Coming and going; Going and coming


By Rock Jones

Your Pastor Speaks

Three years ago this weekend, Ohio Wesleyan faced a decision I had never contemplated. Would we cancel a student spring break volunteer experience in New York City due to the presence of a virus?

Less than a week later, the question was whether we would need to hold the second half of the semester remotely due to what then appeared to be a global pandemic.

A week later, following the final deadline for students to move home, I drove through the campus. It was a Friday evening in early spring. The campus should be bustling with activity. Athletics teams should be preparing for weekend competition. Organizations should be hosting social gatherings. Music should be blaring from residence halls. Instead, parking lots were empty. Buildings were dark. The campus was eerily quiet, absent of life.

We had entered a time of uncertainty for all of our society. People were dying. We did not fully understand the virus or how it spread, and we did not have adequate supplies of protective gear. Fear and anxiety were everywhere. To make matters worse, we quickly found our society embroiled in political battles in which science was often dismissed and emotion was more highly charged than reason.

And yet, over time, we found our way. Not just on a college campus, but in homes, schools, businesses, religious organizations, government offices, and so many other places. We learned to wear masks, to maintain social distance, to be diligent in washing our hands, and to take other precautions that allowed students to return to classrooms and all of us to gradually resume our normal lives.

How did we do it? We did it by coming together with common cause to protect the vulnerable, support the work of science as it sought to understand the virus and find a remedy, and develop plans to reopen society in ways that balanced health and safety with the human longing for life together in community.

In our collective best moments, we saw the virtues of courage, hope, patience, resilience and determination. We drew on the collective strength of one another, often experienced through a tiny box on the small screen of a laptop computer. And, we drew on inner strength. People dug deeply into the reservoirs of faith to summon courage, find hope, and take heart. We were not alone.

As I have reflected on that inner strength from the perspective of people of faith, I am reminded of the words of the psalmist.

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

The lockdown was a time of going out. College students left campus. K-12 students and teachers left their schools. Employees left the office. Travelers abandoned their plans. Family canceled vacations. Weddings were postponed. Memorial services, including for those whose deaths were caused by the virus, were delayed. It was a time of going out from much of what we take for granted in life.

And then, as our society was able to reopen, schools, offices, and worship centers became places of coming in. We began to come together. Energy began to return.

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

As the pandemic has ebbed, I have been thinking about going out and coming in from a deeply personal perspective. This summer, Melissa and I conclude 15 years of life in Delaware as I retire from the presidency of Ohio Wesleyan. This is my final contribution to the Gazette clergy column.

Our lives have been enriched beyond measure over these 15 years. We are blessed by the relationships we have formed and the work we have shared with colleagues at OWU. We are blessed by the relationships we have formed in Delaware. Our daughter was a student at Hayes High School our first three years in Delaware. We saw firsthand the strength of public education in Delaware. We have been inspired by the fabric of leadership in this community who work every day to increase the quality of life for all who live here.

Retirement is bittersweet. It means leaving a place and people who have blessed us deeply. It means leaving work that has been richly fulfilling. It means leaving what has become familiar for what is unfamiliar. It is a time of going out. Retirement also means opening doors for a new season of life, with more time for grandchildren, travel, and exploring new personal interests. It is a reminder that life is ordered by seasons. It is a time of going in.

As I reflect with gratitude, and I look forward with hope, I find assurance again in the words of the psalmist.

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

Rock Jones is president of Ohio Wesleyan University and ordained in the United Methodist Church.

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