Monday, November 26, 2012

Three Students

Check out this short video about a few of the students at Rockwell House!  We had a lot of fun making this!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Interfaith Progressive Dinner

One of the annual traditions at UC Davis is to have an Interfaith Progressive Dinner each November.  Held the week before Thanksgiving, it gives students the chance to come into four different ministry centers: CA House (Methodist, Presbyterian, and UCC ministry), Hillel, the Islamic Center, and the Belfry (Lutheran and Episcopal) - my ministry.  At each house we pair up with another ministry - the Unitarians, Newman Center, Sikhs, Buddhists, etc. - so that everyone is represented.  It takes about 2 1/2-3 hours to go to each house and eat, etc., but it is always a highlight of the school year.

As with any progressive dinner, the meal is served in courses: appetizers in one place, soup & salad in another, main course at another stop, and finally dessert.  To accommodate religious food restrictions we agree to have all food be vegetarian - no meat at all.  We also agree in advance that this night is not about proselytizing.  Our goal is to have the students meet each other and to share/learn something about each faith tradition.

This year, each group shared whatever would be their traditional food blessing.  Not all groups have a prayer like this that is universally accepted, but some definitely do.  Our group sang the doxology.  The food is always delicious and it is so nice to be welcomed into each ministry space.  It demystifies what happens behind the doors of each center and allows everyone to see and hear something about what each group does.  Students routinely ask for more events like this by the end of the night.

This is one way we have interfaith dialogue and collaboration on our campus.  How does it happen on yours?

Monday, October 15, 2012

4 years later…

In October of 2008, I was just beginning my first full year of ministry as Campus Chaplain at UC Davis.  And we were in the home stretch of the election.  It seemed as if politics were everywhere on campus.  The various campaigns were represented on campus each day, political signs, t-shirts, bumper stickers were pervasive.  We even had a “No on Prop 8” sign in front of the Belfry (which was stolen, and brought at least one angry person inside questioning how a Christian ministry could be in favor of same sex marriage).  Students gathered in the Belfry living room to watch the debates together, which turned out to be a natural community builder.  The twists and turns of the election were common post-worship dinner fodder, and I was impressed at how the students could discuss these serious issues in a serious but meaningful way, without alienating each other.

Now, in October of 2012, the fact that it is an election year is mostly strangely absent from campus.  Certainly there are pockets of interest, especially in certain statewide propositions.  But the general interest level in things like the presidential debates is relatively low.  Bill Clinton spoke at a rally on campus last week, and that was one of the few big signs of this being an election year I’ve seen thus far.  Thousands of people gathered on the quad to hear Clinton, but it’s hard to know if they were there for the political rally or to hear a former president speak in person.

It’s really strange.  When asked, students express interest in the election, but it doesn’t seem to be on their minds, bodies, backpacks, etc., the way it was in 2008.  Which makes me wonder, what is it like this year on your campus?  Are students engaged in the election the way they were in 2008 or is this year different?  And why is that?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

5 Trends You Should Know About To Be A Better Chaplain

As the new school year has begun and the academic church year is on its way I thought it would be a great time to catch you up on a few trends sweeping the undergraduate community.  You might think these trends are irrelevant and meaningless to doing ministry on campus, but as you might know, context isn't everything, it's the only thing.

If you are interested in last year's trends CLICK HERE!

5. Pinterest 

Pinterest isn't exactly new, but it's certainly feels new.  No status updates, quizzes  or silly games taking up your timeline on Pinterest, it's just a collection of what people like!  It has taken social media and made it beautiful.  The collage of images and ideas enhances the internet experience, and undergrads are all over it!

4. Mumford and Sons 

Mumford and Sons isn't just a blip on the radar.  It's seriously good music and students know it!  It may not be on everyone's iPod, but it's certainly a better representation of music than, let's say, LMFAO.  

3. Riding Boots are the New Uggs

I'm not fashion expert, but the days of sweat pants and Uggs have been replaced by tights and riding boots.  Young women all over campus are asking their moms and dads to head out to the barn to dust off those Ariat English Riding Boots and to send them to campus in a care package ASAP! And I don't blame them.  They are very classy and simple and they surely look better than the oh so tired combo of Uggs and sweats.      

