By Tanya Lopez
The pandemic brought unprecedented challenges and difficulties for everyone. As a full-time student, finishing the M.Div. during this time was incredibly difficult. The biggest hardship was losing my sense of community with my fellow classmates and adjusting to online learning, which often felt like independent study. I missed the collaborative spirit of learning from my peers and getting to interact with professors in real time. As a mother, I was also having to navigate helping my children adjust to losing their community and feeling lost and disengaged with their own individual experiences with online learning. My energy was low, I was drained, and felt my spiritual and emotional health decline rapidly due to the isolation.
I found support through group messages and scheduled zoom calls with close friends and colleagues. We shed tears, we prayed for one another, shared frustrations, and created a safe space to be vulnerable and open about the many ways this pandemic was impacting every aspect of our lives. Looking back now, I am grateful we found ways to connect, even if not that often, because it reminded me that I was not alone even when I felt like I was.
I am now serving as the Senior Pastor of Downey Memorial Christian Church in Downey, CA. As a young pastor engaged in full time congregational ministry, I am beyond grateful to DSF for the ways in which it helped prepare me to answer this call. Prior to the world shutting down, our @the Table gatherings and student dinners were prime examples of what it meant to be community. Every student brought with them their individual voice and experience in ministry; each unique and different. Everyone had different hopes and goals for what they would do after seminary, but everyone was welcome, accepted, and encouraged as they navigated their individual faith journeys and calls to ministry.
Seminary is not for the faint of heart. In times of self-doubt, when feeling mentally and physically exhausted or discouraged, DSF staff, mentors, and fellow students nurtured me, supported me, and encouraged me to keep going. They sustained me throughout my entire seminary journey. I would not be the leader I am today without my DSF community.
My time as a DSF student taught me that ministry is not meant to be done alone. I now strive to lead from a place that embodies the power of connection and community. It is amazing how much we can do together.