It Comes to Football

10 Oct

I am continually amazed by the shape of campus ministry.  The strange conglomeration of events and activities and responsibilities on my plate.  I know you know what I’m talking about, how we move from coffee and catching up with a student, to meeting with a professor or administrator, to trying to figure out the internet connection (again!), to putting together this week’s Bible study, to finding a distraught and teary-eyed student waiting outside the office door, to reaching out through Facebook to a student we haven’t seen in a while, to pre-marital sessions with the couple whose wedding we’ll celebrate next month, to making sure there will be food for the dinner next week, to mentoring a student headed for seminary, to meeting with another student who needs help figuring out how to lead the group discussion on capital punishment and faith, to writing the alumni fundraising letter, to writing the sermon, to hearing a visiting speaker on campus, to meeting with the interfaith clergy group,  to preparing ecclesiastical reports that can sometimes bear little resemblance to all this.  And that’s just Wednesday.

And even though the sheer randomness and all-over-the-placeness of our ministry helps to prepare us for anything, every once in a while something still surprises me.  This time it’s football.

I realize that many of you probably attend football games with your students or sponsor group tailgates and other tie-in events when there is a game.  Our Wesley Foundation does this, too.  The thing is, I never go.  When my husband watches football on TV and makes a comment about the game, I ask, “Is that good?” and then I say “boo” or “yay,” depending upon his answer, in an effort to be supportive.  This does not come naturally to me.  I graduated 22 years ago from the same school where I have been in ministry now for the past 11 years.  In all this time I have managed to only attend 3 football games, all of them as an undergraduate before I figured out how little I cared.

When a clergyperson in our Conference once commented on the season we were having, and I said, “I have no idea.  I don’t like football,” he took the opportunity to inform me that football is really important to students and that I should go where the students are and that I am really missing out on something in my ministry.  At which point, I harassed him right back, opining about how important it is to be real with students rather than trying to be one of them or pretending to like what we don’t.

But this week, I am going to my 4th football game.  I have been told about five times but I still don’t remember who we are playing.  I still don’t care.  I actually thought about bringing along a book, from which I could just look up and say “boo” and “yay,” as appropriate.  And I still have the opinion I harassed my colleague with a few years ago – I am not pretending to like it and I won’t be buying season passes, but I am going for my students.  A couple of students in particular.

One of the students is a drum major in the marching band this year, which, I had to be told, is a big deal.  Once I understood what a big deal it was I wanted to go see him do his thing.  I started asking students about tickets and which game I should attend.  My husband couldn’t believe his good fortune.  But when I found out how steep the prices were, we almost aborted the plan.

Enter the second student, with whom I walked through a very tough time in his life recently.  When he heard I wanted to go to the game, he and his dad generously invited me and my husband to sit with them in some very good seats that they had won.  He actually wrote “these are very good seats” in his emailed invitation because he knew I would have no idea.

I am really looking forward to spending time with this student and his dad, two folks I’ve known and loved for several years now.  I am really looking forward to seeing the drum major at half time.  Several students and alumni have told me that his place is very near our seats, so we’ll have a great view.  They have also told me they are taking pictures of me at the game and they’ve made sure I will wear appropriate school-spirited colors.  They know who they are dealing with.

So, it comes to football.  The place I never thought I’d go in ministry.  But thanks to the pursuits and passions of one drum major and thanks to the kindness of one family, I’ll be tailgating and “booing” and “yaying” along with all the other Wahoos this weekend.  And there will be photographic evidence galore.  As I announced on our Facebook group, it’s like Halley’s Comet.  Alumni and students want to say they saw it.  What I hope they also see is that this is what I do every day in some fashion:  care enough about the lives they are leading to show up at the important places and times for them.

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Deborah loves hiking, cooking, reading, and a good strong cup of coffee. She believes that a rainy day is one of God’s great gifts and that When Harry Met Sally can never be seen or quoted too many times.  When she is not throwing pottery on the wheel, she also enjoys writing, sometimes for the online magazine catapult.   She is an ordained elder in the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church and serves as director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Virginia.  She has been in campus ministry for 11 years and shares the journey with her husband and stepson.

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