2. Memes

The Urban Dictionary defines a meme as "an idea, belief or belief system, or pattern of behavior that spreads throughout a culture either vertically by cultural inheritance (as by parents to children) or horizontally by cultural acquisition (as by peers, information media, and entertainment media)."  Basically it's taking something that is relevant (iPhone 5 maps disaster as pictured on Columbus Day) and spicing it up with a little snark.  Memes can be fun, often funny, but unfortunately they (like so many other things on the internet) can be predictable and boring.  But their still hot and I'd imagine that they will continue to stay hot.  

1. Gangnam Style

I don't even know how to describe this.  And I'm not really sure if it's even appropriate to acknowledge that it exists.  But it does and everyone knows about it, so you should too! 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Building Your Résumé

College is fantastic, right?  Well, maybe not for all.  I suppose it can be a bad experience.  But for most of the students I encounter it is a period of fun mixed with intense study and intentional exploration. 
For six years I’ve watched a culture of young adults gather in a community focused on academics.  Of course, that’s the stated obvious focus but it’s often not the whole.  Extracurricular activities such as playing sports, watching sports, acapella groups, debate teams, student councils, theatre groups, community service groups, fraternities and sororities, and yes even campus ministries can shape and set the tone to a student’s college experience…not the actual school work.  Academics are always at the core but rarely are they the whole. 
Usually it’s rare to meet an 18 year old who knows what they want to do the rest of their life, but at Wash U. it seems to be the norm.  High school students with high aspirations and blemish-free report cards and résumés land in a sea of students with equally impressive résumés.  This sets the stage for a very competitive and intense atmosphere in the classroom and in the social construct. 
It’s chaotic and very entertaining to be a witness to this very competitive environment.   It’s not only in the classroom, but it’s in sports (best overall NCAA DIII school in the nation), the acapella groups, councils, and the million clubs.   Students are out to succeed and they mean it. 
The spirit of success is great, and I certainly support it.  In fact, I believe most of the students at Wash U. not only want to succeed, but they want to contribute to the world in a manner that will only make it a better place. 
Recently a group of students from Wash U. found a running clothing company called Janji that not only makes awesome running clothes, but it’s a non-profit movement that aims to end the global food and water crisis.  Through selling their running apparel they fund solutions and raise awareness to brining clean water and food to the world. 
If this isn’t inspiring I’m not sure what is. 
What is most inspiring to me is that these students were called to create something beautiful in the world and they followed this call.  Sure, the most obvious route might have been to wait until they graduate and follow the standard path (grad school), but the Janji founders didn’t follow conventional wisdom, and took their love of running and made an impact in the world…all while still in college! 
I love this story because to me it’s not just about the résumé.  It’s more than about getting straight A’s.  It’s so much more than just looking good on paper.  I worry that too many students are so fixated on being perfect on paper that they lose touch with other valuable, artistic, cultural, spiritual, philanthropic aspects of life that give a person character and show a person’s care for the world. 
I completely support students who strive for academic perfection, but when it comes at a cost of only doing things that make you look better, I can’t support it. 
I know most of us have a little overachiever in us.  I have it, my wife has it, my kids have it, my students at Mizzou had it, and my Wash U. and SLU students definitely have it too.  It’s not a bad thing, but it can be if it’s the whole of your substance.  I know I want to find a wholesome balance in life that helps me help others.  It’s what God calls us to do…and it’s through this lived discipleship that we show our love for God and each other, not through building our résumés.   

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Where are the Young Adults?

Here they are:
Group photo at the Saturday evening Eucharist and blessing of seniors in Parke Chapel at St. Andrew's Cathedral

Last weekend was PROV 2012.  Province VIII has a tradition of hosting an annual college student gathering in the spring each year.  Usually a campus ministry hosts it (so it rotates around the Province), and then a design team of students from around the Province plan it.  Since I landed at UC Davis 4 years ago, Prov has been held at Arizona State, San Francisco, and last year at UC Davis.  Taking on the role of Provincial Coordinator, it was my job to find this years' host.  Unfortunately, everyone I asked said they just couldn't do it.  I began to worry that Prov may not happen.

