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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Secret Society of St. Salada

Reflecting on the past three weeks of being back at EDS has been an interesting combination of discovering the new while remembering the old - and cherishing the present.

A former classmate of mine was interviewed the other day for a faculty position. We had a brief reunion at a reception for him during which we stole a few minutes to take the opportunity for a brief stroll down memory lane.

We remembered that we used to have a fun little organization here, known as "The Secret Society of St. Salada."

Being 'secret', it had no official standing in the school and was conferred by the authority entrusted to absolutely no one, upon absolutely any one, without any special standing or significance or privilege or right entered into by the same.

There were no meetings and no activities. We simply existed - and mostly, only in the imaginative if not academically addled minds of our members.

Most M.Div students - and a few MATS students - were members. The only way you could tell members from non-members was a knowing giggle shared among friends when someone sipped a hot cup of Salada tea in the Refectory.

I don't know how long this 'secret society' had been in existence. I only know it no longer exists.


Context is everything, so here's how it came into being - at least, as I remember it being told to me:

Back in the day, one could only be admitted to the M.Div Program if one were a Postulant for Holy Orders. Anyone in the discernment process who was without episcopal or diocesan support was expected to discern their call in the MATS - Master of Arts in Theological Studies - program.

Occasionally, a few exceptions were made - say, if one were not seeking ordination but anticipating furthering one's education through a doctoral program with the vocational goal of teaching in seminary.

In those cases, admission to the M.Div Program would be arranged. For the most part however, without institutional assurances of ordination, one would be enrolled in the MATS Program and, once Postulancy had been conferred, one could transfer into the M.Div Program - but not before or until.

I suppose the silliness of that process - which was imposed for the most part by bishops and to which the school acquiesced - provided the impulse to enshrine that silliness with the inception of a 'secret society'.

St. Salada is, of course, not a real saint. The name is derived from a kind of tea which is still being manufactured and sold.

Salada tea is perhaps distinguished less by taste and more by "Salada Tag Lines" - little tabs of paper on the end of the string on the tea bag which contained pithy sayings like the one you see pictured above.

When I first went grocery shopping to stock up my kitchen cupboard here, I, of course, had to buy a box of Salada Tea. I generally prefer Tetley or Red Rose or Celestial Seasonings (when I can't afford proper Irish or British tea) but I was overcome by melancholy right there in the aisle of the grocery store and well, it just had to be Salada Tea.

A quick perusal of the tags on the box of Salada in my kitchen, randomly selected, yielded these pithy little gems:
If ignorance is bliss, why aren't there more happy people?

The Rule of Inflation: whatever goes up will go up some more.

A depressed hypochondriac is someone who has no trouble to speak of.

Intuition is a woman's radar.
These little tag lines became part of the requirement for entrance into the Secret Society of St. Salada.

The ritual was the same, although adapted for specific circumstances. At some point in the day - or, in the dead of night - a candidate was approached by a posse of members who had been specially deputized to perform the ritual of induction into the secret society.

It began with an interrogation - of sorts. It all sounded very official and stern, but it was pretty straightforward and went something like:

"Is your name John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt?"

"Why, yes. Yes, it is."

"Were you born in Lake Woebegone, Minnesota?"

"Yes, yes I was."

"Do you wish to become a member of the Secret Society of St. Salada"?

"Oh, yes. Yes, indeed I do."

The posse would then whisk you away to the basement of whatever place you were - the auditorium at Sherril Hall, the laundry room at Burnham or the supply area at Kirkland Street, where the induction ritual would begin.

The room would be darkened and, after a few moments of 'Holy Silence', several of one's classmates, fully vested in tiara and feathered boa - of the liturgical color appropriate for the season, of course - would process into the room, singing some relatively obscure hymn appropriate for the day or the occasion.

Like, say, "Lord of all being, enthroned afar."

Or, "We limit not the truth of God."

In the midst of the procession would be a thurifer swinging a thurible - from which arose a dense cloud of sweet smelling smoke - just ahead of the person who was piously carrying the Sacred Tea Pot.

After everyone and everything that wasn't nailed down was properly incensed, the candidate was escorted to the Sacred Tea Pot. One by one, a Salada Tag Line was withdrawn from the Pot and the candidate had to successfully perform the pithy quote in proper Anglican Chant.
Beware of Wall/ Street*
     it begins in a graveyard/ and ends in a river

Behind every successful/ man*
     stands a surpris/ ed mother in law.
This was, of course, preceded and ended with an appropriate antiphon, such as:
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
This would go on for less than five or ten minutes, or until laughter completely overtook the gathered assembly and we were collapsing on the floor, spurting tea out of our mouths or snorting water out of our noses.

And then, it was back to the books, or the library, or the classroom, or our field education sites, or our homes with our families.

