The gift of communication in a challenging time

The principal, on air, many years ago.

Dear colleagues,

After I graduated from college, I spent a couple of years working as a news reporter at a radio station in Nome, Alaska. These years were hugely significant in my formation. They were my first sustained exposure to the indigenous communities and cultures of the north and ultimately set me on the winding path to Christian ministry. They also made me the amateur news critic I still am today. But what comes to mind this week can be boiled down to a single word: communications.

Working at a radio station was an incredible privilege and platform for communicating. In the little role I played in the radio station, I had a hand in deciding what counted as news. What this meant, I began to realize, is that I had a hand in deciding what people heard about one another. Is a boil water advisory in an indigenous community an event if it’s not reported in the news for the rest of the state to learn about it? Are the impacts of climate change actually real until more people hear about how coastal erosion and flooding are affecting remote communities? How we communicate and the stories we choose to communicate define how we understand ourselves as a people.

The centrality of communications comes to mind as we prepare for this new school year. In my communications with many of you over the summer, I am aware that members of this community are bringing a wide range of emotions and thoughts to this return to in-person learning. Some are eager and excited to be together in person. Others are anxious and concerned about this same prospect. Some are looking forward to starting a new degree they’ve been anticipating for some time. Others can’t wait to finish. Many are wondering what it will be like to have students from two colleges sharing a life together. Still others are wondering about the impact the pandemic has had on the church and what the future looks like. And for many—certainly for me—how I feel and what I am thinking about this new school year changes depending on the day, hour, minute.

In a context like this, the importance of clear communication is paramount. We do not (alas) have a college radio station but my commitment to communications remains the same as it was in my radio days. What you are reading now is the first of this year’s editions of the Wingèd Ox (named after the animal associated with St. Luke, patron of the college chapel), the college’s weekly internal newsletter. It’s a chance for us to share news and announcements with faculty, staff, students, and members of our Board of Governors. Every Wednesday when we gather for community worship and lunch, we also share important information with the whole community. I have heard from many of you over the summer with questions, concerns, and hopes for the new school year. I hope you will continue to feel you can communicate directly with me, through in-person or digital means.

But communications isn’t just about the college and its principal communicating with its students. It’s also about all members of the community communicating with one another. More than ever, the context in which we find ourselves demands that each of us be clear in our communications with one another. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have learned how to summon the courage to say things we may never have once thought necessary, things like: “I’m uncomfortable with how close you are to me. Could you please stand back?” or “Could you please ensure you are wearing your mask properly?”

Our Scriptures are full of communications advice. Jesus told us to talk to one another directly, particularly when we are struggling with one another (Matthew 18:15-20). Paul told us that it is in speaking the truth in love we will growth into maturity in Christ (Ephesians 4:15). In a reading some of us heard in church on Sunday, James reminds us of the damage that hasty and poor communication can do and advises us to be “quick to listen [and] slow to speak” (James 1:19).

As we look ahead to the new year, my prayer is that this will be a community marked by clear, open, and honest communication. It is in doing so that we will begin to grow into the fullness of who God is calling us to be.

Faithfully yours,

This message was written by Principal Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.