In December, I got a message from a student in Hawaii who had attended all those Provs I listed above.  You see, Province VIII is the geographically largest in our country, including California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii, and Taiwan.  "Cohort U," the ministry in Honolulu serving multiple campuses, has always sent 5 or more students to Prov because for them, it is one of the only times and ways they can connect with the rest of the Church.  So this conference is very important to them.

I had to admit to the Hawaiian student that no one had agreed to host it so it may not happen this year.  And then something ridiculous happened: he said the Hawaiian students would host it.  This is ridiculous because: 1) how could we afford to get broke students from broke ministries to Hawaii? 2) the students there don't have a chaplain to help with the planning, 3) would anyone go all the way to Hawaii for just a weekend? and 4) could I help plan something in a place I'd never been and I would not get to until the day the conference began?

But I prayed about it and several things became clear: the students in Hawaii had faithfully attended Prov for many years, and so it seemed right to go to them at least once.  I had no idea how many people would attend, and prepared for the fact that it might be a small conference.  But more than that, when everyone else in our community had said no, here they were bravely saying: "YES, we'll do it!"

And I have to hand it to my chaplain colleagues who agreed to take the plunge with me.  They fundraised, I begged for more funds from various places.  I know there are students who wanted to go but couldn't afford it.  But all in all, 46 students and 12 chaplains from the mainland registered, and we were joined by another 10-15 Hawaiian students.  Which put us around 70 total, which is pretty much what Prov attendance is like each year.  So much for thinking this would be a small conference...

Then I had to find a location in Honolulu to host.  The students sent me a list of possibilities.  As I went down the list, I kept hearing no, after no, after no.  Then finally, I had a conversation with The Very Rev. Walter Brownridge, Dean of St. Andrew's Cathedral.  Their parish hall is under construction, and there were other events going on that weekend (in other words, this was going to be an inconvenience), but he said YES!  Bring the students, we'll make it work. 

Now let's be clear: this was no resort vacation.  We were in downtown Honolulu - not the area where tourists tend to be, so we were in the midst of the 'real' Hawaii.  When we landed in Honolulu and picked up the rental car, the attendant asked if we needed directions and where we were going.  I said, "Downtown Honolulu." 

"Oh, Waikiki?"  He asked.  "No, downtown Honolulu."  I responded.  "Downtown Waikiki?"  he was so puzzled.  Clearly not many people rent minivans and head to downtown Honolulu.

During the weekend, the students were introduced to the Hawaiian Spirituality, and the history of Christianity on the Islands.  We talked about the connection between colonization, oppression, and the Church, and how Anglicanism was introduced by the King and Queen (after being treated like scum in America, they were given the royal treatment by the British Royals and that definitely influenced them a little...).

But more than that, connections were made.  As my colleague Megan+ reflected in her blog, every year at Prov one or more students talk movingly about how this is the first time they've worshipped with other people their age.  They talk about how campus ministry has kept them connected to the church.  Or brought them in to the church, to know Jesus.  Regardless, they talk about how it has changed their lives. 

All of this is to say, with all the budget wrangling going on across the country, and the elimination of Formation funding (which would include eliminating funding for Prov), the use of these dollars for this ministry and this purpose was only validated and strengthened.  It became abundantly clear that this is not only a good use of church monies, it is an imperative one.  And while much anger and frustration at the current state of things (budgets and what not) were expressed by chaplains and students alike, there was also a resolve to not let this happen.  That this ministry is too important.  That these young adults are not the future of the church, they are the church.  And that we will do what we can to help communicate this to the wider church in hopes that General Convention will heed the call and do the right thing in Indianapolis.

