The Benefit of Shame

14 Mar

Ministry with college students is something I’ve been doing now for over 20 years – for awhile I did it in camp ministry.  For the past dozen or so years, I’ve been working with a congregation that is very near  the Penn State campus.  Yes.  Penn State.    It’s that college you heard about all fall.  The topic of conversation.    We’re still not sure what to call it – in the news, it’s called “the scandal.”   Around town, folks refer to it as “when everything changed for Happy Valley.”

The week that Jerry Sandusky’s charges of child sexual abuse associated some of Penn States top officials was a week that deeply affected each one and all of us.  We were thoroughly unprepared for the depth of pain that comes with shame.  “We are…..” is a proud language and left little room for us to learn humility.     Ministry took on a new look during these months.  Programming went on the back burner.    Front & Center, at each gathering, in each interaction (virtually as well)  my ministry one that involved listening and presence during a time of constant processing.  Folks were trying to make sense of it all, offering excuses and looking for ways to blame others (I suspect that’s part of our continued disgust with the media-one that will fuel our Communications College for years!).   It was somehow easier to blame others for putting us in front of you all than for us to stop in the chaos and allow ourselves to look inward.

Fortunately,  I discovered (along with my colleagues in ministry here) that we actually have been prepared for crisis.  Our preparation was not planned – but it was in nurturing our presence on campus (each of our faiths,  through an on-campus interfaith center) as well as the remembrance of our own stories and traditions that point to such times.   I’ve never referred to Job and the epistles as much as I did last fall!   Healing was initially nurtured in Services held all over campus.  It was also found in graceful presence with our students, giving them the opportunity to vent (lament) and then offering encouragement to ask the harder questions.   As painful as this year has been, I am eternally grateful for this growth opportunity.  We have been pushed  to introspection and to a remembrance of our core values, both as a university and as faith groups.    We have learned that we are vulnerable, and there is no shame in that, rather a need for something bigger to hold on to (bigger even that football).


Diana is the Advisor for Westminster Presbyterian Fellowship on the Penn State Campus, working with the State College Presbyterian Church where she also works (plays) with middle-schoolers.  She enjoys walking, reading, family & friends, and considering how to live life well/more sustainably (including growing lots of her own foods and caring for egg-laying chickens Patty, Dumpling, Little and Nugget).

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