A chaplain’s graduation letter
By Abby King-Kaiser
Dear Class of 2017:
Thank you for being you, for doing your thing. We have accomplished more together, with God, that I ever imagined.Thank you for letting me witness as you grew.
Memory is a funny thing. I don’t always remember what is important. The details that mattered to me, that stuck in my brain, often weren’t the ones that really mattered to you. As you shared your stories, I learned and understood so much more of what went on.
I remember our first service and my impressions of it. It felt like a disaster in some ways. We worshipped out on the yard, it was too windy and I thought candles were a good idea. They weren’t. Papers blew around. I almost broke the communion ware and four VERY brave students led music. We had too many chairs, and so the souls who showed up felt, to me, lost in the open green space of the yard. I really didn’t think anyone who came to that service would ever come back.
Telling stories about those moments in worship recently and one of you said “It was bad!” with a laugh. You backed tracked and I followed up asking why you came back. With all honesty and without self-consciousness, you said “Because God.”
Indeed. Because God. It was easy to jump on the bandwagon of “let’s make a band” of all students, led by students, and four years later, what a band you’ve made. Because God.
Because God, the right song brought one of you to tears at the first worship. That song would become a staple that you would lead in front of the group.
I didn’t know how much I was asking when I asked many of you to sing or read or preach or lead. Ignorance is bliss right? If I had known, maybe I wouldn’t have asked. But I did. Because God.
Because God, you have taught me the importance of welcome, of unconditional love, of risk, of vulnerability if I am to follow Jesus in this work.
This will sound wacky, but it is easy for a fluffy, artsy mama in her thirties to be intimidated by the cool, intelligent, aloof and engaged college students. It has been easy for me to tell myself the wrong stories, that if you aren’t engaged with the work we do, you have good reasons. That you have better things to do.
You have shown me, again and again, with your willingness to step out of your comfort zone, show up in your first year, your second year, your junior year, your final year… even your final month, that it is never too late, that welcome and invitation matters, that everyone has so much more going on in their lives and hearts than I could imagine and that God leaves no one out.
Even if I feel uncomfortable, intimidated or sometimes rejected, it is always worth the smile, the handshake, the welcome, the tripping over introductions again because the names get harder and harder. Because God is working in it all.
Thank you for teaching me what really matters: To do dishes, to arrange bulletins, to hug each other in tears, to pray, to text to check in, to open my home, to open my heart, to learn, to occasionally argue, to ask endless questions. It matters that we do these things together in the pursuit of a living faith with a living God.
And thank you for again and again loving me enough to show me how to have a sense of humor about myself. Because it is not about me. Because God. This is perhaps, the greatest gift you have given me at this stage in my life.
And so as a finale, though caught on camera by a member of the Class of 2018, and created by oh so many of you, for graduation, I gift you with memory of one of the many memes about me. In hopes that as you go forth, you remember to laugh, to find joy, the not take yourself too seriously (this will be a BIG temptation in the months and years to come) in your pursuit of who you are called to be. Laugh at yourself and laugh with others. Because God.
Abby King-Kaiser is the assistant director for Ecumenical and Multifaith Ministry at the Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice at Xavier University. She returned to her hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, for this call after a long sojourn in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a coffee snob, occasional painter, and obsessive, though amateur, Instagrammer (@revabbykk).