Everyone said we could never have Prov in Hawaii.  Well, we just did have Prov in Hawaii.  And if we can pull that off (a bunch of underpaid and mostly marginalized chaplains and students) then I'm pretty confident that the leaders of our church can figure out how to fund this ministry for the next triennium.  As we learned together in Hawaii, the strength of being in a denomination is that we are forced to be connected to people and places we may not choose to be otherwise.  But that is what being the Body of Christ is all about.  If we only focus on "the local level," Prov wouldn't have happened, and the richness and for many life changing spiritual impact that occurred last weekend wouldn't have been possible.  Wanna see what I mean?

P.S. Prov 8 chaplains drafted a letter of protest against the budget.  I posted it on, and it got reposted on social networks and is now a national petition.  Feel free to add your name and comments there.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Lenten Journey of Restoration*

During the first Wednesday dinner in Lent, a freshmen reported his excitement about hosting his first "kickback" (defined as a laid back, relaxed party). The report sounded benign to most people present, but I curiously inquired with the student about the planned location for his event. When the young man didn't have a clear answer, my internal alarms immediately went off. I knew that most kickbacks involve drinking alcoholic beverages (thus helping people more easily "kickback"), and I also knew that he had access to the student center after hours. Suspecting that the freshmen had plans to host his kickback in the Center, I gave him clear instructions, "Wade**, do not have a party in this building. Again, do not have a party here." I then turned to my graduate intern and said, "Please swing by here on Friday night if you have time. If there is a party happening call Atlanta Police Department and then call me."

That Friday night, Wade did indeed host a kickback in the Center, and the Atlanta police were summoned. While experiencing a confluence of conflicting emotions, I authorized the arrest of two students. Wade, the primary offender, spent 5 nights in jail for criminal trespassing and underage possession of alcohol.

A few days after Wade's release from the City detention center, I took Wade out for lunch. Over gyros and lemonade I invited Wade to share with me his experiences in jail, and to talk about why he disobeyed my instructions. Wade was humble and sincere. Contrite in heart, he expressed deep sorrow for his actions and shared stories of his encounters with other young black men in the Atlanta City jail. He asked me to pray for his cellmate, and he expressed gratitude for his freedom. Our conversation continued as Wade struggled to explain that he really just wanted to host a party. It was important to him and to his emerging adult identity to host his friends, and to show off the Absalom Jones Center - a place that he considered "home."

Then came the hard part of the conversation - the part where I said, "We are all deeply grieved and frustrated by your actions. The image of the two of you leaving our Center in handcuffs continues to haunt us. I honestly don't know how we are going to be reconciled to one another, but I want us to figure this out." The silence that ensued was filled with grief and angst. Finally Wade blurted out, "I don't know how to make this better! Can't you just punish me? Just ban me from the Center forever!"

The word forever hung in the air between us, and my heart broke as I heard the shame and guilt reverberate in his voice. The pain, his and mine, was so palpable that I had to resist the urge to leave the conversation. With a deep and prayerful sigh, I explained to Wade that he is always welcome to worship at the Center. He is always welcome in God’s house.

Not quite sure how to continue, I invited Wade to spend a few days thinking and praying about how we might walk together down a path of reconciliation. In preparation for our next meeting, I read several works about restorative discipline and the rite of reconciliation. Perhaps because we were in the midst of Lent, I had a very clear sense of the importance of creating space for Wade to be restored to the fellowship. Additionally, since the party and subsequent arrests were witnessed by several students, I was clear that certain elements of this healing process would necessarily involve the entire Absalom Jones community.

Still visibly guilt-ridden, Wade met me in my office two weeks after the incident. In response to my invitation to offer ideas for our next steps, Wade accused me of pulling a “Bill Cosby,” because of my refusal to explore more conventional methods of punishment. He was clearly thrown off by my language of restorative justice, and he didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t sure either, so we just started talking. He told me stories about his childhood and we exchanged stories about getting into trouble during elementary school. As we shared our stories, the tension and nervousness that we both felt began to melt away. Then, suddenly, in a God-inspired moment of clarity, I asked Wade, “Would you host a party here for our confirmands? Would you share with us your gifts and skills in party planning and hosting?”

