Lent – Liturgical season for students

1 Feb

Ash Wednesday – February 22nd 2012- Still time to plan.

For those of us inviting students to discover or rediscover liturgical seasons, the campus ministry setting can be challenging. Unlike most of our church based colleagues, Christmas is often a very quiet if not subdued time. New Years and Epiphany have students far from our campuses. Easter falls about the same time that the reality of semester’s end overtakes every free moment. Then there is the season of lent that is almost custom made for student schedules and sensibilities.

Ash Wednesday is usually after the Spring semester has “settled in” but before it has “taken over.” The 40 days of lent span the mid section of the semester. Here at the University of Illinois it is often cold and gray, subconsciously turning the students to introspection. The freshmen have hopefully survived the craziness of their first semester and often have come to the realization that something is missing in their lives. To be honest, it is not unusual for academic probation to be an impetus to check out a campus ministry early in the spring semester.

My student leaders embrace Ash Wednesday like a high holy day. Weeks will be spent imagining, planning and shaping an immersive evening worship service. They will build off of a theme that is related to the thrust of recognizing ones humanity, repentance, and the adoption of spiritual disciplines. They will invite their friends and even strangers to join them in this time of spiritual journeying. Emails will be sent, posters plastered, and social networks will be a buzzed.

We tend toward a multisensory contemplative service that culminates with the imposition of ashes.  Prayer stations and candles encircle our worship space. As the service progresses there is time to be alone with God in silence, time to experience the communal nature of worship, time to identify and mark spiritual need and movement.

I am often pleasantly amazed by the persons that join in this worship experience. In addition to our regular crowd, we will also find persons who hang out on the peripheries our ministry engaging in deeper spiritual exploration. Invariably persons walking down the street will join us who saw the poster and knew that they needed something. Some want to reconnect with Ash Wednesdays in their former spiritual traditions, others have never heard of this peculiar spiritual practice. All have the chance to mark the beginning of this special season of Lent.

As the 40 days of Lent proceed, students are encouraged in their disciplines in daily email devotionals, small groups and myriad of other subtle encouragements. Easter then becomes this wonderful celebration of God’s unbounded love for ALL, of ALL of us, not merely something that sneaks up on us like an egg dispersing bunny in the night. From dust we have come and to dust we shall return… but that’s alright because Christ has conquered sin and death. He is Risen. He is Risen indeed!


Rob Kirby is the Campus Minister and Associate Director at the Wesley Foundation at the University of Illinois. He has been serving there since 2003 and is blessed by the incredible ways that the love of God is being made known to the diverse campus community. He has served as President of the Religious Workers Association which brings together over 30 different interfaith ministries that serve the University of Illinois. In addition to traditional campus ministry, he is also passionate about ministries with international persons and equipping students to be in service to the community and world. Rob recently spent a year of Sabbath and spiritual renewal with his wife and three children as he worked with the Christian Care Foundation for Children with disabilities in Nonthaburi, Thailand. http://www.ccdthailand.org/ Rob also loves wood working, hiking, skiing and camping.

The Wesley Foundation at the University of Illinois invites you to join us in celebrating the first 100 years of Wesley Foundation ministries and looking forward to the next 100 years of United Methodist campus ministry. Legislation is before General Conference this year calling on the church to designate the school year of 2013-2014 to celebrate the ministries of Wesley Foundations and other United Methodist-related campus ministries.

One Response to “Lent – Liturgical season for students”

  1. Rob Kirby February 25, 2012 at 12:57 am #

    We follow Ash Wed up with daily email scriptural reflections. When we put together short thoughtful reflections, They are very well received. With almost 100 people signing up for them and reading them daily.

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