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Learning Alone: Four Reflections

Christopher Speed

Love Binding Us Together

By Christopher Speed

I thought the biggest questions of senior year would be what college I would attend, who I’d ask to prom, and whether I would ever complete the service hours I had procrastinated on. Spending these final months in my bedroom was unexpected, to say the least.

The usual end-of-year suspects — AP tests, finals, graduation — are either canceled or their whereabouts are unknown. Two weeks ago, my mother left to care for her elderly parents, and I haven’t seen my friends face-to-face in well over a month. Sadly, texting and Zoom calling can’t replace the daily interactions I took for granted. The disruptions to my routine and the lack of frisbeeing, band practice, and meet-ups have been particularly challenging. Separated from my extended family by hundreds of miles and from my friends by a stay-at-home order, there are a lot of things to dislike.

However, I have been blessed with unexpected positives. I expected to rush through the end of my senior year trying to cram in as much quality time with my family as I could before I left for college; now, I have the entire day to spend with them. It’s a special gift that I can spend hours each day with my little brother, who I know will miss me deeply next year. Every day, I see comments on YouTube tutorials from fellow students discussing how the coronavirus has left them with new opportunities, and I agree with this sentiment. Besides spending my time with my family, I’ve found new opportunities to practice guitar, work on personal projects, and contemplate the gains alongside the losses of this uncertain era.

My immediate family has not been touched directly by the indiscriminate hand of the COVID-19 coronavirus, but we fear for our older, more vulnerable relatives. Looking at the rising infection and death counts, it is easy to see how one might lash out, how one might see all this suffering and fear and begin to doubt. But remembering that God allows these things to occur only that they might bring forth good has helped me to weather most of these inner doubts and worries.

Despite being packed in like sardines with them, my siblings and parents have become particularly important sources of heart and hope during these trying times. Contemplating the love we feel for one another and the experiences we share has allowed me to reflect upon the gifts and moments of joy whose value I only now begin to fully understand and appreciate.

The next few months hold many uncertainties, whether and where I’ll go off to college not the least among them. But I do know that the love that has bound us together so strongly during these harrowing times will endure well beyond the close of my senior year.

Christopher Speed is a senior at St. John XXIII College Preparatory School in Katy, Texas. He plans to study classics or philosophy in college.

Casey Bogues

I am Not Alone

By Casey Bogues

Going to school over nine hours away and being a student athlete, I am not able to come home very often.  While it has been nice to see my immediate family, I wish it were under different circumstances.  Coming home and not being able to do much has been difficult.  Usually I am able to visit my extended family and friends, but because of this pandemic it is not advisable.

For the greater good of our community I recognize the importance of the orders that have been put in place and do not go out.  For someone who is used to being busy this has been an adjustment.

As a spring athlete, it was difficult having my season cancelled and my accustomed routine abruptly altered.  I went from having every hour of my day planned out — down to the minutes I had to eat — to having no real schedule for my day, and nowhere to go or anything to do.  For one of my courses I need to join Zoom meetings at the specified class time, but my other classes have just asked me to submit work online.  I realized that it would be very easy to procrastinate and not complete my work to a high standard.  But after some trial and error, I have found it helpful to try and keep as similar a routine to the one I had at school.  This includes getting up at my normal time and completing my workout for the day.  I then try to complete any coursework in the time I would have had class if I were still on campus.

When people talk about the University of Dayton in Ohio, one of the first things that comes to mind is the community.  Not being there, and not having the community to challenge me academically and spiritually, has shown me there is way more to college than just the coursework.  Even when we are all so far apart, Dayton has made impressive efforts to maintain this community.  From opportunities to connect with our dorm floormates to online masses and Holy Week activities to interactive posts on social media, Dayton is providing numerous opportunities to stay connected as a community.  While this has been a change, knowing that I am still part of a community has made this transition to online learning easier.

In these times, I have been able to find comfort in John 16:32, “Behold the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone.  Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.”  While I have not been able to see people because of social distancing, I am never truly alone, for the Lord is always with me.

Casey Bogues is a freshman at the University of Dayton, where she is majoring in middle childhood education and is on the women’s track and field team. She is a member of Trinity Church, Red Bank, New Jersey.


Andrew Lazo

By Andrew Lazo

About a year ago, I was accepted into the M.Div. program at Virginia Theological Seminary. As if my discernment process hadn’t proven (gloriously) unsettling enough, I faced the daunting task of uprooting a life, packing, transporting, unpacking, and finding a new way in a new place. Another first-year student described it as feeling “unmoored,” and we all latched onto that apt description of this sea-change.

