Campus Ministry and Us

The last time I was given a bloody lip was while I was engaged in campus ministry.

I don't know if anyone else can say that. One place to check is Presbyterian Bloggers Unite // Campus Ministry. A number of Presbyterian bloggers are writing on this theme.

There have been key moments in my faith journey. Nothing as dramatic as happened to Paul on the Damascus road, but moments that have directed and shaped and molded me.

There have been people who have played key roles in my life: mentors who have challenged me; individuals who in chance encounters have inspired me; companions for the journey who have sustained me.

In several instances, these moments took place in campus ministry settings; these individuals were engaged in campus ministry.

I attended Westminster College in Western Pennsylvania. At the time, doubts about the commitment of the church to social justice issues had led me to question the role of faith and the institutional church in my life. However I liked to sing – did not necessarily sing well, but I did like to sing. (At Heartland Presbytery last weekend, I realized again that music is and always has been one of the ways in which I nurture my soul.)

At Westminster the opportunity to sing was the Chapel Choir. So I had the opportunity to see the chaplain in ministry. The Rev. Judd McConnell's quiet grace, gentle strength, and consistent witness to peace and justice in the name of Jesus Christ deeply impressed me. I became involved in the outreach programs organized through the Dean of the Chapel's office. More importantly I became friends with Judd. My call to ministry was mediated in many ways through Judd and others involved in the campus ministry. They shaped my understanding of what ministry is, who ministers are, and how ministry is done. The Chapel teams played a profound part in my understanding of ministry as a collaborative and collegial adventure. A few years back, I had the privilege of participating in a celebration of Judd's ministry. It was like going home.

From Westminster, my journey turned toward the banks of Lake Michigan to attend seminary at McCormick Theological Seminary. My first field education placement was in campus ministry with a group of six or seven students from MTS and other seminaries. One of our supervisors was the Rev. Dave McGown, campus minister at the Agape House at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Dave and the others, including one friend from the campus ministry at Westminster, further shaped my understanding that seeking peace and doing justice are essential components of being the church and that ministry is a task for colleagues working in collaboration. We spent time together in reflection.

Each of us served in a specific campus ministry setting. My particular setting was at Loop College, now Harold Washington College (coming close to giving away my age here). At this commuter college, campus ministry differed in significant ways from ministry at a residential college. Many students often attended class while on a break from work. They were in and out quickly. Yet there were significant similarities as well — working together, listening, building relationships, witnessing to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

The campus ministry shared space with a variety of groups. One of those groups was a martial arts class. A number of interesting, important conversations took place as I reflected on life and faith with members of the class. And at one point, I ended up with a bloody lip.

In good pastoral fashion, the conversation had been steered to Ray's interest. He reflected on the discipline and control that are key to martial arts. "Let me show you a couple of things," he said. We stood up and he demonstrated a couple of moves. "Now let me show you about control."

As I remember what happened next, Ray was to show me a move that would demonstrate how close he could come to me without hitting me.

You may well guess what happened next.

I flinched. And the move that was to miss and pass by my ear landed square on my mouth. Ray was embarrassed; but it was all my bad.

By the next week we were able to laugh about it. And we continued our conversation about martial arts.

But never again did we do a "show and tell."

Faith in Jesus Christ. Grace. Integrity. Welcome. Inclusion. Collegiality. Blood. Tears. Laughter. Witness. Song. These are my memories of campus ministry.

Recognizing that I would not be where I am today were it not for campus ministers and campus ministry, I give thanks to God.

And I wonder, belatedly I confess, how I can give back. How can I support campus ministry more effectively? How can the Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry, how can the Peacemaking Program, support campus ministry? Especially in light of recent GAC restructuring and budget reductions, in which Campus Ministry lost two staff positions and the office was combined with Youth Ministry and shifted to the Evangelism Area.

Reflecting on the past leads me to ponder those questions for the future. The journey continues . . .

Visit Presbyterian Bloggers Unite // Campus Ministry to read what others are thinking.

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