A Simple Hunger

22 May

At a PC(USA) gathering of people who work in, with, or around campus ministry, we centered with a text about the early days of the church:

The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers.  A sense of awe came over everyone.  God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles.  All the believers were united and shared everything.  They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needs them.  Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes.  They shared food with gladness and simplicity.  They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone.  The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.”  Acts 2:42-27

We live in a time when church numbers are declining across the board; when the language of the faith carries a stigma such that people shy away from the word “Christian” and few want to call themselves “religious.”  In a time when a decreasing number of young adults are returning to the church after their late-adolescent exile, these words from Acts can make a minister hunger for such community.  Back in the day, there was a sense of awe!  Back in the day, believers were not polarized over issues of doctrine and piety – they were united!  They took care of one another, they ate together – potluck-style – and they kept it simple.

Rachel Held Evans writes in “Letters to a Future Church” (InterVarsity Press) that in this age of prosperity, the church does not need fancier sound equipment or deeper pockets.  The church needs bigger banquet tables.

We like to laugh about how church people can’t get together without food being involved – but maybe it’s not a joke.  Eating together has always been a central function of being church.  From the days of feeding 5,000 people with one little boy’s lunch, to an intimate last supper shared by Jesus and the twelve, to the early church agape meal, to our covered-dish church suppers and campus pizza parties – eating together is a function of Christian ministry.

Evans makes the point that it’s not just about feeding people.  There is a difference between feeding people and dining with people.  Feeding people can mean sending our cans to the local food pantry or our checks to World Vision, but eating together means making room for all the hungry people at our table.  It means sharing things in common. 

During this gathering of campus ministry people, we have shared a lot of discussion about the challenges facing the church and our ministries.  We asked a lot of “How” questions:  How will campus ministry be funded?  How do we connect with an increasingly unchurched/dechurched population?  How do we identify those who will take the lead in campus ministries?  How do we measure success?  How do we get congregations to embrace and support campus ministries?

Could it be that we are over complicating it?  In a world where college students have an overwhelming range of causes and organizations they can get involved in, does the church distinguish itself by offering a better range of programs?  In a world where the words we have used to express the faith have been co-opted and loaded with baggage, does the church distance itself from them?  Or do we try to recall what we were all about back in the beginning?

I think I am hungry for the gladness and simplicity of sharing food and word together; prayer and conversation around a dining table.  And I believe it is simple (but maybe not easy?).  I think there is no secret, high-tech formula for bringing young people into Christ’s church.  I think they are hungry too.

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Maggie Gillespie is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and is in her fifth year as Director of Protestant Campus Ministry (PCM) at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.  She has lived in Bloomsburg for 18 years with her husband, Kim, and their four children.  Her favorite pastimes include reading on the front porch, hanging out in the kitchen with family and friends, and screaming her head off at high school soccer games.  Maggie holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin, a Master of Divinity from Lancaster Theological Seminary, and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Illinois.

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