at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. Now, as she wraps up her first year, we thought we’d check back in.
Well, it’s been nine months since my last official “avocado news.” There’s no baby come to term – unless you count seven [electronic] pounds of bouncing term papers – but it sure has been quite a journey through the first year of my PhD at the Graduate Theological Union. Hats off to all of you who go back to school, at any age but especially in your 40s or later. This is my last week of being based in California, and then I get to move back home to Hamilton. For sure, I will be in Berkeley semi-regularly for conferences, meetings, research, and extended-family time, but those will be much shorter visits with a round-trip ticket. My second year of coursework will be online, and then it’s a few years of Comprehensives and writing a Dissertation (thesis). One step at a time, they say.
Now that everything for school is safely handed in, I’ve been reviewing my learning goals for this year [yes, I made some, of course!]. My biggest goals were discerning whether this was right for me: understanding the PhD program and process, discerning whether I had (or could develop) the skills and energy needed to meet their expectations, and whether it would match my passion. It excites me that this program isn’t a glass slipper, but more like a lace-up skate. There are bumps I didn’t expect that ask me to be creative. The reading and research sharpen my rusty skills and those I am developing anew, especially in this electronic-library world. I am explaining diakonia to a whole bunch of new people, and as I find the words and listen to how they are received I get steadier with what I want to say, and I clarify what I want to study. One step at a time.
There have been many firsts: first time at the American Academy of Religion conference, first time at Grace Cathedral for the Great Vigil of Easter, first time in a library with six levels underground and 2.3 million books, first time ending up on the Interstate on-ramp with my bike (I don’t recommend it but I’m fine), first time learning how to write a Teaching and Learning Philosophy Statement, first time living with a fig tree (that wasn’t cursed!), first time missing all my kids’ birthdays in person (sad face), and first time having a paper accepted at a conference. Thankfully, we’re expected to tailor assignments to our research interest, so among other smaller projects this year I have written on the Coupling and Uncoupling of Diakonia and Gender, researched the Influence of Diaconal Identity on the Educational Practice of Diaconal Educators, conducted a case study on the practice of Assessment of Student Formation in an MDiv program, written a book review on Sanctified Sisters, developed a syllabus for a course on Diakonia in Ecumenical Perspective, and written a theoretical paper on Articulating a Diaconal Theological Method. This last paper is the one I will be presenting next week in Oslo, Norway at the ReDi Conference. (I believe virtual registration is still available.) None of these papers are publication-worthy at this point, but they are good first tries, and I’m starting to get the hang of this. One step at a time.
I am so incredibly grateful to those who have shaped diakonia and diaconal pedagogy thus far; those who have nurtured and shared the stories, have taught, written, mentored, inspired, sung, imagined, researched, photographed, and embodied it in such diversity. It is their words and images that I am drawing on, considering, and engaging in new conversations. I stand (or at least lean) on the shoulders of giants. If you find yourself with time, read them! It’s amazing stuff.
At the GTU, I have been blessed to meet fabulous and diverse classmates and professors in this truly global and inter-religious program. I have been mentored by kind roommates, GTU staff, and a brilliant advisor, and been cheered up by my two-year-old niece. I have felt held by your prayers, chuffed by your encouragements, and graced by your patience. It’s time to head home, but the journey continues. One step at a time.