It was the last class of the day on the first day of classes in the first week of the first semester. My first, their first. Their faces showed a mixture of fatigue and excitement. Smiles met droopy eyes. I nervously picked at my fingers and made small talk while I waited for break to end and group time to begin. The room was warm, no need to break the ice.
I studied their faces while they talked, each one sharing the story of their journey to seminary. There is the mother of three grown children, widowed now. Greying hair is pulled loosely behind her head. Her bangs fall freely over her wire frame glasses. She leans forward when she talks. She's been in class since 8:30 this morning, but her excitement adds a freshness to her voice. She lets the eagerness overtake her fear. She is following her husband's legacy. A stranger in her city stopped her the other day, said, "I hear you're going to seminary." She's known by the powerful ministry of a justice-loving husband who died in August. She feels the weight of his legacy, yet she's buoyed by his love.
Another works a full-time job. He's the principal of an alternative school in town. His days are filled with the administrativa of education and kids whose lives are seldom ever easy. He talks about his name, mysteriously hidden in the initials he gave on his application which now stand out on his id badge. He prefers it that way. He took a new name after a spiritual experience years ago. The name is personal. He shares it only with those who will walk with him, truly walk with him in relationship. He makes it clear to us what it means for him to tell us his name, and then he shares it. I feel the responsibility of knowing it in my gut.
There are others, their stories etched into their faces. We will spend a semester together. I wonder where we will go.