Sad news has come forth this week about my seminary. General, like so many other Episcopal seminaries, is struggling. Heck, it, like so many churches, is struggling. I get the realities. We live in a post-Christendom world. A place where people are “spiritual but not religious.” The church of the 1950s is dying and we’re clinging to it as if it was/were/is our only way of life. So, of course, it makes sense that our institutions are struggling. Reimagining, rediscovering who the Church is, who the Church will become, is no longer optional–but all that is another post. This is a post about a place I love more than just about anywhere (if you asked me to rank Athens GA, Israel/Palestine and General Seminary–it’d be a tough job).
General Seminary is the first seminary of the Episcopal Church. Its beautiful campus is a respite in the concrete jungle of New York City. Its chapel, the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, is the place where so many priests (including me) have been shaped and formed and begun to understand what this vocation is all about. And now General finds itself in severe financial crisis. There are emails flying in and out of my box today–all filled with the details about a meeting that happened yesterday with the Board of Trustees. This press release puts a nice spin on it. I suspect the meeting was a bit more challenging. The thought of General not being General, of priests not being formed, of it not being that place of joy (and gossip and sometime pure annoyance–all the human condition is wrapped up in that place for me), it’s just incomprehensible. A friend just posted on Facebook that he feels like he’s been hit in the stomach. I get it. It’s beyond understanding.
I sit and type this as Sojo looks out the window and Lucy is curled up beside me. My first day on the Close (the seminary campus), after the movers had left, after one of the smiling and wonderful maintenance men had installed my new air conditioner, I opened the closet door to let Lucy and Sojo finally run free in their new domain. Out came Sojo but Lucy was nowhere to be seen. I searched high and low for her. Everywhere I could imagine. She was gone. Someone called the front office to alert the staff to be on the lookout for a very lost cat from Georgia. My heart sank. One day out of Georgia and into NYC, and I had lost my beloved, declawed, defenseless cat. I sat there and questioned the decision to move to NYC, to start seminary, to become a priest at all. Somehow this seemed a horrid omen and all I wanted to do was pack up my Uhaul and head back home.
And then, on a lark, or perhaps out of sheer desperation, I got down on the floor, one last time and crawled under my bed. Lucy had always loved to hide in the box springs, and although I had already checked 4 times, I found myself looking again. She wasn’t easy to see. In the move, more fabric must have come loose and she had taken her hiding place to a whole new level. But there she was. Hidden away from the chaos of boxes and packing tape. Not yet ready to come out, but safe and sound.
I don’t really tend to believe in “signs,” but that day stands as one of the markers in my memory of knowing it was going to be okay. In the days that followed, things happened. Strangers knocking on my door with a “hey, I’m new here too–let’s go find the grocery store” suggestion, building-mates would share wine and bad reality television, study-mates would become life-long friends and classmates who always sat in the same seat at chapel, day-in-day-out, helped me grow into who I am.
I can not imagine my world or myself, who I would be, without the sacred ground of General Seminary. Here’s hoping I don’t have to.
I will love Thee;
And that love may never cease,
I will move Thee.
Thou hast granted my request,
Thou hast heard me;
Thou didst note my working breast,
Thou hast spared me.
Wherefore with my utmost art
I will sing Thee,
And the cream of all my heart
I will bring Thee.
Though my sins against me cried,
Thou alone didst clear me;
And alone, when they replied,
Thou didst hear me.
Seven whole days, not one in seven,
I will praise Thee;
In my heart, though not in Heaven,
I can raise Thee.
Small it is, in this poor sort
To enroll Thee:
E’en eternity’s too short
To extol Thee.