This address was offered during the 20th Convocation ceremony of the Saskatoon Theological Union, which was held on May 7th, 2021.
Saskatoon Theological Union
Hello friends, alum and graduates. Welcome to this digital convocation of the Saskatoon Theological Union. I pray that wherever you are in attending this event that you and yours are well and safe.
It is interesting, perhaps even challenging, to be standing before you to offer a convocation address a month before you, graduates, friends and supporters of St. Andrew’s will be watching. In these strange days that continue to embrace the college during this pandemic exile, change has been a consistent companion for those of us here in Saskatoon and the Saskatoon Theological Union.
In the past year, amazing and extremely challenging things have occurred. Last summer, that being 2020, the Union’s ecumenical members came to call the St. Andrew’s Building home. In that frenetic and exciting time, our libraries were integrated and now hold such potential.
The gift of our shared library offers the college and its STU partners opportunities to explore how living in such proximity might nurture further collaboration. This closeness is already fostering creativity and deeper relationships. A gift indeed.
While our three seminaries were coming to share a home together, St. Andrew’s found itself confronting unexpected currents against which to swim. Something less edifying also began to happen: Just as we were completing a time of missional discernment with the submission of a strategic plan to the Board of Regents, a significant financial crisis emerged.
From the fall of 2020 through to the winter of 2021, St. Andrew’s engaged deeply to manage this unexpected challenge. This period of discernment, helped by the strategic planning that was approved in November 2020, led us to hard choices. After much prayer, the board made decisions that accelerated the strategic plan toward an anticipated vibrant future, while making dramatically difficult and challenging decisions to get there.
In February of this year, it was decided that the existing academic programme would come to an end in June 2023, and that a new one will be developed, in collaboration with our STU partners, to ensure that St. Andrew’s is able be financially sustainable and academically nimble. Though this decision possesses hope, it has also meant that all faculty positions will come to an end in that same timeline.
To say that the college finds itself in a place of paradox is an understatement. This place, in which two competing things are true, possibility and hurt, promise and anger, is at the heart of this Eastertime.
When you, friends, supporters, and graduates of St. Andrew’s attend this digital convocation, it will be the fifth week of the Easter Season and one of the scriptural readings from May second will have been Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch.
This story stands in tension with what I will have reflected upon the day before this recording: the road to Emmaus, when doubt seized Cleopas and the unnamed disciple. The moment after the Easter event found these disciples leaving Jerusalem, likely feeling betrayed and uncertain. The unnamed disciple, whom I believe was intentionally not identified, is often how we can imagine ourselves in this Sacred Story. In that moment, Jesus appears and is also not recognised at first.
With Philip and the Eunuch, however, on another road and in a different place, we find someone demanding to know more about this resurrection story. The Ethiopian uses the word ‘guide’ when asking Philip to explain who this Jesus not only was but is as the Risen Christ.
St. Andrew’s Chapel
So, friends, four weeks from this recording I am not certain where you will be. I cannot predict what will be happening in this pandemic exile. Neither can I conclude definitively where the college will be, nor how members of the community, faculty and staff, alum and graduates, will be faring with the direction which was set this past February. What I do know, is that we will each find ourselves somewhere on a journey, whether on the road to Emmaus or to Gaza, the road of anger and grief, or the road of new discovery.
On either of these roads, I am confident that Jesus the Christ will be with us. Either explicitly in our seeking, as with the unnamed Ethiopian, or in our hurting and doubting, as with the two Emmaus disciples. In this faithful place, the college will be moving toward an anticipated vital future amid the reality that choices have been difficult and have caused dis-ease.
On either of these roads, I am confident that Jesus the Christ will be with us. For the friends of St. Andrew’s, you too will be on a road in this Eastertime, in which change is not only constant within your lives, ministries and our denomination, but may well finally be recognised as the new normal.
For our graduates and recipients of the Honorary Doctor of Divinity, your work at study, accomplishments in ministry and presence in a world in constant change: you bring a gift that I hope you are able to recognise and joyfully offer: that love remains in the constant upheaval you and those with whom you journey shall experience. In your brave choice to not only study the Gospel, but to actively bear forth the Good News of God’s Love, know you stand in a community of people at St. Andrew’s that reaches back 100-years.
As I offer you a blessing to be the Light Bearer you each are, I ask that you too hold the college with such care. We may not know what that future state may look like, for ourselves, for our churches, for this College. But in faith, we know that we are not alone. May we hold on to that, perhaps more so now than at other times, with a confidence that allows us to respond, as Philip did, to the invitation that will come to share the Good News at a moment’s notice with a hurting world.