LaKeesha Walrond on the God factor

When I was asked to serve as the 12th (and first woman) president of New York Theological Seminary (NYTS), I felt honored, excited, and intrigued. I was convinced that this was the God factor at work. This unexpected, unexplainable, indescribable opportunity just felt like God was orchestrating it all. The truth is, the God factor is the only force that could have shifted me from executive pastor (at New York’s First Corinthian Baptist Church) to seminary president. It felt good to be chosen, and my faith convinced me I was up for the task.

Then came COVID-19. Incredibly, in my ninth month as president, the world was facing a pandemic. Where was my God factor now? It felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. Faced with ongoing decisions about curriculum, new ATS standards, enrollment and budget challenges, culture shift s, and staff changes — it felt like crisis on top of crisis.

For the safety of our students, faculty and staff, NYTS transitioned to a digital learning platform. With a two-week deadline and so much to do, we had to move at the speed of purpose. We scheduled training sessions for faculty and students, upgraded Zoom accounts, forwarded phone calls, purchased laptops. It seemed as if our quick pace was paying off. Then came the report: the death toll in New York had tripled — and, just like that, our two-week deadline had become three days. We made the transition over a weekend.

Three weeks later, my heart sank when I learned that we had lost our first student to COVID-19. I felt immense sorrow, especially since this student was scheduled to defend his dissertation the following week. Still, those feelings were accompanied by a sense of confirmation that we had made the right decision for our community by transitioning to remote learning.

The painful communications continue to come in: students, alumni, spouses, parents, siblings — so many transitioning, so much grief, so much uncertainty. And yet — the God factor is still at work. This unseen force is connecting the “called” to the “community” and providing hope in the midst of sorrow.

The reality is this: The God factor is at work in our celebratory moments just as it is in the depths of our greatest despair. A smile emerges, a nod, a sigh, even a laugh — and we know we are not alone. The God factor is ever at work.

The Rev. Dr. LaKeesha Walrond is president of New York Theological Seminary.

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