In Search of Holy Spaces

Crux Sola by Jim LePage, Romans1310.com used with permission
Artwork by Jim LePage
When I first visited Columbia Theological Seminary (CTS) in the fall of 2016, I witnessed a space that was full of life, love, and above all else, God. I cried during the visit, moved by an encounter with the communal spirit of pastors to be among pastors that are. This occasion was so moving, along with my visits to Austin Presbyterian and San Francisco Theological Seminaries, that I believed I was walking on Holy ground. I was wrong.

This past year, my first attending CTS, was a struggle. I knew that it was going to be a challenge, that I was going to be stretched, theologically and socially. I knew that I would learn and experience lessons I was not expecting. However, I was surprised in the ways I would be challenged. Aspects of life in seminary that I thought would be a given: Spirituality, Mutuality, and the Common Table.

I never quite understood why daily chapel was not mandatory, or that we wouldn’t automatically pray together before all meals, or that we wouldn’t have spiritual formation built into the curriculum. My expectations of spiritual guidance were not met, were they too high? I tried to accept this place as nothing more than an educational institution that exists and functions just like any other, but my heart cried out “No.”

Our first-semester course "Imagination and Resilience," paired with our weekly Forum (seminar) topics, brought race relations to the forefront. It is a needed conversation at a seminary, and denomination, with a questionable history in how it has dealt with people of color in the past. However, the burden of education fell on the seminarians, faculty, and staff of color to answer all the questions and provide all the examples. I don't think I have ever had to explain my culture and life experiences so much in my thirty-three years than I have in the last twelve months. It was exhausting.

Then there are the international students, my saving grace. People who don't need me to explain myself just like they don't have to clarify themselves. New friends from the Czech Republic, Ghana, Hungary, India, Korea, Liberia, and Vietnam to name a few. People who were at the same table as me, irrespective of our differences in language or culture though many prefer spicy foods I can not handle. People who prayed out loud, unafraid to be moved by the Holy in spaces where silent or written whispers are the norm. People who also bore the burden of education. It was being part of this family, while still straddling the domestic world (I am a dual citizen after all), that it dawned on me: What are these sisters and brothers being offered? This coming January, second-year MDiv seminarians are required to take an immersive experience in another context, to learn about life and faith through other's eyes. I value the opportunity to travel and am thrilled to be going to Korea, but I worry. I worry that we're going into these experiences with the goal of learning from other cultures in their own contexts when we can't even learn to be among different cultures in our own context.

This is not to say that I only made friends with international seminarians. I have become close to many of the domestic students at CTS. Several frustrate me and give me headaches, but they know it; my sass knows no bounds. I love them, and I know deep down that they love me. We have learned to sit at the same table periodically, but it is still their table.

By Spring I accepted that I would not continuously feel the presence of the communal spirit, as I did during Seminary Weekend. The anxieties of the daily rhythm didn't allow me to see the grace of God in this place. I could only feel exhaustion at playing a role that seemed not to benefit my own education. At a session held at the Forum for Theological Exploration, I was asked what I was learning in seminary, and my answer was simple: “learning how to talk to White people in ministry.” I thought I was supposed to be learning how to build ministry, not how to survive in it.

“Where are you, God?" I wondered. "Why can't I feel you in this place that you have sent me?"

My prayers would be answered at the International Worship Service, organized by members of the weekly International Bible Study that I had been attending all year. There were maybe 3-4 White people in attendance. At first, this saddened me, all talk and no presence. But then the music started, and the languages were sung and prayed, and the Kingdom of God was reflected. I forgot about the anxieties, about the challenges, and I simply worshipped. I worshipped.

The academic year ended, I said goodbye to so many lovely people, and I got on a plane back to San Francisco. I spent the summer in an intensive Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program with the San Francisco Night Ministry. I walked the streets of SF after hours, speaking with housed and unhoused folks who wanted someone to talk to. We were also trained to provide phone counseling on an overnight crisis hotline as well as participating in a community support group/bible study and twice-weekly streetside worship services.