It was a wonderful way to learn the importance of ritual and liturgy while taking a bit of a humorous stab at Anglican chant.

But mostly, it was a way of not taking ourselves so bloody seriously - a much needed corrective to this fatal flaw of life as a seminarian.

It was creative and fun and silly and.... oh, my. . . . someone cue Edith and Archie Bunker to sing, "Those were the Days."

Quite honestly, I don't know that such a secret society doesn't exist here at EDS in some present-day incarnation. How would I know that? I'm not longer a seminarian. I'm a 'sister outsider'. And, if it's a secret society, well . . . it's secret, right?

I only hope it does, but I fear, given the increasing status of 'commuter student' which is necessitated by this increasingly fragile economy, it does not.

What I find I most want to tell the seminarians is to enjoy every last minute of their time in seminary. Because the real secret of the Secret Society of St. Salada is knowledge of the secret which will allow you to enjoy and cherish the gift of life.

That secret is this: These are the good old days.


For me, as well.

Right here.

Right now.


June Butler said...

And to think I'd never heard of Salada Tea before now. Still, I believe I will stick with my Twinings Earl Grey.

The business of not taking things too seriously is the work of a lifetime - as taking joy in right now.

And no, "icants", which is my WV.

Elaine C. said...

Long ago when I was a seminarian at Seabury, a mysterious classmate with a wonderful wit, set up holy stations at appropriate places and times. For example, the icon to traveling, with a loop tape player that chanted a humorous version of the Academic deans recent "travels for us" to raise money or attention for the seminary.

There was also the liturgy of the first theology exam ... which was secret. Everyone started out in an introductory theology class, and the day of the first exam all the non-first year students processed through the halls in weird amalgamations of church lady hats and vestments, and wigs, with thurible, lots of smoke and a huge aluminum foil monstrance ... after they chanted some weird psalm that included obscure theological terms and nonsense (all of this supposed to break our anxiety about the first serious exam) ... then they popped the exams out of the monstrance, laughed heartily and told us all would be well ... done for similar reasons as you described ...

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mimi - Earl Grey is my least favorite tea but I do enjoy Twinnings - especially their Breakfast Tea.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Elaine - I love the silly stuff of seminary. I think Jesus loves those rituals the best.

Matthew said...

I should not be so serious on such a light hearted post, but is MATS the degree that lay people get? I wonder what seminary opportunities there are (or were) for those called to the laity but want to further their education at seminary. I know lay people who desire to go to seminary but don't want to be ordained or feel called to be a priest or deacon. I think we should encourage such things. I know someone who feels called to be a lay preacher and has considered seminary now that she is retired from the work world.

p.s. I read somewhere that at an English seminary the students had secret silly names for each other like Plum Tart.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It's a good question, Matthew. Anyone can get an MATS = lay or ordained. Even after getting an MDiv. And, these days, in most seminaries, lay folk can also get an M.Div. One is an academic degree, the other is a professional degree.

Hope that's helpful

Malcolm+ said...

Random observations.

The Larkin family, who owned Salada Tea (or at least the Canadian franchise) were major donors to Trinity College, Toronto. Indeed, the classroom building is "the Larkin Building."

At Trins, of course, we drank like fishes. Across the street, at some other Anglican affiliated school, major financial support had come from the Seagram group of companies - mostly a distillery owned by former Prohibition-era rum runners. The rules at that other school frowned on alcohol consumption, and those in residence could not have any in their rooms.

Ironically, where the money came from tea, we drank booze; where the money came from booze, they drank tea - and really bad coffee.


Your "Pity" is quite funny to Canadian ears. In my childhood, Red Rose tea had an entire advertising campaign based on the fact that their product was not available for purchase in the UK. Commercials invariably had some English wanker sipping a cup of Red Rose tea and eventually saying "Only in Canada, you say? Pity."

The meme got referenced in a Canadian National Film Board "Heritage Moment" - think your "Bicentennial Moments" from a few decades ago. A young Queen Victoria describes the proposal for limited self government in Canada as "a Canadian idea," and her maid says "Pity, ma'am."

Daniel Weir said...

I had completely forgotten the society, but I recall its existence at EDS in the early 1970s. I recall a stole decorated with Salada tags.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Malcolm - I think a study ought to be conducted on the behavior of seminarians. I think there's a richness to be found in creative spirituality. Thanks for stopping by.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Daniel - It would be interesting to see how many alums remember the SSSS. I'm thinking it's been around a LONG time.Pity it stopped.

Charlie Sutton said...

The Upton Tea Co has hundreds of varieties of great tea for sale. It is all loose tea, though, so it does not have even the chance of those great "tag lines." I use it fairly often - but I also buy Salada, for the opportunity to get a good grin.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Charlie - I enjoy Upton Tea but I do love a good cup of Salada - for the tag lines and the memories. Sometimes, I even chant them. ;~)