Campus construction in advance of VTS’s bicentennial added to the unsettling, forcing us to be flexible about classroom locations and dining arrangements. But sensing a strong call to God’s purposes, each of us began navigating our courses, however uncertain. “Everything is formative,” someone observed early on; we all nodded.

When the pandemic descended on our campus with quarantines and cautions, some of us huddled into our apartments while most of the dorm dwellers retreated to homes elsewhere. We mourned as we watched much of our new normal evaporate: daily worship, meals in the Refectory, coffee, classes together, gatherings of almost any sort.

But along with everyone else we found new, creative, often virtual ways to carry on. The most technically challenged soon Zoomed along with the rest. We even began to find delightful comfort in seeing everyone’s faces all at once, still together in our classroom tasks despite new configurations. And we quickly found our voices (along with our unmute buttons), discovering new ways of listening to each other.

Our community here responds much as one might hope: little and great acts of generosity quietly abound; needs are made known and as quickly met. We share small-group, six-foot fellowship however we carefully can: around firepits, taking walks, dropping off little treats — all helping to reduce our inevitable distance.

Still, low-grade grief and a kind of muted anxiety pervades as we await Lord knows what. That small, newfound stability we first-year students had cobbled together has mostly slipped away, leaving no metaphors to make sense of things, no clichés to fall back on.

Something I heard last semester seems to help. A priest remarked, “we’re all interim ministers.” Indeed, even as we train to serve a beautiful and broken world, this season reminds that we have no home here, that our bodies are tents. Even our Lord only dwelt here temporarily, leaving to prepare a permanent place in our Father’s house in that city illumined by light of Christ, thanks be to God.

In a letter to Sister Penelope Lawson, C. S. Lewis remarked, “I have been feeling . . . that cheerful insecurity is what Our Lord asks of us.” Indeed.  As I’ve spent this first seminary year studying the deep things of God, I can’t help but wonder what good fruit may spring from this profound upheaval.

“Cheerful insecurity” might offer just the attitude we most need as we finish this strange season preparing for a life of ministry. It helps me to recall not only that such unmooring is our birthright in this world, but also that our Lord often found himself in boats on uncertain waters, and that even there he brought peace, resting in a power that can calm any sea.

Andrew Lazo is a postulant for holy orders from the Diocese of Texas and a first-year student at Virginia Theological Seminary, as well as scholar and speaker on the life and work of C. S. Lewis.

Brandt Montgomery

Let Brotherly Love Continue

By Brandt Montgomery

Established in 1842, Saint James has the distinction of being the Episcopal Church’s “Anglo-Catholic high school.” With an intentionally small and diverse student body, Saint James is committed to raising up virtuous young men and women who can be “leaders for good in the world.” As a boarding school, Saint James aims to develop the whole person, challenging students to grow academically, athletically, and spiritually within a residential community.

The current pandemic is keeping our unique community from being together. My colleagues and I have shifted from in-person instruction to virtual learning. Daily traditions such as the dean of students’ lunchtime joke of the day and the senior prefect’s birthday announcements are now online. There are questions about how long we will be closed, if friends will be able to see each other again in person, and, particularly for our “sixth formers” (senior class), whether commencement will take place this spring. “My soul … is sorely troubled,” the psalmist cries. “O LORD — how long?” (Ps. 6:3)

Saint James is a school that flourishes on relationships; the strong philia love noticed by visitors is a hallmark of who we are as a community. That love amongst us drives my colleagues and me to continue to educate to the best of our ability virtually, since we now cannot in person. Our love for this community brings the headmaster and me together to the school chapel every weekday evening to pray Evening Prayer, and to celebrate the Eucharist on Sunday mornings, praying for of all our colleagues and students. We are living into what the author of Hebrews encourages for all people: “Let brotherly love continue” (Heb. 13:1).

“Continue” — that is the operative word. Reflecting on this has made me realize two things about God. First, the collective mission of Episcopal schools — to glorify “the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17) — and the philia love of each school community continues because God lives and his agape love continues. Because God lives and loves all unconditionally, Episcopal school educators are still called, if in different circumstances, to teach and sow within their students seeds of God’s righteousness. God is still calling chaplains, faculty, administrators, and support staff to do the important work of school ministry. “The lamp of God [has] not … gone out” (1 Sam. 3:1-10).

The Rev. Brandt Montgomery is chaplain and religion master of Saint James School, a coeducational boarding school for grades 8 to 12 in Hagerstown, Maryland.


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