So Campus Ministers, have you ever had one of those days where you begin to wonder if you’re doing anything at all? Especially for those of us at State Universities where religion, never mind Catholicism is not always welcomed with grand hospitality by said University–isn’t it a humbling experience to try and often not see the results you’ve hoped for?
I’ve certainly had that experience in three years now of Campus Ministry. But I’ve also had some wonderful moments with students and faculty. I’ve gained some great colleagues and been welcomed into collaborations with faculty and staff as well. Often it’s interesting work. I role-play with medical students in the simulation center. I catch those who pass out in the gross anatomy lab (and then have to coach them to get back in the room and cut into a human cadaver). I work out with athletes in the early morning and then try to get them to do some community service with me.
But I think what I do most often for students and faculty is that I really try to get them to trust me. To become a person who represents a church with, let’s face it, a checkered present, these days. The church is not seen the greatest of perspectives as a trusted entity by many. So with the deck stacked against me, I show up and try to make a relationship with students, faculty and staff in whatever way I can. I hustle from place to place and try to build as many relationships as I can manage. My hope is that these relationships will grow deeper.
Today, a staff member who I’ve barely gotten to know, sat me down and she reported that she wanted to come over to our church but that she just wasn’t ready yet. I patiently listened and replied, “Well, you’re always welcome. Just come on over anytime.”
And then she smiled at me and began to tell me the reasons she has been away. They are complicated and frustrating and real and to be honest, it was a heavy conversation.
But it wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t begin by simply getting to know each other in conversation—and that wouldn’t have happened if I wash’t thinking creatively about how to get involved in her department.
Campus Ministers, in general, are not reported as trusted sources when collegians are asked who they turn to to help them make some important decisions. Professors and other staff members on campus, however, are on that list (along with friends and parents). Therefore, we have no choice but to collaborate with our colleagues in the university. We need them to see us not as ministers or messiahs but as higher ed professionals, people with something to say.
I saw a doctor today really caring for a group of medical students. Giving them some real ways to discern their own feelings and thoughts about their future patients and their goals as doctors. It was amazing to watch. It occurred to me right then:
This doctor is ministering to them.
Maybe we’re all not that different from one another. Maybe a university can indeed be a place where different factions can meet with one another and have some influence over the ways we are serving the needs of the students: educationally, spiritually, emotionally. We are all mentors in some way.
But in order to be mentors, we have to hustle. Guess what? Students don’t randomly start coming to the University Parish and praying in the chapel out of the blue. Well, some do–but most need a bit of encouragement.
Perhaps that encouragement should start with letting them see you on campus and gaining a sense of trust in who you are as a person?
Today, consider your university and consider your own gifts and talents. What might you have to offer to departments in the University? What might you hope to transmit to this generation of students that would at the very least make them think that campus ministry has their best interests at heart? What might you want to do so that others give you just a bit of the benefit of the doubt?
Indeed this is a ministry of trust. And our prayer is that people can trust us enough so that they can be willing to explore how they feel about God with us as companions on that journey.
When they do…all is grace. And we experience God on Campus as our companion, guiding us into seeing where we are most called to our students and helping them see just a glimmer of where God is working in their life.
And where we can help to shed light in their moments of darkness and fear.
It is a blessing to be on Campus. May we never forget how much opportunity we have to serve the needs of the university.
And may we be blessed with the gifts that our students, faculty and staff often share with us and know that these are more than enough to bring us into an experience of God.
What more could anyone want?