One of the distinctive characteristic of being human is our desire to mark moments in life. Birthdays, weddings, funerals; we create rituals all over the place to manage change. Universities are particularly good at establishing rituals. Think of freshers' week, the new trend of photographing dissertation submissions, graduation balls, award ceremonies, and graduation itself. In Chester we have an annual leavers' service where leavers are invited to impart their wisdom and reflect on their experience at university. Often this is a tearful affair. This year, that opportunity appeared virtually, with the community dispersed across the country. I have found the creative power of this moment quite extraordinary.
Despite overwhelming difficulty, we may have found in lockdown that we have forged a stronger sense of community. More helping, smiling, and hellos. If I had hypothesized a global pandemic, I would have thought there would be fewer rainbows, less friendliness and clapping, more panic.
What amazes me is that we seem to have discovered a new ‘us’, a new spirit of togertherness. How surprising, that we have unprecedented levels of volunteering, supporting neighbours, new community groups, huge donations to charity. All this, despite being in the most difficult personal and financial situation many of us have ever faced. We may have learned to admit we are vulnerable and interdependent, and have become more aware of the stories of others. We're formed a new kind of ‘us’.
I wrote in April that God gave us the tools to deal with pandemics, but they have another name: the fruit of the Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5.22-23). These are the skills and disciplines that have tested us over the last twelve weeks. The personal blossoming we expected in this last term of the year has taken a different form this year.
And so our leavers, torn away from university mid-week in March, leaving stained coffee cups and baskets of washing behind, have been unable to return and unable to mark this end of year or end of university in the usual festivities and rituals. Instead, we sit at home and work out our own rituals, our own finishing well.
I have the example of two Charlottes from our community. One Charlotte has worked in the delivery department of a supermarket and in her spare time has put her social media skills to use, diving into daily prayers on Facebook and setting up an online discipleship course, while I was still saying, “What's Zoom?”. Our other Charlotte has used ingenuity to finish her dissertation without being able to complete vital lab work and is now knitting a new wardrobe whilst setting up a small business making beautiful face masks. This is not what either of them thought they would be doing right now. This is not the ending they planned. It's also okay if you are not saving the world, and you are just trying to get through the tedium or work of each day, wondering where life will take you next. In this season we are given the chance to grow a different fruit than we had expected. This is a unique time in our lives when we can all see the fruits of the Spirit grow in and through us.
Written by Revd Laura Rhodes. Laura is a chaplain at the University of Chester.
You can check out how SCM are helping students in this strange time of transition through our Marking Milestones events.