Adapting to Covid, Adapting for the Church’s Future

Mark Richardson
The Very Rev. W. March Richardson, PhD, president and dean

This column originally ran in the Fall 2020 issue of CDSP’s Crossings magazine.

It is refreshing to be in touch with the Crossings community once again. There is so much to say in this column in light of conditions we all are facing. I know each of you has a story about the challenges you have faced over the last nine months. We must hold each other in prayer.

Let’s start with the obvious: the challenges of establishing school life under pandemic. Reopening this fall required new ways of functioning day to day at CDSP. Adding to the complexity were our deepening alertness to political polarization, racist social structures, mounting economic stress, and dramatic new symptoms of climate change.

These conditions impress upon us the importance of the vocation of spiritual leadership in a time of trial. I am grateful for how this community has accepted the challenge, adapted to circumstances beyond our control, and found avenues for mutual support.

Against this challenging backdrop, we have enjoyed a major blessing. For the first time, ordination-track seminarians studying with the support of a bishop entered or returned to CDSP with full tuition scholarships, no-cost housing, and supplements to their cost of food. The Board of Trustees, under the new Trinity-CDSP partnership, wants to support a radical reduction of the debt students face when they graduate. This long-awaited dream has finally come true, and I have heard stories of relief and deep gratitude from those  who benefit. Thanks be to God. 

In this column I will name the practical steps we have taken  to make this school year happen, then close with a word  about envisioning CDSP’s future.  

New students who had been admitted before and during  the onset of the pandemic, as well as continuing residential  students, held firm in their desire to start the school year  in Berkeley this fall. They arrived earlier than usual to meet  health and safety protocols, including mandatory testing and  quarantining to assure we started with a healthy community.  We have plans in place in the case of illness.  

These students for the most part are living on campus and  forming cohort groups as usual. However, we are holding  both classes and corporate worship in online-only formats  and will continue in this mode during January Intersession  and at least the start of Spring Semester. We keep our eyes  on the local health conditions, ready for more flexibility  when conditions permit.  

The major hitch in this plan was the “congregate living”  conditions (i.e., shared bathrooms) in our Parsons Hall  dormitory. Unable to open Parsons or Gibbs this fall, we  assigned students to apartments (Nichols) and single rooms  in our retreat center (Easton). We are filled to capacity.  

Some faculty are teaching from their classrooms to make  use of new equipment introduced this summer to support  both online and in-person learning. In recent years, we have  become a leader among Episcopal seminaries in the art of  online pedagogy. We are now drawing on our strengths in  this area still further. 

As we continue setting priorities for CDSP’s growth and  development, we remain committed to building a culture of  adaptation. We trust God to transform us, as individuals and  as a Church.  

Similarly, we remain committed to a program centered on  mission, evangelism, and discipleship, preparing leaders who  will support communities in spiritual growth and share Good  News in their neighborhoods and other community contexts.  

We are pursuing the expansion of degree programs to  prepare both lay and ordained leaders for ministries within  and beyond congregational life. We are deepening our  expertise in teaching practical skills for ministry: executive  leadership, change management, administration and finance,  along with the classical theological disciplines at the core  of who we are.  

We will also continue to develop online pedagogies and  programs to match ever-changing educational technologies  and to meet the exciting and growing need for low-residential and bi-vocational education.  

I began by mentioning the political climate of our day. If  anything should break up the “ivory tower” model of the  academy, it is our fraying civic life and injustice on the rise.  We must engage, and do so prayerfully, intelligently, and in  coalition and solidarity with the people our systems ignore  or abuse. 

I believe the current political environment provides an  extraordinary context for the application of spiritual and  moral discourse—walking the talk, with Jesus as our  exemplar. The time is ripe for testing our own fiber, and  for awakening and strengthening the community of  God’s faithful.