By Bryan Cones
When I first set out for seminary at the age of 19, my thousand-mile journey took me to sleepy Nodaway County, Missouri, where a Benedictine monastery welcomed about 80 men a year to prepare for priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church. Given the requirements for priesthood in the Roman Catholic world, we were a pretty uniform lot—most of us were even “college age,” though there were a few “late vocations,” that is, guys in their 30s.
Fast forward 19 years and here I am again, having traded rural Missouri for uber-urban Boston, and specifically the ivory towers of Cambridge here at the Episcopal Divinity School. There is a monastery close by—the Society of St. John the Evangelist—but that’s where the similarity ends. All I have to do is look at my classmates to see the difference: a woman who moved with her partner and children from Texas; another with one child just out of diapers and another only six months old. A woman from northern Virginia who is tired of being, in her words, a “unicorn”—“the” Black Episcopalian in her church. There are commuters from the suburbs, a distance learner from Vermont; some are married or partnered, others single. One man comes to EDS from Burma—he’s Baptist, by the way—another is an Anglican from Nigeria. And that’s in a class of 18.
Change is a watchword in churches these days—as in “change or die”—and my class represents the kind of change I hoped for when I first became an Episcopalian and then came to seminary. It’s a class that embodies the experiment in change the Episcopal Church has been pursuing over the past couple of decades, a church with more open doors and fewer boundaries, a church ready to take risks and maybe fail. It’s also a class that reflects some of the sticking points the experiment has uncovered: the challenge of rethinking our approach to human sexuality, the legacy of racism in a church that is still 90 percent white, the relationship between the Episcopal Church and its sibling churches in the Anglican Communion.
Pretty exciting stuff, and it feels like an exciting time to be exploring possibilities for serving in the church. But I think more change is coming—in me, in my classmates, in the church—and I feel confident that the EDS community is one that’s going support that kind of growth. I’m encouraged by a favorite of mine in the communion of saints, John Henry Newman, whose one journey had a good number of twists and turns. “In a higher world it is otherwise,” he wrote, “but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” Not bad advice for a seminarian or the church as a whole.
Bryan Cones, a writer and editor from Chicago, is pursuing a certificate in Anglican studies at EDS.