A Parent’s Perspective

27 Apr

In August 2008, just a couple of weeks before the freshmen moved on campus for orientation, I received a call from the mother of an incoming student.  I remember being a bit taken aback for a couple of reasons: 1.) The call was to my home, not the office–a number that would take some degree of effort to track down; and 2.) The person was a parent not a student (I have since learned this isn’t all that unusual.)  What was the purpose of the call?  To let me know how deeply devout her daughter was and how terribly worried her mother was that all that good Christian upbringing would go right down the toilet once her dear girl was left to the temptations of the secular campus environment.  When was worship?  Could I make sure to reach out to her daughter (whose name she gave me about 8 times)?  Was there Bible study and would it accommodate her daughter’s class schedule?  What did I personally do to make sure students stayed “focused on Jesus,” at college, etc. etc?  “Helicopter parent” seemed an inadequate term for this poor, agonized soul.

The memory of this woman’s call has been haunting me of late, particularly this month as I have been accompanying my own 18-year-old daughter on Admitted Students visits to several campuses, one of which is nearly 1300 miles from our home.  In full disclosure, my precious child cannot be described as devout—at least in the religious sense.  Despite 18 years of being raised in the church, confirmed, and cared for, she’s not sure what she thinks about God these days.  She’s even less sure about what she feels about being called, “Christian,” or spending too much time with those who share that label.  This is a painful truth for this pastor parent to admit to herself, much less share with others.  What is equally true is that my daughter is growing into a kind, creative human being, committed to serving others and leaving the world a healthier, more just and peaceful place when she leaves it.  I am proud of the person she is becoming.

But like the mother who called me concerned about her daughter’s faith while at college, I, too, find myself wondering about my own child’s spiritual needs during her university years.  So, in the spirit of calling all those poor campus ministers on her behalf, here is what I wish for her:

  • A community of friends who will accept her just as she is, but challenge her to keep growing.
  • A community of friends who will help her remember that she is part of something bigger than herself—and keep her accountable to this broader vision.
  • A community of friends who know how to have a good time without getting drunk or high; who can have open and honest conversations about sex, relationships and intimacy, while supporting and encouraging one another in making healthy, responsible choices.
  • A community of friends whose worship of God is expressed in serving others as well as active advocacy for peace and justice.
  • A community of friends who regularly break bread together, listen to and pray for one another, and put scripture in conversation with life as it is lived.  Oh, yeah—singing and making music is essential, too!

The key phrase here is “community of friends.”  I have witnessed firsthand how isolating campus life can be for many students, even the ones who appear to have it all together.  Everyone needs to know they are loved, cared for and connected to other people, especially when far from home.  I believe this is the most important aspect of campus ministry.  Without God’s incarnational love expressed through peers and mentoring adults, meaningful spiritual growth cannot happen.  Fostering strong, caring relationships among students is one of the best gifts campus ministries provide.

It is not only my prayer for my daughter, but a clarion call for myself and my colleagues as we seek to faithfully serve other people’s sons and daughters.  May God have mercy on our efforts.

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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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