This past week I finished my first year of seminary at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California. This is a massive milestone for me, and I have reflected a lot in the past week on how I – a mountain boy from Fairview, North Carolina – ended up in the Bay Area studying to be an Episcopal priest. How did I get here?

That seems like quite a leap, right? Asheville to Berkeley!? At times, the difference in the pace of life and the surrounding community has caused my head to spin. Not only has my location been somewhat challenging to acclimate to, but the work in which seminarians engage in can also be quite difficult.

I think I can sum up my first year of seminary in two words: break down. Don’t worry! I’m not having a breakdown! Rather, seminary has been so far a process of breaking down what I thought I knew about God, Jesus and Scripture, and rebuilding my theology with a more academic and informed lens.

So what has remained after this first year in which so much was picked through and scrutinized?

I have been taking an internal inventory since the semester came to a close, and one thing I keep coming back to regarding my faith, the divine, and the Episcopal Church is the power and profound significance of personal relationships.

The bible can sometimes be murky, especially when we begin to ask the questions of who wrote a certain passage? Why was the passage written this way? When was it written and why was it included in canon? Further, the history of the institution of the church can sometimes be problematic. How has the church responded to moral epidemics like slavery and sexism over the years? Questioning such things leaves one looking for certainty within faith which is so, so tricky.

How can one be utterly certain about faith? There is a beautiful, uncomfortable tension which dances between the words of certainty and faith.  

Despite this tension, the certainty I find in my faith is in the relationships in which my faith has brought me to share. The face of God is so clearly revealed in these relationships that no amount of academic scrutiny or doubt can mar it. Of which relationships do I speak?

I speak of friendships formed at crucibles like Camp Henry summers at Lake Logan, Fall and Spring Conferences at Valle Crucis, and Episcopal Service Corps years of service. There is not one week of my life that passes by in which I do not interact with someone from one of these critically essential places in which my faith was formed. These WNC relationships have been my bedrock during my beautiful and tumultuous first semester of seminary, and continually remind me of the nature of Jesus and God when I get lost interpreting the nuances of religion.

So that gets me back to my original question. How did I get here?

I am here in Berkeley by the grace of God that is so beautiful and immense that I can hardly fathom it within the confines of my mind. I am here in Berkeley by the support and inspiration which I draw from all the relationships God brought to me in the Diocese of Western North Carolina, and which I encountered all over the world from Asia to Europe to tiny Fairview.

Year two of seminary begins in just a few short months, and I have a feeling that it will be just as arduous and challenging as my first year here in Berkeley. Yet, I do not fear.

God - and the many faces in which God reveals his or herself will continue to sustain me in this challenging and sacred work.