Back to School – Masks and All!

Due to the Covid pandemic, this fall has been both a return to normal—and something completely new.   

After more than a year of online education, community, and worship life, students, faculty, and staff are now (mostly) back in our building, learning and worshipping together in person. It has been a delight to see one another in person again and not have every interaction mediated by a computer.  

But the semester has not just been a return to the way things were. Much of what we are doing now is new. We’ve all had to become aware of just how far two metres of distance is—about 3-cm longer than the principal is tall for those needing a handy point of reference. Our building is not large and when physical distancing is factored in, it becomes even smaller.  

A key change for us this year has been welcoming the United Theological College into our building. UTC sold its building in the spring and moved in with us—which actually marks the third time UTC and Dio have shared space. During World War II and then again in the 1960s and 1970s, UTC found itself under Dio’s roof. we are so pleased to welcome them back as part of our new strategic alliance. Together, our colleges are exploring a shared future. For now, this means that Dio’s student body and faculty have grown in size, and that we are finding ways to build a strong community life together while honouring each other’s differences.   

An important part of this work was the opening year retreat. In a typical year, this occurs off-island over the course of a weekend. Due to the pandemic, we pared it back , meeting in Montreal so people could sleep in their own homes. Despite the shortened program, the masks, and the distancing, it was still a fruitful time of community formation. Bishop Bruce Myers of the Diocese of Quebec—who grew up in the United Church and is now an Anglican bishop—led the community in reflecting on our shared ecumenical calling and what it means to be two colleges living in community with one another.   

In October, a group of faculty, staff, students, and families gathered to hike the Calvaire D’Oka, an historic stations of the cross at Parc National d’Oka, north-west of the city. The weather, alas, did not cooperate but our group of hardy adventurers carried forward nonetheless, demonstrating the real desire and gratitude for in person gathering, even in the pouring rain.   

Even with public health restrictions, regular prayer continues to be the centrepiece of life at the college. We have resumed daily prayer in St. Luke’s Chapel, but our community is so large that we can’t all fit in the chapel while maintaining distancing for our mid-week community worship services. Instead, we have been worshipping in the basement auditorium next-door at the Presbyterian College. After the service, we return to Dio and spread out around the building to eat (individually packaged) lunches together in small, distanced groups. We miss gathering around a single table in a single room and look forward to when we can do so again!   

Last year, we learned that online gathering works and is an important skill for students to practice as they look towards future leadership in the church. Compline takes place online every Thursday evening. Last year, the community met on Zoom on Friday morning for Bible study using the Gospel-based discipleship model practiced in many indigenous communities in Canada. It became an integral and meaningful part of our community life last year, so we have been continuing to meet this way two Fridays per month, alternating it with a Friday Eucharist, which was a cornerstone of our worship life before the pandemic.   

After a few months navigating the intricacies of Covid-safe community living, things feels different, but there is certainly a renewed sense of community and an immense gratitude for the physical presence we are now allowed to have in our building and in each other’s lives. We may not have returned to “normal”—and we may never—but we are starting afresh, building a community of difference and diversity, and carrying forward the work of forming leaders for God’s church in a changing world.