“Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out two by two … He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals … So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” (Mark 6:7-13)
Field Education students worry a lot about shoes at the beginning of the fall semester. “What sort of shoes should I wear?” students ask. Usually, they are asking for liturgical purposes, and my standard answer (black, closed-toe, quiet) is good, conservative advice. “Keep a pair of close-toed black shoes in the sacristy, for the days when you forget and wear your Birkenstocks,” I suggest.
But what I really want to tell students is: “Wear sturdy shoes.” The refrain of a favorite song of mine, as if in prayer, says “Give me walking shoes, feathered arms, and a key to heaven’s gate.” Walking shoes, sturdy shoes, are the shoes General field ed students should wear, because there is so much more than the inside of a church to explore when you are a seminarian in New York City.
Middler students, now beginning their first field placement of seminary, will spend time wearing their walking shoes during the semester. One of the first major assignments due is the ‘Neighborhood Walk,’ where each student walks the square mile near their parish, answering questions about ”holy places, living places, and dead places” in the surrounding neighborhood. Where are the bodegas? The vacant lots? The playgrounds, and the gardens? Additionally, they learn about the demographics of their neighborhood, set alongside the demographics of their congregation, using the Episcopal Church’s online tools. What might a disconnect between a congregation and a neighborhood mean for the life of the church? How does Jesus call us to engage with our literal (rather than figurative) neighbors?
“Out of the Gates and Into the City” is not just a statement of ideals for General students, or for Christians; it is the reality of how we live daily life. We leave campus to go to the coffee shop, the park, to church, or to the movies. We ride bicycles, subways, the PATH, the LIRR, taxis, and Ubers to our destinations. But mostly, we walk – traversing long blocks in the city heat and cold, exhausting already-tired drug-store umbrellas to keep the rain off as we hurry to 8am mass.
Sturdy shoes, for the twelve apostles and for new seminarians alike, are necessary gear. Sturdy shoes help us keep walking when we want to quit and go home. They help us stand tall, when our confidence wavers. Sturdy shoes help us to go the distance, in learning about our neighbors, and in following Jesus.