Wade spent the remainder of Lent planning and preparing for what became known as the Confirmation/Reconciliation Kickback. We were transparent with the Absalom Jones community about why Wade was hosting the party, and I took time during Eucharist to teach them about models of restorative justice. Wade also did the important work of rebuilding relationships with students at the Center. So on the first Friday of Easter, Wade, with the help of many students from the Center, hosted an “authorized” and alcohol-free kickback. We had a great time together as we celebrated our confirmands and welcomed Wade back into the fellowship of the Church.

“Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.”
(Ash Wednesday, Book of Common Prayer, 264)

* This story was written with permission and in consultation with the student involved in this incident.

** The names have been changed.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Living Church

In the summer of 2006 I got one of the strangest requests that I can remember. I had just been ordained to the priesthood and was preparing for my first semester as a campus minister at the University of Missouri when a Canon from the Diocese called me and asked if I could drive 60 miles to a small town where the diocese had just sold an old abandoned church. In my new and earnest priestly voice I agreed and the next day my wife and I took a little road trip.

After a quick and uneventful trip on Missouri’s high plain we arrived in the lazy and tired town. A town that surely thrived 50 years ago had turned into a slow and empty one not unlike most small towns in Missouri. With its fair share of beautiful historic buildings one remembers that life was once grand and that towns like this one were once prominent.

I’m sure there was abundant life at some point but today the greater community is left with a faint pulse and memories of promise past. Midwestern sensibilities and hospitality are still prevalent even if just a fraction of what they once were. But when the factories closed, mills dried up, and the train no longer stopped, a deflated community unfit for heath and growth remained.

The Episcopal Church in town really had no chance of surviving. There were a number of issues at play including the town’s size and demographics that made it nearly impossible to sustain an active and vibrant worshipping community. So I was sent to stand in the sanctuary and read to the open air a letter of deconsecrating the building on the bishop’s behalf.

The letter was short with big words and big meaning. It felt impossible to read. It was so heavy and sad and dead. I wasn’t called to be a priest so that I could bury churches, so doing this so soon into my ministry was a reality check of what happens when the life of a community slows down to an unrecoverable snail’s pace.

I’m constantly reminded about this day in my life when the wider church talks about its death. The lifeless, empty and dusty church that sat empty for so many years is finally closed and sold. A move that makes sense and one that I certainly support.

But when we talk death and the church dying my first response is that my church is not dead nor is it dying.

Campus Ministry is the antithesis of a dusty and empty church. And the college campus couldn’t be any different than an old and sleeping farm town on the Missouri plain.

I get that some places are slowing down and losing members. Interest might not be waning, but maybe an economy is and therefore people aren’t around as much. I get that there are other things in play besides a lack of evangelism or a great Sunday school. Things happen, places change, and just like the small town, sometimes it’s appropriate to close shop and move on.

But there is one place that moving on and closing shop or making cuts would be a great misstep in our work in the world, and that’s the college campus. Life is abundant. Life is full and real. Life is busy and active and amazing. The energy is unreal. I couldn’t think of a better place to do church and I couldn't think of a better place to put our resources and invest.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Moneyball & The Budget

In November, I attended the Provincial Coordinator for Campus Ministry meeting at "815" (Episcopal Church headquarters in NYC).  There, among other things, we got to meet with Sam McDonald, who works closely with Bp. Sauls, the COO of the Church.  He talked about Bp. Saul's plans to restructure the church, and what that may or may not do to campus and young adult ministry funding.  He spoke about Bp. Sauls taking the staff the see the movie "Moneyball."  The Bishop's theory is that the Church is looking at the wrong numbers.  Several times during the meeting, Sam talked about how they wanted to look at these numbers in a new way.  Now, full disclaimer: I haven't had time to actually see the movie, but I'll assume that this is the premise of the movie - looking at "the numbers" differently.

