By Claudia Aguilar, MDiv ’11, DMin Student.
May 14, 2014—If you ask around campus: “what’s the best thing about Columbia?,” I am almost sure that the majority will say “community.” I am not really sure if that is the answer we have all learned to give when that question is asked (habit is a powerful thing) or if people really mean it. I do know that we use it way too much around here and that dilutes the meaning of the word. But if you ask me the same question, my answer would be “community.” Why? I could start by talking about Columbia’s spiritual life: we hold chapel services four times per week, we have student-led spirituality workshops and prayer time, we break bread together during communion every Friday, every school year begins and ends with worship, reminding us that everything we do during the school year is worship.
Our love for God is at the heart of our life together.
And I could talk about our student groups. The groups are as varied and engaging as our student body. They work, eat, discuss important theological and social themes, organize social functions, and attend protests. Through our many student organizations, the student body finds creative ways to be the hands and feet of Christ in Atlanta.
I could even talk about our faculty and staff. This is not the kind of place where you go to an office, sign a form or take a class and leave. Our faculty and staff care deeply about the students’ lives. Christmas caroling at a professor’s home, having lunch with a staff member, learning valuable lessons on Christian hospitality from our dining hall staff, practicing conflict resolution and stress management during work-study hours, having class in the quad on a warm spring day–they are all part of the everyday life at Columbia.
And I could definitely talk about how fun it is! After being here for over eight years, most of them as a student of two different programs, I can tell you from experience that there is not a single day without something to do: ultimate frisbee, team trivia, prayer services, impromptu picnics on the lawn, trips to the Farmer’s Market, group viewings of movies and popular TV shows, Christmas banquets, music jam sessions, artistic representations of Biblical passages, the not-so-occasional flash mob, and more. But my response is not solely based on these aspects of our life together. It includes the deep and complex portions of community life. The Refectory is the center of the funniest conversations and the most passionate theological arguments.
We share tears, hugs, and concerns while “Passing of the Peace” during worship. Our prayer board includes the saddest situations, the hard decisions, and the greatest joys. We disagree. Strongly. On almost every possible important matter. And yet, we manage to love the one with whom we disagree the most. We are increasingly more diverse and we are learning how to live in the type of harmony that embraces and celebrates diversity and does not just tolerate it. We know following Christ is messy. We know living in authentic community is messy. But we have each other’s backs.
Community life at Columbia is, in my view, as important as any learning that occurs in the classroom or through books. It is the embodiment of everything we believe and everything we learn. It is who we are.
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Editor’s Note: February 16, 2017—At the time of the original post, Claudia Aguilar was Associate Director of Recruitment and Student Services at Columbia Theological Seminary, in addition to being an MDiv alumna. Currently, she is a DMin student serving as Pastor for Justice and Witness at Virginia-Highland Church in Atlanta, GA.