Monday, August 24, 2009

What are we really feeling?

I am a college junior transferring into a new college, and I’ve been thinking a lot about change. Change is something we have all experienced at some point in our lives. For most the major change happens when we graduate from High School and we move to a new school, usually some distance from home. With this type of change comes many different emotions; nervousness, anxiousness, excitement, uneasiness and the list continues. Having gone through this change once I figured the second time I had to go through it would be easier but I was wrong . I actually feel more anxious then the first time.

Growing up as a PK (Pastor’s Kid) I have always had a faith centered up bringing. In many ways the church was my second family and I became very close and dependent on both my parents and my church family. Leaving the comforts of my home and families was extremely hard in the fall of 2007. I really didn’t know how I would be able to survive without them and their constant support. I haven’t ever gone “church shopping” in my life and I have never had to look for other Christians to hang out with; they were always just there and around. Walking on to Le Moyne College campus my first day as a freshman was terrifying. I didn’t know who to reach out to, to gain that small comfort of home. Being a Roman Catholic college they catered to that denomination. I remember talking to my advisor about finding a church to go to since I was spiritually being drained and she told me there was only one Presbyterian Church near by. Since I didn’t have a car she said she would get me in contact with someone that went there so I could get a ride but unfortunately I had fallen through the cracks and was forgotten until it was too late. It was just past mid semester and I hadn’t been involved in any type of religious activity and I was at my breaking point. I remember calling home in tears to my father who was ready to call the campus minister to come to my rescue and begging him to let me come home and not to call her. At that point the campus minister and I just didn’t connect. She seemed more concerned with those who went to chapel, which was like a Roman Catholic service, and wasn’t as interested in those who didn’t and strived for something different. That night I decided to not return for the spring semester and after finals I went home spiritually broken and started to pick up the pieces. My church family was excellent and all helped me gain my spirituality back.

Now it’s been a year and half since Le Moyne and I have graduated from my community college (where I connected with a college group at a local church) and have to go through change again. I am not going to sit here and lie and say I am not anxious. I actually really scared and uneasy for the fear of the past repeating itself. I am afraid of falling through the cracks and not finding “Where I belong” at SUNY Brockport. My prayer is that the campus minister is open minded to all denominations and is willing make an effort to make me feel a part of their religious group gatherings. Many think the students should and will come to them if they want to but in reality many students don’t know where they belong. They don’t know where to seek help or who to go to gain that sense of home. I wish when I was getting ready to go to Le Moyne the Campus ministry office sent me something or made themselves present during meal times. I would have been more prone to talk if they approached me. I was already overwhelmed with so many new things that I wanted someone to find me and show interest in my involvement. Since it has been year and half I have grown up and matured into a deeper Christian. I am prepared now to look for the campus ministry the first week and get myself involved. I have already scouted out a couple churches I want to look into and see if they fit my needs and if none do I will rely on my campus ministry to help me out. Even though I have a plan set this time I am still nervous and wish I had someone to “hold my hand” and tell me where to go. I recently heard a statistic that 3 out of 4 Christian students fall through the cracks when they get to school. That is ridiculous if you ask me and I wonder how it can be changed. This semester I am determined to find ways to get the number to zero. Someone isn’t doing there job and I want to be one that help pull those who have fallen through the cracks out. It’s hard to go through change, especially alone. I think campus ministries needs to put themselves out there and be noticeable. Be the group they run to, to find home, strength, peace and love. You could be the answer to an anxious student’s prayer.

Friday, August 21, 2009

What Do We Call Ourselves?

Campus Ministers. Ministry on, to, and with a campus is a good description of what we do. In usual PC(USA) circles, a campus minister is someone who is engaged in ministry on a college or university campus. Campus Ministers are usually further designated as an organization-based campus minister or a congregation-based campus ministry, depending on the source of funding. College students acting as peer ministers can also be called Campus Ministers. Sometimes high school ministry is classified as campus ministry, so there could be some confusion as well as devaluation of the term.

In congregational structure, the campus minister might be called the Associate or Assistant (Pastor) for Campus Ministry. If the title is Young Adult Ministry or Student Ministry, the congregation’s mission to college students is not clearly indicated.

Chaplains. Chaplains exercise ministry from within a higher education institution. That is, they are an employee and being paid by the institution. Some denominations also call folks serving as campus ministers “chaplains.” Chaplains are engaged in campus ministry. The official title for some chaplains is Campus Minister, Minister to the Campus, Minister to Students, Director of Religious Life, or Dean of the Chapel.

Higher Education Ministers is also generally correct term, but infrequently used these days. Higher Education ministry connotes a previous time in which the denomination’s resources, staff, and interest in ministry on campus was high(er). “Higher Education” indicates the whole academic enterprise (that is, students, faculty, and staff), while campus ministry seems more focused on students. I don’t know any campus ministers who think that ministry to faculty and staff is NOT also part of their responsibility, though, it’s just that students are their priority.