A few days ago, the proposed budget for the next triennium of the Episcopal Church was released.  Many bloggers have written about it, namely due to the fact that it nearly eliminates funding for all formation ministries, meaning: children, youth, young adult, campus, etc.  That currently constitutes about $3 million of the total budget.  Now I am not an accountant.  In fact, budgets make my head spin a little.  But when I look at the figure that states what TEC plans to spend - in total - over the next three years, we see that number is over $104 million (down from $109 million in the past three year time frame).  Let that sink in.  So to date, out of $109 million dollars, only $3 million was allocated to these ministries?!?!  That's like 3%.  And people wonder why - WHY - these populations are absent from our churches.  Hmmmm...

So looking at these numbers differently, we see that in a budget of $109 million, only $3 million goes to these ministries.  And that dropping down to $104 million means that measly $3 million has to go away.  Again, I wasn't a math major in college, but seriously?  Didn't Jesus say something about where your treasure is, your heart is there too...

People have been asking what this will mean for us at the Belfry.  Truthfully, nothing immediately.  TEC stopped directly funding campus ministries many years ago (unlike the ELCA which is just now starting to yank that funding).  How it will affect us is that this cut will eliminate the big events that draw students together like "PROV" (our Province VIII annual student conference), the young adult festival at General Convention, the Chaplain's Conference, etc.  Why do these ministries matter?  Well, while the argument is that these ministries should be done at the local level (and I mostly agree with that statement), the reality is that with a handful of exceptions (like here at UC Davis) by and large they are not being done at all, period.  There are many students who attend universities, colleges, or community colleges that don't have a campus ministry at all (other than the pervasive options of CCC or IV, etc.), and while they may try to connect with the local parish, sometimes that's not a viable fit either (see my blog post from last month).  So this is a problem.  Having conferences like "PROV" allows those students to stay connected to and active in their church.  (Notice: I said THEIR church).  So losing funding for these ministries will constitute an important loss indeed.

It has been heartening to read passionate blog posts and comments on them about how important these ministries have been to themselves and their children.  It's clear that people are really shocked and outraged by this budget and wondering what TPTB are thinking.  While God did not grant me omniscience when I was ordained (darn it!), it seems like they are very much in panic/survival mode.  It looks to me like this $104 million dollars is going inward - is going to bolster the church administration solely.  I get that.  On a sinking ship you want to make sure your life boat is air tight and seaworthy with a seat on board for you.  But every expert analysis I've ever come across, every observer, every bit of advice directed to a dying church says: if you want to turn things around, turn OUTWARD.  Become missionally focused.  Look outside yourself.  And you will live.  And in truth, anecdotally at least, that analysis seems to be true.

And yet, instead of looking outside itself, TEC is turning inward with this budget, cutting out those who are invisible to them ("they're not here anyway, so why spend $3 million on them?" perhaps is the thinking).  But what I'd want to say to TPTB is they ARE here!  50 some-odd of them will be gathering for PROV next month.  And those 50 students are just the ones who have the resources to go to the conference (subsidies are lower than normal due to, oh yes, budget cuts!).  There are many more college students in Province VIII that would like to go than these 50.

So are they looking at the wrong numbers?

Just for fun, last night I googled the operating budgets for Intervarsity and CCC.  It's not surprising to see that IV's budget in 2010 (the latest on their website) was over $85 million.  CCC was over $500 million.  Those are the numbers spent in the US alone.  And, if your campus is like mine, those groups are probably rather large.  Looking at these numbers begins to tell us why.  On my campus, those ministries have multiple full time staff and money to fund retreats and events, etc., things that are prohibitive on my budget and with just me on staff.  One day a few years ago, it hit me that proportionally speaking, my numbers - actually - are on par with those groups, when you look at it that way.

So let's shift some numbers: what if TEC allocated $85 million to campus ministry?  What if they provided the resources and support that IV and CCC provided to their ministries?  Still not having the power of omniscience, I don't know for sure, but my hunch is that young adults would no longer be absent from our churches.  I know people right now are mostly just wanting the $3 million to be put back in (and of that like $500,000 goes for campus ministry in particular), and that is a crucial start.  But what if even 10% of the total budget could go to these formation ministries?  Even if all it did was flow back to the local level?  Or Provincial level?  I know in Province VIII, there are dioceses that send nothing to the Province, so those funds are rapidly drying up (again: is it because dioceses are doing all this ministry themselves?  Usually - no.  They aren't doing these ministries because they don't have the funds, and so they don't give to the Province either.  So at the end of the day, these ministries aren't happening, period).

