Just hours ago, I submitted my last assignment – an online terms final – for my first year of seminary at Nashotah House. One down, two to go. As is the custom of my class, some of us headed over to the Cellar of St. Gambrinus to quaff a celebratory pint of frothy, golden nectar. We chatted for a while and it brought many things to mind about my first year experience here. Nashotah House had an interesting (and sometimes controversial) year, but I’d like to give a brief reflection on community life here.
I have experienced true, genuine community, and learned (am still learning) to live into it fully. Living in close quarters together on campus is not always easy or problem-free. Praying, breaking bread, and studying together every day makes it impossible to escape one another’s presence for any extended period of time. While that is sometimes a challenge, I cannot emphasize enough how valuable the experience has been. I have made friendships that I am certain will last a lifetime. I have continually witnessed people gladly and selflessly meeting each other’s needs on a daily basis. I have heard people repent and ask forgiveness. I have celebrated the seasons of the Church calendar with the community indoors and outdoors, sometimes with weeping, sometimes with exuberant joy. I have seen God at work through the meaningful context of community.Of course, I have had to encounter difficult personalities that challenge me to see the other with the eyes of Jesus Christ, and I’m sure some who have encountered me have felt the same. I have encountered people with different views of liturgy and churchmanship than myself. I have made friends with staunch Anglo-Catholics as well as low church Protestants, and everything else in between. But we all love each other and treat each other with charity, and it is beautiful. I have no doubt that all of this is a learning experience that is shaping and strengthening each community member for our futures in ministry, for encountering the other, and for the dealing with difficult real-life issues in God’s Church. Probably the most valuable lesson I am learning through this communal experience, though, is this: It’s not all about me. Christian community is a blessing from God’s hand and it shapes us into who God calls us to be. Living together in community is a process through which we surrender our lives to God and allow him to shape his people through relationships for his own glory. Dietrich Bonhoeffer likens it to our sanctification:
“Like the Christian’s sanctification, Christian community is a gift of God to which we have no claim. Only God knows the real condition of either our community or our sanctification. What may appear weak and insignificant to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as Christians should not be constantly feeling the pulse of their spiritual life, so too the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be continually taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more assuredly and consistently will community increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.”
After a full year of living and interacting with the same people, I can affirm Bonhoeffer’s connection of community to our own sanctification, and I receive it with thankfulness. God uses other people to challenge us, transform us, test us, bless us, serve us, and make us holy. I am looking forward to being “sanctified” at Nashotah House for another two years. Floreat Nashotah!