Get out of the Middle

28 Feb

I have long been a campus minister and firmly believe that the Church needs to provide a dedicated space on every campus where our young adults and their friends can gather: to find friends, share a meal, be in a space set apart from the pressures of achieving in the classroom, a place where love and acceptance as well as a good meal can be found. It is imperative that students have the autonomy to create their own community, make their own decision, assert their own leadership.  It parallels the work they must do as teenagers emerging into adulthood. This can’t happen in a local church where the already-established-congregation rightly expects students to conform to their culture.

I have also long believed that a connection to local churches is a gift that is part of mainline Protestant campus ministries. We turn to these churches for financial support. But, there has to be more connection than just money.

I pursued a certificate in fundraising from the Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising at NYU in July 2010. It is a fantastic program that opens up a worldview, develops a skill set, and inspires the challenge of building up any nonprofit. The most important word I heard that month was this:

“Get out of the middle,” whispered the Holy Spirit. “Get those local church members in to meet the students.”

Of course!

It is so obvious and yet not always an easy meeting to arrange.

OK, so I went back to Rutgers, and I extended an invitation to six area churches to come to Trinity House on a Monday night during the semester. “Please,” I asked, “Bring dinner to serve our community.” I asked them to come at 6 p.m. in order to worship with us, then join us for dinner with us at 7 p.m. Over dinner, I asked people to go around the table and share their name as well as why they are involved in their faith community. I asked our students to tell the church members why Trinity House is important to them; I asked church members to tell the students why their congregation is important to them. Inevitably, from this little bit of sharing, great stories of faith were shared. I’ve watched every congregation walk out of Trinity House looking 10 years younger and feeling lighter in spirit as well as energized.

This happens because the students create their own culture at Trinity House. They rule, so to speak. Church members are stepping out of their dominant culture, primarily a lot older, and over the threshold into ours, certainly much younger. We are gifted by local church members’ generosity and wisdom. They are gifted by the students’ energy and vitality. It is a win-win all around. To be infected by the positive energy at our campus ministry, it is imperative to have that space set apart.

This year, we reached out to area local churches to ask for supplies for one of our mission projects called The Midnight Run, a mission to the homeless of New York City where people distribute food and clothing and, more importantly, engage in conversation. The churches who responded to us are the churches who have served us dinner. Thanks to their generosity, we had abundant supplies to give out:  large men’s clothing, blankets, and toiletries, socks, scarves. The students find themselves incredibly grateful to have these wonderful things to distribute, and we will go these congregations in subsequent Sunday mornings this spring to say “Thank you!”

The road goes both ways. Our students experience worship in new congregations. Our campus ministry builds a broader base of support. And we all need a broader network of supporters to sustain our presence on campus where our students extend their Christian faith among their peers, students we might never meet but can nonetheless impact through our students. Similarly, it is just as our churches extend Christian faith in our settings of higher education through our campus ministries, reaching students they might never meet but nonetheless impact.

This year, for the first time, one of the six churches called us first to ask to serve dinner.

The Holy Spirit is doing the work She promised to do when she whispered in my heart in New York City. May we all be open to the ways the Spirit yearns to knit together the Body of Christ. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!


Barbara serves as the campus minister for Rutgers Protestant Campus Ministries in New Brunswick, NJ. She has served the Protestant Cooperative Ministry at Cornell, as Interfaith Coordinator at Occidental College, and assisted the Westminster Foundation at Princeton University. She received her Bachelor of Arts with Honors in German from University of Wisconsin-Madison, writing a honors thesis on peace activities in East Germany and the role of the Lutheran Church.  When she isn’t working at Rutgers, she rows with the Carnegie Lake Association or is found painting in oils with her teacher, Gregory Perkel and a beloved community of students..


5 Responses to “Get out of the Middle”

  1. Christopher Eshelman February 28, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    Thank you for this – as a Wesleyan pastor serving in the last UM funded ecumenical campus ministry in my state (located on a heavily non-trad commuter campus), this is exactly the kind of model I’m looking to build – glad to know I’m not alone in feeling the Spirit guiding us this direction.

  2. Christopher Eshelman February 28, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

    Reblogged this on Campus Ministry @ WSU Official Blog and commented:
    Nice article talking about the kind of connectional ministry with area churches that I envision flourishing at Wichita State.

  3. Mark Forrester February 28, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    Thanks Barbara for this encouraging story of inter-generational sharing! Twenty years ago, while at a state school located in a county seat, our Wesley Foundation experienced the same kind of support from laity and women’s groups all around. Today, at a “southern ivy” in the middle of Nashville, it is hard to peak people’s interest. Everybody is too busy to bring food, so they send money. I appreciate the money (which buys our mid week meal), but would opt for what you have described. At least this kind of thing isn’t completely extinct. Again, many thanks!

  4. Dawn Adamy March 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

    Thanks for this, Barbara! We’ve had similar experiences when churches have joined our students, too. Just wish we could get more congregations involved!

  5. Rev. Linda Lampkin Parker March 7, 2012 at 10:56 am #

    Thank you for sharing. I believe that this is the kind of communication that is needed and long overdue among campus ministers. I feel safe in saying that we all know the shared problems, but solutions to them are priceless.
    There has been, and continues to be, a pulling away from the church by our young adults. We certainly don’t want to eliminate our church folks from our campus ministries. It has been said, and it’s true…”We have this ministry.” We are the Body of Christ. We are in this thing together as Christ would have it. Again, thank you and God bless you…keep up the good work.

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