I know this is a little bit of the 'what if' game.  But having $104 million to spend is not an insignificant amount.  It seems what we need now is a courageous vision, leaders who will look at those resources and ask: how can we invest in mission?  In spreading the Gospel and reaching out to all in love as Jesus has asked us to do?  I know for sure that defunding these already woefully underfunded ministries does not do that.  My prayer is that we will come together to oppose this budget and encourage our Church to take a different course. 

There is so much living that we have left to do, and can do, if we have the courage to do it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What Do They Like?

I’m currently at a conference with about 120 church leaders throughout the Episcopal Church. While no one has their age on their name tag, it’s not difficult to discern that I’m likely the youngest person in the room. Don’t worry, when you’re a priest in your early 30’s you get used to it.

I don’t have a problem with this and I’m not sure I should. I’ve heard the argument that we need more “youth” in the room, and God knows I like young energy, but what I like the most is in leaders is great quality, passion and inspiration.

With that said, many “older” people that I speak with about campus ministry are always curious about what the current college student wants. This is certainly true this week. They want to know what sparks a college student’s interest, what keeps them busy, how they respond to the rigors of college life, and most importantly how college students like to worship.

In the Episcopal Church we call this churchmanship. Simply put, it’s the preference that someone has for a type of doctrine and liturgy. And not unlike the polarizing secular world in which we live, it’s natural to want to categorize everyone and put them in a neat and tidy churchmanship box. Are you high-church (smells and bells)? Are you low-church (snake handling)? Are you broach-church (boring suburban worship)? We love labeling things, even if it is extreme stereotyping!

So the same goes with Campus Ministry… people want to put it in a box and label it with the correct information.

Unfortunately, like so much in this world, it’s not that simple. And I really wish it were. The bottom line is that many times the only thing in common with students at a worship service is that they are students who are at a worship service. Some like it simple and plain and from the book, and some like it to be a free flowing and expansive spiritual exercise with many adaptations to the prayer book, that is, if there is a prayer book. Many students look for home comfort, while others are look for something refreshing and new.

So it’s impossible to label what a student wants in worship because they are all different. So the one rule that I try to make sure I follow is to lead it with great quality, passion and inspiration.

From Hate to Hope: A Call for Restorative Justice

A significant number of students in my college community identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. So, when a young, black, gay man was brutally assaulted just two miles from campus, many of the students were deeply impacted. The feelings of fear, anger, and sadness hung heavily over my students, and there was a clear sense of not knowing how to respond.

Below is a letter that I wrote to share with SafeSpace and Afrekete (the LGBT student groups on campus) in an effort to help us all think through how we might respond.

February 8, 2012

My dear beloved community,

This past Saturday, three of my young brothers thought that it was a good idea to beat another brother. They also decided to videotape the beating so that others could laugh(?) with them. This video displaying graphic images of a young man being kicked and punched while anti-gay slurs were being yelled has been viewed and reviewed by hundreds of thousands of people in the last 48 hours.

In the face of such a brazen display of bigotry and violence, it is nearly impossible for members of the LGBTQ community to resist succumbing to the fear that they too may become the target of another person’s hate. Indeed, for many in the LGBTQ community, watching the video of Brandon White’s attack triggered memories of their own past encounters with hate-filled violence. Thus, members of the community are left wrestling once more with real feelings of victimization, fear, sadness, and anger that extend well beyond the circumstances of this single act.

It is the fear of further victimization that drives an impulse to respond to the perpetrators with hatred and disdain. For example, during the emergency Black LGBTQ Community Action Meeting, the young men who attacked Brandon were constantly called, “thugs,” “gang-bangers” and “mother-f****ers.” An “us” verses “them” motif was quickly established, and very few efforts were made to recognize the humanity within the other young men. As questions were asked about Brandon’s state of mind, people were hesitant to ask about the psychological well-being of his attackers.