It was while walking these streets, many of which I had walked during my years in SF, that I saw something different. These streets, lined with human feces and needles, where our parishioners sat and slept, where many conversations of life and love were had, were Holy. For the sake of confidentiality and respecting the stories of those I encountered I will not share specifics but know this: miracles were witnessed, faith was tested and proclaimed, and grace was required for all parties involved, myself included. In the eleven weeks of the program, I experienced so much in-your-face spirituality that I existed in a perpetual emotional daze. I supposed God was like, “you asked for intense spirituality, here you go.” God is funny like that.

A central theme of my core religious beliefs that became apparent quickly through this unit of CPE is that of public communion. Breaking bread with our community of parishioners twice weekly offered me many opportunities to both administer and receive the elements. This act allowed me to share in this meal with folks while the hustle of city life continued around us.

By participating in our community Bible study called “The Gathering,” I was challenged to rethink how I understood the breaking of bread. Our weekly meals, while sharing stories, gave me the same satisfaction as communion. In the ritual we participate in during worship, we remember that Christ died for us, in the routine we join in with a fork, we remember that Christ is with us. What is vital to these instances is a community. I believe that God is illuminating the importance of sharing each other’s stories with a mouth full of bread.

Thank you San Francisco Night Ministry for allowing me the opportunity to hear and be a part of the stories of the city’s citizens, those in the streets, those in the bars, those around the room, and those around the table.

Christópher Abreu Rosario Delivers First Public Sermon, San Francisco Night Ministry
Delivering my first public (and streetside) sermon, held at San Francisco Night Ministry's Sunday Open Cathedral Service. Cropped to omit Parishioners.
Continuing on the Ordination Journey, I met with the session (church board) of Mission Bay Community Church and the Committee on Preparation for Ministry (CPM) of the Presbytery of San Francisco. I was unofficially officially moved into the Candidate stage of the process (step 2 of 3). The move will be (hopefully) made official by examination in the June 2019 Presbytery Meeting, which is the next time I will be available to return to SF. The final stage of pre-ordination, Certified Ready for Call, will take place at least a year from now.

Returning to CTS was a welcomed move. I was ready to sleep in my bed again and to have the luxury of a microwave and kettle (was sans all summer). I hugged so many people I forgot to greet them with my standard finger snap and peace signs. I hit the ground running, as I tend to do, and began work for the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) council that I was voted into last spring, as well as preparing for the Hispanic and Latinx Association (HALA) that I am leading this year. Regarding commitments, these two spaces are the only I will inhabit outside of my coursework. Perhaps a reason why I felt a lack of spirituality last year is that my calendar was so full, I left no time for God to inhabit.

I was a fool even to think that CTS was a Holy place because to do so would separate it from every other. The reality is that all parcels of earth, sky, and water are Holy, the feces lined streets of San Francisco along with the manicured lawns of Columbia Theological Seminary. Anywhere where life inhabits, God is there, as long as we’re willing to see and hear. Being away reminded me that I love these fools, recognizing that the greatest fool is me.

Bring on, YEAR TWO.

Amén.
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In Search of Holy Spaces In Search of Holy Spaces Reviewed by Christópher Abreu Rosario on 01:47 Rating: 5

6 comments:

  1. Beautiful recap on your journey. I can really hear you thru your writing. I can't wait to hear one of your sermons/homilies in real life. :) Sounds like you've been busy making lemonade. Prayers and good successful vibes coming your way for your 2nd year!!!! go get'em!

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    1. Thank you Tauresa, I really appreciate your kind and motivating words. You have been a wonderful holder of my joy through this journey and I am grateful for you.

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  2. Christopher, I’m mad at myself for being the problem. For relying unfairly on you and other friends to explain racism to me. Heck, to tell me I am the problem. I am aware, more than ever, of my own need for Jesus and his gift of undeserved grace. Praying more holy moments of worship for you and rest, I pray for rest, and for being known, both by fallible humans and by God. I sure love you and I’m grateful you keep saying yes to God’s call.

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    1. Rev. Dawn, you have been so instrumental in my process... for goodness sake I am at CTS thanks to you! Rest easy knowing that I find hope in all the ways you participate in the ministry fabric of God, and am inspired to do new and creative things thanks to your leadership. Keep growing and learning, as will I, and one day we won't have to thank each other for just being ourselves.

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  3. Hey Chris very moving,I love your dedication.This is why I love you!😘

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  4. Hey Christópher, it was interesting reading about your experiences - it sounds like quite a journey. All the best for year two and hope to see you soon.

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