Remember Your Choice, Share Your Story

Chaplain Raymond Walker III

Name: Chaplain Raymond Walker III
Pronouns: He/Him/His
Ethnic Identity: Black
Denomination: The Episcopal Church (Endorsement)
Ministry Role: Chaplain
Ministry Context: Winship Cancer Institute, Emory University Hospital Midtown, Atlanta, GA
Seminary Attended: Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA

Siblings in Spirit,

It is with great pride and joy that I write to you - a fellow faith leader of color, a fellow seeker of knowledge and truth. So here you are, and you’ve found yourself in seminary, one more step along a path that I am sure has already been full and meaningful. So it should come as no surprise to hear that seminary, in and of itself, can also be a full and meaningful journey. It is my prayer that you would see and experience your seminary journey as a gift. Like with any gift we might have to give it some time, to figure out if we like it or not, or for all of its details and nuances, benefits and challenges to be revealed. The truth is that this gift can’t actually ever be returned, but it can be edited for content, changed, each semester, even each class, down to each hour or assignment, you will always have choice. That’s what no one at the school, not an advisor, not a peer, not even a professor can take away from you. As long as you are choosing to be there, you get to help shape what seminary is and will be for you. Will it be challenging? SURE! But a challenge you choose to show up for is a lot easier to manage than one you feel is being imposed on you, or to which you’ve fallen victim. And even without hearing your story, without knowing your history, I presume you are here because you have chosen to be. I honor that choice and congratulate you for it. Let it carry you as far as you need and encourage you to just keep going.

When I quit my job and went to seminary I commuted to campus daily, committed to spending time at seminary, not just in seminary. I was acting on some of the best advice I had received while I was applying. Paraphrasing what a very good friend of mine told me, she said if you let it, seminary can have a profound effect on your life and your faith, but you have to take advantage of the experience of seminary. This wasn’t just about classes and assignments, this was about conversations in the refectory, or on a bench out in the quad, or in chatting with a professor after chapel. It was about moments between the classes and events on the calendar, times and spaces and places where I showed up as my full self, sharing and listening to others in that community share themselves with me. To be honest there was a lot of joy in this experience for me, but also a bit of pain. This is how I saw and felt and came to understand some of the racial inequities and racist experiences my predecessors and peers had faced, along with how I came to realize my own experience of a number of microaggressions. Continuing to show up as my full, justice-inspired, queer, black, male self, I, as part of a multi-racial group of students, began to vocalize the issues experienced on campus and call for education, action, change. At times it was uncomfortable, especially since at any moment, in any room, I was of the minority in multiple ways. Truth-be-told I would do it all over again, maybe even louder and longer than before. Now, don’t get me wrong, while it sometimes comes to it, sparking a revolution toward racial reconciliation isn’t the job of every person of color. I believe, however, that everywhere we go, including seminary, is touched and changed by our being there. I only hope that your seminary can hear from you, hear your story, and embrace it and you as you are now a part of your seminary’s story. And while yes, seminary might profoundly shape and change you, you might very well shape and change it in that process.

So how does one thrive while on this journey? I believe a lot of that depends on you. What inspires you? How do you listen for what Spirit is saying to you or receive guidance from Wisdom? Do you walk? Do you pray? Is it music? Poetry? Cooking and sharing food with friends? What are those things you do that just make you stop and smile? THAT! Those things! Those moments, that silent meditation, that therapy appointment, those phone calls, whatever it is, whatever they are, these are the things that you cannot, you must not forget to do. I know you don’t have time, and your deadlines are important, and it will take you out of your groove, but none of that matters if you’re not okay, not present, not able to hear and feel yourself, hear and feel God within and around you. So yes, take care of you - mind, body, and spirit.

May you be blessed on this journey and all journeys after this. Know that someone has come before you, that has done this with much difficulty, in hopes to pave a smoother way for you. Be comforted in the knowledge that whatever hardships you encounter will do the same for folks after you. And may God be with you, in all the ways God shows up for us who love God and strive to show God’s love in the world.

Written in love and with great hope for you and all that you will do...

Chaplain Raymond Walker III


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