Ask, Seek, and Knock: Matriculation Address by the Rev. Dr. BK Hipsher

The Rev. Dr. BK Hipsher

The following text is from the address delivered by the Rev. Dr. BK Hipsher (EDS ’04, ’06, ’12) at the June Matriculation service, an occasion when new students are welcomed and recognized as members of the school with the signing of the Matriculation Book.

Today it is my honor and privilege to welcome you to Episcopal Divinity School as you begin your journey here. Let me thank my good friend and mentor, Dr. Angela Bauer-Leveque for the invitation to speak to you this evening. Angela was my thesis advisor in my master’s program here, so thank you Angela for this honor and for everything you have given me over the years. And I would like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to your dean of students, the Very Rev. Dr. Thomas Eoyang Jr. for his support and guidance to select the readings. Thank you for your friendship over the years, Thomas, as a fellow alum. And of course my deep respect and love to all of the faculty and staff here at this place that is so dear to my heart.And with God’s help and an open heart, you will learn that silence equals complicity. As people of faith, and leaders in our communities, we do not have the luxury of ignoring injustice.

I remember signing this book for the first time, and then the second time, and again a third time when I began my DMin studies here. Yes, I have matriculated and graduated from this place three times. And I say to you sincerely today that I would love to be back in your shoes, standing on the precipice of my time here. You are doing a new thing, becoming a new creation, all the while making relationships that will last for the remainder of your lives.

Episcopal Divinity School is not just a divinity school or seminary. EDS is something that never leaves you. As I gather with my fellow alumni/ae each year in May here on campus we often talk about the fact that even though we leave EDS, EDS never leaves us. These dedicated staff members support us through our journey, through this academic maze, and carry us through this unfamiliar territory. The friends we make here will often become our lifelong friends and collegial networks that support us in our ministry going forward. And these gifted, brilliant, loving professors. These theological giants with whom we are privileged to walk in our educational journey will remain in our hearts, and our respect for their work and their dedication to teaching only increases as the years go by.

In your time working through your certificate or degree program you will learn many things here at EDS. Some things you will learn in the classroom both here on campus and in your online classes, some very important things you will learn over meals in the refectory or coffee at Darwin’s or Starbucks or Peet’s. You will learn things sitting outside in the warm sunshine. And you will learn reading books and articles, writing papers, and working on projects together. You will learn what the great philosopher Mary Daly taught us now so many, many years ago: “If God is male, then male is God.” You will learn at a deeper level how the color of your skin often determines how you are perceived in the world. You will learn how privilege functions to thwart the realm of God and suppress justice. And with God’s help and an open heart, you will learn that silence equals complicity. As people of faith and leaders in our communities we do not have the luxury of ignoring injustice. And you will also learn patience and prudence. You will learn that change cannot happen overnight, and often comes in layers rather than waves.

As you begin your journey, I want to offer some words of encouragement, three words: ask, seek, and knock. These three words from our Gospel reading today will serve you well in your time studying and growing spiritually and intellectually at EDS and beyond.

Ask a lot of questions. If you don’t understand something, ask. Guard against making assumptions that are not generous. There is no shame in appearing naïve. Ask for help when you need it. Do your best to be honest with yourself when you need support. There’s no glory in long suffering. And when needed, and it surely will be needed, ask for forgiveness. Making mistakes is a certainty. The goal is not to make the same mistake over and over. When you ask for forgiveness hold that in your heart so that when your friends, or family, or the staff or faculty need your forgiveness you will be quick to give it knowing that we all do things that separate us from each other and from God. These are the things we call sin. The fact that we fall short does not mean we are defective; it means that we are human. It makes us capable of compassion.

Seek to be in right relationship with everyone in your life. Seek a spiritual practice that feeds your soul. Seek to know God’s will for your life more fully, always remembering that our faith does not require us to sacrifice our health or well being on the altar of service to others. Seek to maintain balance in your life. Study, yes.  Serve your congregations and communities, yes. Work hard, yes. But, never allow study, service, and work to cost you your physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual health. Take care of yourself. Seek balance in everything you do. Remember that Jesus set the pattern for us taking time away to rest and renew. And yes, even God rested on the seventh day.

Now when you come back in January when the wind is howling and the temperature is like a freezer, be sure to knock the snow off your boots when you come inside. There’s nothing worse than people from warm climates tracking in snow that becomes muddy water on the floors of everywhere you enter. And take time to knock on your professors’ office door. Knock on their doors and the doors of your classmates not only to ask for their help, but to offer your help and support to them. Hear the knock of those who are oppressed on the door of privilege behind which you reside in your particular social location. Knock and keep knocking on whatever door is closed to you. Knock and keep knocking on behalf of those who cannot knock for themselves. Ask, seek, knock: three words to remember and by which to live.

Let me leave you today with one of my favorite quotes, this one from Marianne Williamson. She says:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Enjoy your time at EDS. Relish every moment. Burn it into your memory so that one day you can look back on it and know that you really lived every moment. Welcome to this special family of students, staff, faculty, alumni/ae, and friends of EDS. Long may it be sustained to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. And as we leave this place today I share with you the parting words that once echoed in this chapel from Professor Ed Rodman, “…and let us not become instruments of our own or another’s oppression.”

Amen.


The Rev. Dr. BK Hipsher enjoys a unique ministry as virtual chaplain of Sunshine Cathedral in Second Life. Her congregation there ranges from Roman Catholic to Evangelical Christian, and includes other faith traditions as well.

Dr. Hipsher has a passion for inter-religious and ecumenical dialogue born of her journey from Southern Baptist, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and Anglican Church of Canada to Metropolitan Community Churches. In her studies at EDS and in dialogue with her Jewish partner, she is sensitive to the way we read sacred texts as Christians.

She is a member of Central Reform Temple in Boston where she has been privileged to read the English version of the blessing before and after the Torah reading on Yom Kippur for the past two years and participates fully in the life of the congregation. Dr. Hipsher lives in the Boston area with her partner Rabbi Devon Lerner.