About a week ago, one of the college chaplains at my alma mater, Valparaiso University, committed suicide. According to the news reports and the notice from the church, she celebrated communion on Easter Sunday at the Valparaiso Chapel of the Resurrection - a first for a non-Missouri Synod Pastor and a first for a woman - and a few days later, hanged herself.
When I was a student (92-96), the campus was apparently embroiled in a debate about whether or not women could preach there. I knew in the background that the debate was going on, but it's surprising looking back on it how little I cared. As a student, I was only remotely involved in the life of the college chapel and even more remotely involved in church politics of any kind.
I can trace back part of my call story to the Chapel of the Resurrection. It was the site of my first homily - given during a daytime chapel service when a fellow student asked me out of the blue to do it. I wish I would have found out why he asked me to give a homily. I wasn't particularly religious or faithful at the time. I had little idea then that I would eventually be called to be a pastor.
Now, of course, I am a pastor and I see this suicide on a variety of levels. Besides being generally sick for the Valpo community and for the family and friends of Rev. Grega, I am fascinated with this tragedy. I want to know more about what convergence of experiences, illness, pressure, despondency and pain led to her suicide.
Intellectually, I understand this is very little of my business. She left a note, but it is, of course, private. The pain of her family doesn't need to be dragged out for the public to see.
But still, I want to know why this happened. My curiosity feels different from interest in celebrity news or rubber-necking at the scene of an accident. I want to know what her unique role as the first woman to serve in a culture of male hierarchy played in her decision. I want to know if and how she had dealt with depression in the past. I want to know about her isolation as a pastor, especially as a college chaplain.
My close friend Rachel called to tell me the news. She's also an ELCA pastor and as I talked with her, I thanked God for her friendship, for other colleagues and supporters and the love of family and friends. Also, I thanked God for my new, fantastic counselor and for providing me enough money to pay her. In mourning with Valpo and hoping for healing on many levels.