This past October I sat at my desk as I zoomed in on the CTS’ Board of Trustees meeting as your student representative. I shared a broad description to the best of my ability of how CTS students were doing. One of the things I shared was how much the pandemic was impacting the seminary experience. I noted for some of us this time of online learning and social distancing may have given gifts of time, family, or something else we didn’t know we needed; at the same time, I knew for many of us classes have been harder to engage in, readings have felt distant, everyday emails have become overwhelming to respond to, checking in with others has felt more isolating, and honestly, checking in with ourselves has felt daunting. I was able to share this with the Board Committee that discusses Student Matters (who care very deeply about each and every one of us and our education and wellbeing). In being curious about what students need, one member asked, “Kristy, do you think it would be helpful to engage alumni with more learning opportunities and further courses to try to cover some of the content that has been missed?”
I reflected on that question, and in my end-of-the-semester exhaustion answered honestly: “Students know how to seek out resources, we know what authors to find and what books to read.” I took a breath and said, “It is the community we have lost. We’ve missed out on our relationships, our friendships; we’ve lost our opportunities for connection”.
We’ve missed out on each other.
It’s not for lack of trying. I’m sure we’ve all joined a zoom call or a socially distanced gathering that wasn’t required of us. But it feels different, doesn’t it? The zoom exhaustion, muted social interactions, and the constant decision making has worn us down for a long time now. No one is blaming anyone for missing a zoom event.
I don’t know about you, but I have hope that things are shifting. That zoom can return to being a useful meeting tool, not our default mode of being. I have hope that CTS will look different than it has this year.
In many ways our community is going to ease back together, distance learning students will meet for intensives, our Latino/a Program cohort will gather for meals before classes, and residential students will sit together in classrooms and talk in the student’s center (once the renovations are finished of course). But I wonder if there is more we can do than simply easing back into what was.
I wonder if it can be better.
I wonder if a little intentionality can go a long way when we think about the community we want.
CTS is an amazing group of people in community; some near, some far. We are a relational, spiritual community of God’s people. How can we live into that truth at every level? How can we live into that in the halls and in our classrooms (physical or virtual)? How can we live into that in our interactions with our student government? How can we live into that at an institutional level? And how can this space be our foundation, our launching point, to bring intentional community out into the rest of the world?
I don’t write all of this because I am the best community builder; I write this because I know I’m not. I know that community feels far away when it is not personal or invested. I know that community, like other kinds of structures, requires buy in and grassroots growth. I know that the bare minimum or the status quo isn’t our goal. Our goal as a CTS community is to thrive. So, as we look toward what is to come, what is important to you? How do you think we can thrive in community together?
Kristy Bootsma is a 3rd year residential MDiv student originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She lives in Grand Rapids with her husband Jonathan Swiftney.