What I Covet

8 Mar

Before my current adventures in campus ministry began a few years ago, I served as pastor to a small, declining congregation in a rural-turned-suburban area of our state.  (By declining, I mean in the number, health & energy of its members, as well as finances.)  Eventually the congregation elected to dissolve and the pain and anguish that ensued for the few remaining, mostly elderly, parishioners—many of whom had been raised in that congregation—was heart wrenching.  As one might imagine, things became quite ugly, especially when it came time to figure out what to do with the nearly 200-year-old building.  For many members, their attachment to that space far outweighed their attachment to any of the humans who had prayed, served, celebrated and grieved there.  The whole process of emptying the rooms of their contents and, finally, selling the building itself, gave witness to some of the most un-Christ-like behavior I have ever seen.  The whole experience left me grieving for our church—and more convinced than ever of the dangers of making idols out of our buildings.

So it was somewhat of a relief when I came to our Protestant Campus Ministry and discovered that the chapel on campus had limited space and that space had to be shared among a number of groups, both religious and non-religious.  The large, wooden-pewed meeting room upstairs served as both sanctuary and lecture/recital space.  Our university has a large performing arts department and music and theater majors often hold classes and studio labs there.  The few basement rooms are used for storage and administrative space; there is one large room with conference tables and chairs and a tiny kitchenette that everyone shares.  No group owns the space.  We all have to schedule it as needed and it’s first-come-first-served.  “No danger of idol-making here! “ I thought to myself. I could see that one of the perks of campus ministry was going to be no building!  There was no danger of letting a building define us.  We were free to focus on the ministry, meeting students wherever and whenever they hung out.

Well, after 3 ½ years of ministering to students without a designated space, I can safely and wholeheartedly confess that I hate it.  I madly covet houses near campus.  Our school’s Catholic Campus Ministry has a lovely 3-story brick house directly across the street from the main entrance to our enclosed campus.  CCM students have a large living room with a fireplace and comfy couches, as well as an expansive well-supplied kitchen and a dining room table that can seat about 16.  There is a backyard with a barbeque pit and basketball hoop.  Some of you are perhaps sensing the green glow emanating from my eyes as I type this.  Please forgive– the tenth commandment is probably the easiest to break!

Seriously, though, I am beginning to think that one place where real estate matters is campus ministry.  I may be wrong about this, but experience tells me students love a place to hang out, a place where they feel welcomed and comfortable; a home-away-from-home where they can enjoy a home-cooked meal or watch late-night TV together; a safe space where they get a reprieve from the cacophony of dorm life and can find a quiet sanctuary for rest and reflection; a place where they belong.   I like to imagine it, anyway.

So, for my colleagues reading this who have real estate on or within walking distance to campus, give thanks (as I’m sure you already do!)  For those who, like me, do not have the benefit of a home base for your campus ministry, please share your suggestions for creating welcoming and comfortable sacred space “on the go.”  I would love to hear your ideas– Thanks!

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Dawn Adamy is a PCUSA pastor and has served as Trenton Area Campus Ministry’s Protestant Chaplain to Rider University and Westminster Choir College since 2008.  Prior to that, she served as Designated Pastor to Amwell First Presbyterian Church in Ringoes, NJ. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia and her M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. Dawn enjoys good coffee and good theater, especially of the musical variety. She lives in Lawrenceville, NJ with her husband, Sam, and their children, Hannah, Kate and Daniel.

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3 Responses to “What I Covet”

  1. Thad Holcombe March 8, 2012 at 8:20 pm #

    Dawn, I think this is risky to respond to your blog not really knowing you nor the context very well in which you do the ministry, but, regardless, I will go ahead and respond.
    Yes, a site can be helpful for giving the ministry identity and it would be time well spent for your board to find a small house, for example. This place would not need to be a lounge. That model of ministry is certainly one to consider, but by no means is the only one, not the best given a specific situation.
    I say this, in part, because I think there is another model of ministry that is not only “student ministry”. I do not intend to patronize, since you are most likely already aware of this. I think it is worthy of consideration that your ministry might be a “university ministry” that includes students, but also appreciates the entirety of the university. This would mean understanding the “culture” of your context and then minister with the faculty and students in such a way that a place is not necessarily needed. For example, to have several sessions with faculty on “What does it mean to be a person of faith and have a vocation, not just a career, as a faculty person?’ The meetings could be held on campus and draw from all faith traditions or limit it to what is comfortable for you. It could also be in one congregation if there is a large church with many faculty. In addition, it is worth considering the development of a significant ministry that becomes well known. This could be having an Alternative Break, not a mission trip, but a way for students to experience another culture, etc. with reflection that includes questions of faith, but also is open to those who have no faith tradition. It could also be a ministry known for creating a safe and significant “space” to do a series on sexuality/intimacy that is very honest and not a “moralist ought” series that is so often assumed by many students (at least in Kansas). This would mean finding a professional, faculty or another person, to lead a series.
    Well…. enough said – if you are interested in having more of a conversation on this, please give me a call (785-843-4933). I can sense your frustration, for sure!

    Thad Holcombe with Ecumenical Campus Ministry at U. of Kansas
    at ecmku@ku.edu

  2. Bruce Chapman, Presbyterian University Minister March 10, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    We at Westminster House, Florida State Univ., Tallahassee echo Thad’s thoughts about a broader vision of higher education ministry that embraces the university communityat-large entirely. We have thought here recently about the perhaps less direct, benficial effects that our monthly faculty luncheons may have on the students whom these faculty teach and mentor. Inasmuch as these programs address the needs of university faculty, staff & adminstrators and equip and encourage them in their service and work then perhaps grace abounds more fully. With regard to Dawn’s lament over ministry property & speaking from a ministry housed in an historic, architecturally significant landmark adjacent to campus: Building ownership is a tenuous enterprize (think liability insurance, maintenance, utilities, etc.).

  3. Dawn Adamy March 12, 2012 at 10:18 am #

    Thanks for your response, Thad. I appreciate the suggestions!

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