Collegiate Ministers. This is an umbrella term which encompasses those serving as campus ministers as well as chaplains and higher education ministers. To some it might sound wordy, even academic, but it is inclusive. The denomination replaced the term “Higher Education Ministries” with “Collegiate Ministries” during some reorganization at the end of 2003.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Dispatch from the Ozarks: The Calm and the Storm

The Pre-Orientation Ruminations of a Humble Chaplain

Down the hall from my office in the lower level of the campus chapel is an expanse of concrete floor, peppered with bits and pieces of rubble and threads of old carpet.  For over twenty-five years, the concrete has been blanketed by a sea of dark turquoise wall-to-wall carpeting.  In the span of those years, that carpet has held steadfast under the anxiously pacing feet of graduating seniors preparing for baccalaureate services; the feverish swirling and twirling of blushing brides and busy bridesmaids in heaps of taffeta, lace, and velvet; the scrambling sneakers and snapping flip-flops of thousands of students gathering for prayer services, potluck fellowships, movie nights, and classes.  It has withstood the tests of many floods, held together when the dragging of furniture has threatened to tear it asunder, and endured the vigors of vacuuming and high-concentrate shampooing.  After all of this, at last, the time for change has come: shiny new floor tile—light, less ponderous, and much easier to clean—is being measured, cut, and installed as I type.  

As I prepare for the arrival of new students to campus, and look forward to welcoming the “old” ones back, I can’t help but think about the importance of a good foundation.  Our first-year students are daring to tread new ground by engaging the college experience and newfound independence.  For some, this will be exciting and fun; for others, frightening and threatening; and for most, all of those things combined.  They will choose to walk many different paths as they seek to understand who they are as individuals, and how to live in community.  There will be bumps, bruises, and bad choices in the process.  Taking up the carpet of the past, so to speak, and laying the “new tile” of the college experience can produce tremendous growth, but can also induce a profound sense of trauma.  My prayer this year, as it is every year, is that the foundations on which students lay the tiles of new experiences are as firm, trustworthy, and receptive as our trusty chapel basement flooring has proven itself to be.  Should they not be so firm, however, there is no need to panic,--the “spackle” of God’s grace and mercy is always at hand!

Nancy J. Benson-Nicol is the University Chaplain at the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, AR.  Now a "rising senior," she begins her fourth year in ministry at Ozarks.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Missionary Collegiate Ministry

I want to branch off the previous post that collegiate ministry must be bi-lingual, and take it further.

For at least the last ten years of my chaplaincy I introduced myself at Presbytery and GA committee meetings as the “Presbytery of Muskingum Valley’s missionary to Muskingum College.” The metaphor of missionary is central for collegiate ministry.

Missionaries (collegiate ministry practioners) are sent to a foreign culture. This culture has its own language, customs, and history. To be effective missionaries they must learn the customs and be able to translate the Good News of the Gospel into the language of the peoples with whom they work. Sometimes, faithful Christians back home become confused / perplexed when they hear -out of context- some of those translations.

Each mission is separate and unique. Even missionaries in the same country or city may have very different ministries and use very different skills as well as vocabularies in their work in the mission field. They are united in their love for Christ and the desire to share Christ’s love, but the visible expressions of their ministries may look radically different. They are also trying to share Christ’s love through a particular authorizing denomination.

The support from the home church is both a joy and a concern. People are proud of their missionaries and speak of them as if what they do is important, but tangible support is spotty and minimal at best. This is also true of the “Home Office.”(The PC(USA) thinks some missionary work important enough that they help some missionaries go into congregations to tell their stories. Collegiate ministries is not currently one of them.)

There is one characteristic of missionary work which does not sit well with faithful but unthoughtful church members in the pews, but which almost every missionary with whom I have spoken understands. Those lay people have a mechanical notion of missionary work.; say the right words and heathens become Presbyterians. Missionaries understand the process to be much more complex. The work of the missionary is to the field, not exclusively to Presbyterians, or even exclusively to Christians. Missionaries trust in God’s grace and the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts and lives of those who encounter the Gospel through the work of the ministry. Those back home trust that the missionary is spreading the Gospel. They do not think deeply enough to realize that some medical missionaries, for instance, restore sight to the blind in the context of the saving love of God revealed through Jesus Christ, but do not preach doctrine.

Morale of missionaries is vitally important to the health of their ministries. Since missionaries are most often acting alone and contact with colleagues in similar ministries is rare, missionaries need support and encouragement from the Home Office. Congregations back home can give some support and encouragement, but this is rare- and since often the congregations don’t really understand the dynamics of missiology- opportunities for mutual support and nurture are lacking. The Home Office must be the enabler of this renewal.