When I visited PSR, I went for a full day. I got there early (mostly because I wasn’t sure at first where to park), and I happened to see the Dean of Admissions first. She signed my parking permit, and then, because the woman who was going to give me the tour hadn’t come in yet, said I could go over to the dining hall to wait.
I crossed the campus grounds to the dining hall, which was small, but reminded me of the dining hall of the Girl Scout camp I used to go to. It also had a fantastic view of Berkeley from the porch on the other side of the building. I grabbed some iced tea and sat down to look at the view book and papers the Dean had given me. Some other students were trickling in for breakfast by this time (most having that familiar college sleepy-eyed-OMG-it’s-morning-again look). There was a group of students at the table next to mine. One of the students looked over at me, and said “Hey! Are you a prospective student?”
“Want to come sit over with us?”
I brought all my stuff over and quipped about how my prospective student materials gave me away. They laughed, and asked me about what I was planning to study. I told them about wanting to get an M.Div. so that I can do chaplaincy. That launched into a discussion about how many students are doing M.Div, and how many of those were doing chaplaincy. It seemed that they all really liked PSR, and were happy learning there. What was cool was that when I told them I was pagan, they were really fascinated by it in the “Oh, cool!” kind of way. I also told one of the students about my great-aunt’s passing (she asked how I came to my calling). She thought it was an special experience too, and she said she could see how it had affected me.
After talking with the students for awhile, it was time for me to go back to the Dean’s office for my tour. The campus is small, and it reminded me a lot of the school I went to for undergrad, which was also a mix of late 1800′s and modern architecture. The whole school consists of a chapel (which has a lovely stained glass wall in it), a dining hall, two dorms, a classroom building, and the administration/office building (which also houses a gallery). It’s on the top of what’s called Holy Hill in Berkeley, and is surrounded by all the other seminaries that make up the Graduate Theological Union. It’s a beautiful area, with lovely views of Berkeley.
Then I had my interview with the Dean. She was really great, and answered all the questions that I had, which were mostly about going back to school after being out of school for a long time, financial aid, and what’s required for the application. She asked me about why I wanted to go to seminary, and what my professional goals were. We also talked a lot about interfaith work. At the end of the interview, she told me that she thought I’d be a good fit for PSR.
We ended a little early, so I was able to sit outside the Admissions Office for a bit before going to the chapel service. I was checking my email and tweeting when another student came and sat down on the adjacent bench. He asked if I was a prospective student, and when I said I was, we got into a discussion about the M.Div degree. He was in his last year, and was planning to go for ordination in his church. He was from Korea (if I remember right), and he said it was harder there for him to get his degree, so he came to the US. He thought it was great that I wanted to do chaplaincy. I asked him some questions about how he liked PSR, and he said he really liked it. We chatted a bit more, and then he said he had to get to his next class. As he was getting up, he said “I think you should go to school here!” He waved goodbye, and I went back to the Dean’s office to go to the chapel service.
The chapel service was amazing. It was a service for Holy Week, and in the first half of the service, after some lovely music and readings, we were invited to post prayers and lamentations on an arch that was supposed to represent the entrance to the Tomb. We could light candles on an altar in front of the arch as well. After we all posted our prayers, the pastor got up to give his sermon.
He prefaced the sermon by acknowledging that not everyone in the room believes in Jesus, but saying that he was going to talk about the Resurrection because he was a Christian pastor, and that it was appropriate for the service. I thought that was really cool. Then he started the sermon with “Let us pray. Oh, Great Goddess, you who are in everything…” I remember thinking, “Ok, this is going to be interesting…”
It wasn’t just interesting, it was really powerful. Basically, his sermon was about celebrating the joy of resurrection/life, instead of focusing on the murder of Jesus. He used stories from his days of ministering to AIDS patients in the early ’90′s. He told the story of a man who had bought a suit for his own wake because he thought he was going to die of AIDS. He is still alive and wears the suit to special occasions (including his wedding) to remind himself of the beauty of life. He told another story of a man from his church who loved to sing the chorus of “Oh Happy Day” so joyfully, that, to the pastor, he was resurrecting joy every time he sang it. At one point, he was saying that when we celebrate the joy of life, we need to remember that *everyone* deserves love, compassion, and joy, and that we, as religious professionals, need to make sure that we give that to everyone.
I lost it. I cried. The way he was saying it just struck home, and to hear both the heartache and joy in his voice was amazing. And, while he was talking, the Dagda came to me and said, “What? Did you think you were the only one who felt this way? He’s you. You are him.” Then I could see myself doing ritual in that chapel. When he finished the sermon, I asked the woman who came with me to chapel if it was the students who organized the chapel services, and she said it was.
After the sermon we were invited to get anointed by the campus chaplains and the pastor. I went up to the pastor, and I don’t remember all of what he said to me, but I remember that he said something about bringing love, compassion, and joy to those I served.
Yeah, I was a little speechless after the service. I was trying to talk to some students afterwards, but words were hard to come by.
I went to lunch with the woman that I emailed originally to set up the visit to PSR. She was really great, and we had a really good conversation about the similarities of religions. She was also going to be in the class I was going to which was called “Christian Worship”. The class itself was going to be on the Eucharist. I told her that I thought it was going to be interesting because we have communion in our circles, which isn’t that much different. After we ate, she had to go back to her room for something, and so I had some time before class to relax. I found a quiet corner of the administration building until it was time for class.
The class was, indeed, really interesting. It was team taught by three professors. The lead professor had one of the students lead a Eucharist offering (it was his first time, too), then gave a lecture on the Eucharist from a psychological and global/social justice view. It was interesting because I had never thought about offerings in the context of how it relates to social justice issues. It also made me think of the meaning behind “cakes and wine”, and what meaning I put behind them when I bless them. Then we took a break, and after the break, they broke into small groups to discuss more of the theological aspects of the Eucharist. It was a rule that I couldn’t be a part of the discussion unless the professor gave me permission, which she didn’t, but I really wished I could have discussed the fact that they were doing an evocation into the bread and wine.
After the small group sessions, we came back and the second professor, who’s also the choir director, played some hymns that were for the Eucharist part of services. One of them was interesting because it was from El Salvador, and the tune itself was upbeat and catchy, but it turned out that the words were also a protest song about fighting together for common cause.
The last professor used stories from her own life to illustrate that the Eucharist could be triggering for some people (eg: wine can trigger people who are or live with alcoholics, the bread can be triggering/an issue for people with eating disorders or allergies, etc). What I found interesting is how many people were surprised to think about that. (It’s something we normally think about in our circles, and we make accommodations as part of our priesting.) I suppose for a large congregation, and after doing it many times, you would forget about that. She was reminding them that the whole congregation was made up of individual people with their own issues.
It was a really fascinating class. I thanked the professor afterwards, and then went home.
I was really impressed with PSR, especially with all the students that I met. It was cool that all the students that I talked to, when I told them I was a witch, they responded with a “Wow! That’s really cool!” in the curiosity sense. It was a great day, and I felt like I would fit in really well there.