Historical legacy helps University of Georgia’s Presbyterian Campus Ministry to drive anti-racism work
By Melody K. Smith | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Campus Ministry at the University of Georgia (UGA) is not new. It’s been around since 1940 and housed in the current space since 1959, which served as a safe space for African American students during the tumultuous 1960s.
With the integration of students and the Vietnam War, a historical review reveals that Presbyterian Campus Ministry was taking on unpopular social stances that were difficult — and Christian. That legacy drives the ministry’s work toward anti-racism and dismantling white supremacy today. It also makes the ministry a great fit for Matthew 25.
The three focus areas of Matthew 25 are dismantling structural racism, eradicating systemic poverty and building congregational vitality. This bold invitation was launched in April 2019; the university’s campus ministry is now part of over 460 congregations/groups/mid councils to have made the commitment to the Matthew 25 invitation.
The Presbyterian Campus Ministry is not a congregation, but a community of faith comprised of students who minister to each other and the university community. The Rev. Will Norman is the campus minister and executive director of the Presbyterian Campus Ministry, which is housed in the Presbyterian Student Center (PSC). “We saw the foundational narrative of how this ministry has been and how the Spirit has been at work on this campus and wanted to continue that,” Norman said.
Beginning in January, the campus ministry started addressing the “false peace” narrative that the United States had reached post-racism because of the election of Barack Obama. “We are addressing the ways we have proclaimed peace has come and still maintain an inequitable system for non-white folks,” Norman said. “Most importantly, how the Christian faith does and can speak into that reality.”
The Presbyterian Campus Ministry board, staff and students are all reading together the book “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo. They are holding weekly discussions that are proving to be challenging as expected with this topic, but Norman said there are “light bulbs going off for students and leaders” in the process.
“‘White Fragility’ is not specifically theological. We are hoping to move to a more theological lens in the reading material selected for fall,” Norman said.
Beginning this spring the campus ministry will be emphasizing the faithful pursuit of racial justice, including education, self-examination and intentional anti-racism training. The Journey Toward Justice project will facilitate programs through which students build their capacity to engage thoughtfully in advocacy work. They are following the end of Matthew’s gospel, which aligns with the three areas of focus of the Matthew 25 invitation.
They are expanding what has been a one-day retreat into a full weekend experience that will be held in Montgomery, Alabama. What they are calling a “spring pilgrimage” will be more than educational; it will be actively engaging toward justice.
Another step they are taking to dismantle structural racism is hosting the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness, for a Public Witness Workshop on Monday on the Athens campus of the University of Georgia.
“We had this crazy idea that all these things Jesus said are things we should be paying attention to,” said Norman. “We’ve got the educational piece down. How do we convert it into disciples who advocate for structural change and build relationships across the barriers, across different people groups, racially, economic and otherwise?”
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Categories: Collegiate Ministries, Matthew 25, Racial Justice
Tags: anti-racism, campus ministry, economic justice, justice, matthew 25 invitation, racial justice, ukirk, white supremacy
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