Friday, October 28, 2011
Students who worship at the Absalom Jones Episcopal Center are not necessarily Episcopalian. In fact, many of them get their first introductions to a liturgical tradition via the Center. Because of their unfamiliarity with the tradition, some rather odd things can happen during the liturgy. Most of the oddities are non-consequential, but one student's interpretation of the Compline confession has made a lasting impression:
At the last Compline of the fall semester, I invite a student to lead the liturgy. Although he regularly attends this service, this is only his second time leading. So, rather timidly, Peter begins the service. With the first few lines handled well, Peter confidently reads, "Let us confess our sins to God." I make eye contact with him hoping to remind him to provide time for silent confessions before continuing with the corporate confession. Peter pauses for a beat, and then he proceeds by stating his confession aloud.
Softly and humbly, the young man says, "I pray for forgiveness because I have harbored jealousy in my heart." Some of my students begin to giggle nervously, others stare at him in shock, and internally I'm saying some bad words out of fear that he's going to "over-share." He continues, "I really like this girl, and every time I see her boyfriend, I just can't help it. I'm so jealous..." He finishes his confession with a sigh, and then an awkward silence ensues. Facial expressions from other students convey their bewilderment and questions. Their eyes ask me where do we go from here?
Responding to their need for direction, I simply thank the young man for trusting us enough to articulate aloud his confession. Internally, I'm completely thrown off and don't really know what to do. But I continue speaking, "I now invite you all to make your own confessions. You may do this out loud, as so beautifully illustrated by Peter, or you may confess silently. After some time for reflection, we will all together make the corporate confession to God as printed in your leaflets."
The silence blares. I fearfully wait for someone else to speak. I wait fearing that I myself might speak. Should I, the priest, the chaplain of these young souls confess aloud of my sinfulness? Could I, the one who pronounces absolution to them, admit aloud my own personal need of absolution? Would I allow my students a glimpse of my own vulnerabilities and provide a witness to the sacredness of this moment?
Before I can answer those questions, Peter begins, "Almighty God, our heavenly Father: we have sinned..." A chorus of relieved voices joins in the remainder of the confession.
Friday, October 14, 2011
Welcome to college!
You showed up on campus on a hot summer day with your parents and a minivan full of your effects. Packed neatly was your favorite blanket, pillow, clothes, the collage of pictures from your senior year, and poster of Justin Beiber (JK) rolled tightly into a handy cylinder just waiting to be unrolled and put on your wall. You’re full of energy. You’re mostly nervous, a little excited, and you couldn’t wait to get this thing going! After all, you busted your ass to get here!
If you didn’t notice, your parents were jacked up too. When I met your parents, your mom was super anxious and your dad was the proudest papa ever. I totally get where they are coming from…as a parent I can’t wait to drop my kids off at college and my wife is already anxious about it. My kids are 2 and 4 years old.
What happened when your parents pulled away and you were left to your own devices is what has changed the most since I was a freshman (only 14 years ago). Instead of a weekend to unpack and a few days to get to know your new friends before class begins, you discover that the school has your free-time already booked. You’re important now! There is no time to think. No time to waste. Orientation has begun. Welcome to college!
And if you thought you would have to come up with your own schedule after orientation. Fear not! You’re booked until graduation! The system is in place for you to be busier than a bee until you leave. You have a million clubs to join, sports to play, sports to watch, Greek life, field trips, special speaker series, study abroad, comedians, concerts, campus ministry(let’s make that priority #1, okay?), and of course the very reason you are at college in the first place: school. And just so you know, your professors are famous, your classmates are brilliant, and all of them will be famous one day too…so you better study if you want to keep up. But no pressure, though. College is awesome!!!
This. This is college today. And it’s all a perfected production brought to you by the lovely institution that bares its name on your new sweatshirt. And it’s for you, so that college will be the best part of your life. Ever.
But let me offer you one piece of advice that saved me 14 years ago: Find quiet.
In the midst of the great chaos and pressure, find a place where you can just sit and be. For me, that place was the southwest corner on the 4th floor of the library, where I would sit and deeply gaze out of the huge windows that overlooked campus. It’s where my busy world was hushed. And in that quiet space, my spirit, body and mind got to know each other.
I hope you find quiet.
Welcome to college!
Washington University in St. Louis
Saturday, October 8, 2011
“Why do you want to do campus ministry?” I got asked this question a lot as I navigated my way through the complicated discernment process I had to go through for ordination. Truthfully, it was simply where I felt (and still feel) called to serve God and the Church. College students are incredible. They are learning about independence and adulthood, and their minds are being opened and stretched daily by new and interesting ideas. Their worlds are also being expanded by new experiences and opportunities – like studying abroad, drinking too much, not being under the watchful eye of a parent, choosing which activities they want to be a part of (like whether or not to go to church). In short, college is just a really interesting life phase, and it’s a place I feel the church presence is desperately needed.