trey-davis-story.jpgWhat does the academic year look like amidst the backdrop of a pandemic? This has been the burning question on everyone’s mind the past six months and now we’re examining exactly what all of it means. We—students, professors, staff and administration—are all in this boat together, navigating completely uncharted territory one day at a time.

For those of us, like myself, who find solace in living a life with concrete plans, proper contingency plans, and being able to control our environments, we are probably all overcome with stress and anxiety right now. As Candler and Emory students, our entire lives have led us to this esteemed community. As deep as my love for our university and our seminary runs, COVID-19 was a huge factor in a momentary decision to defer.

I attended undergrad at small, prestigious liberal arts university in my home state of Louisiana. Many of the professors who inspired me in the classroom and a lot of my inspirations throughout the city of Shreveport were Emory alums in some capacity or another. Upon my introduction to the Anglican (Episcopal) tradition during undergrad, I almost immediately began exploring the idea of what it would be like to be a priest in the tradition… which is hilarious because I’m still pretty sure I don’t want to be a priest (ha!). During my senior year, I almost exclusively only took religious studies and philosophy courses… also funny because I studied history and music. As I was falling in love with this new tradition, I was also falling in love with studying scripture and the sociopolitical and anthropological context in which it was written. So naturally I began to reconsider what I thought I wanted to do.

I’ve always felt a call to service… specifically public service, which is a pretty broad term. But I thought the best route to do this was to run for public office one day, so I decided that law school was going to be part of my life’s narrative. Well… nope. I began talking with clergy in my home parish, the chaplains at school, and my professors about what exactly my move should be. And I decided that whatever I was going to study in graduate school was going to have something to do with… religion.

One of my professors told me to come up with a broad list of about 25 schools and do some research on programs and faculty. Then, I was to turn 25 into about 15, and 15 into ten.

Retrospectively, I knew it was Candler and Emory the entire time. The inquiry process was so intentional, the faculty are truly some of the most exceptional in the religious studies realm, and the resources and affiliates of the university as a whole meant it became my number one choice throughout the entire application process.

December came when I would get the bulk of decision letters back. I opened my email and boom! I only focused on three words: “Candler,” “Emory,” and “Congratulations.”  I made my decision that I was committing on that cold winter night. I’d started making plans on visiting campus and exploring Atlanta, but… March.

March happened—and my dad was diagnosed with cancer. However, I knew he would want me to go back to school, and so I would. But later that same exact week, the memes about COVID-19 became a lot less funny when it was declared a pandemic and the world shut down.

During the first few weeks of quarantine, I spent all of my time alone with my thoughts, journaling and arguing with God. I found myself deciding that I should defer. After all of these years of getting acquainted with my dream seminary and learning more about the faculty and the trappings that come with the Candler experience, I’d decided that I should wait another year. I prided myself on how noble and mature a decision it was.

After a few days, I didn’t feel like myself. I started to question the decision. In what world would I ever allow myself to make a decision such as that? But this was a new world: my dad had never had cancer before, and I’d never lived through a pandemic… so I thought this was the right thing to do.

As March bled into April and April bled into May, the world started to shake itself up a bit: the sociopolitical unrest and tension reached its zenith. I began to reconsider my decision. My concentration at Candler was slated to be justice, peacebuilding and conflict transformation. My desire to work in the realm in public service, social justice/human rights advocacy, research equity and equality (in the way that Brené Brown researches shame) was still there. Maybe I’d made the wrong decision? My intentions were good but maybe deferring wasn’t what God wanted me to do. Through the lens of May, I was being told, “Trey, no. This is the moment you need to move.”

And I listened. What better year to study justice, peacebuilding and conflict transformation than 2020? A pandemic. Sociopolitical unrest. An election year. YES!

Here we are into my first semester of seminary: learning more about the Deity, myself and the world around me in a matter of a few weeks than I have the last 25 years. Though beginning this experience looks inexplicably different than what I’d imagined a year ago, I’ve decided to jump headfirst into the Candler experience by any means necessary. In addition to my concentration, I’m still exploring the idea of priesthood… so I’ve decided to do the Episcopal and Anglican Studies certificate, too. I’m part of the Candler Singers ensemble and am also a student ambassador. I’m finding a place for myself in Sacred Worth, the Black Student Caucus, and student governance for Candler and Emory as a whole.

This is a season in which I’m remembering my calling: service. To whom much is given, much is expected, correct?

Top photo: Glen Carrie, Unsplash.com