While the impulse to respond to hatred with more hatred is natural, it is imperative that the LGBTQ community seeks to transform all acts of hatred into opportunities for hope. If more energy is to be directed towards establishing a Hate Crimes Law in Georgia, that effort must be coupled with an educational component. If more money is to be directed towards teaching young lesbians and gays self-defense, that funding must be accompanied by teachings in the principles of non-violence.

As we in the LGBTQ community grapple to respond to this brutal act of violence, Audre Lorde reminds us that, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Using language that dehumanizes the persons involved with the attack only further strengthens the systems of oppression that we must strive to dismantle. Therefore let us take a queer response by choosing reconciliation over retaliation and restorative justice over merciless revenge.

With hope,

Mother Kim+

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Church for Young Adults

"But what do young adults want?" I get asked this question a lot, and so do my campus ministry colleagues.  Those of us in campus ministry see more people under 30 on a weekly basis than many of our congregations do in a month (or in some cases, a year).  I think everyone agrees this needs to change.  But how?

I've fielded multiple calls from really amazing priests who want to "pick my brain" or "run an idea past" me for a new ministry they want to try to attract young adults.  After listening to their questions or their plans, my first question is always: "Well, have you asked any young adults what they want/need? (or if they are interested in this program/worship service/ministry?)"  And inevitably the answer is: uh, no.  I mean, the point is they don't have any young adults, and so they are trying to envision what young adults would want, and they think I can just answer that for them.  So, I suggest they find some young adults and ask them what they want, what their interests are, and find out what are their needs.  This is what campus ministers do every day.  We sit on campus and talk to students - those who are interested in our ministries and those who are not.  But we're constantly listening to them and finding where we can meet their needs and challenge them to grow spiritually.  It's not hard to do, but takes a different kind of effort.  Ok I'll say it: it's evangelism.  It's totally do-able and is a lot more successful than just starting an "alternative" service on Saturday night for young adults, while praying that they'll magically come even if no one knows whether or not they want it.

[BTW: I think one of the best kept secrets of ministry with young adults is that - in the communities I've been connected to anyway - not many of them are interested in 'alternative' worship, and very few want praise music, power point, or any of the things people (especially clergy) assume they want in worship.  My colleagues often echo the same findings, but definitely not all, which is why it's so important to just ask what they want...]

Part of the gift of campus ministry is it can provide a less formal entry point for young adults.  They're with their friends, and it's not a "church" per se, but may have many of the trappings of one.  My unchurched students have told me as curious as they may be about Christianity, they would never have gone to a 'regular church' - at first.  It's too intimidating to them.  Which is a big part of why campus ministry is so important: it provides that entry point for seeker college students.  But I think it also has to do with relationships.  They get to know me, the Pastor, oftentimes before stepping foot in worship.  So there is trust there.  They know they can ask questions and take their time in figuring it all out.  And that really is the key here.  And this could be employed by ministers and ministries beyond campuses as well.

Now, hypothetically, let's say a young adult were to wander into a church on a Sunday morning.  What is she likely to find?  I'm not a millennial - I'm a mid-30s GenXer (which my students love to remind me, is OLD!) - but apparently I look much younger than I am. So I can pass for a 20-something, especially in congregations.  Ever since my first day in my field work parish, the kinds of comments I have routinely received from people in the churches are things like: "Wow - you look like you're 12! (Or 18, or 20)"  "Are you old enough to be our priest?"  "You look too young to be a priest!"  and the general: "But you're so young!"  The worst comment I've ever gotten came last fall at a church where I was supplying (filling in for the usual priest).  A woman saw me vested for the procession and exclaimed, "Who is this little girl who is our priest?"  Ouch!

But hey, I'm not without a sense of humor, and I don't think I'm necessarily that easily offended.  But come on!  I mean, I'm a priest and all, so I smile and try to love them anyway. Not necessarily the case for our hypothetical young adult. Point being: none of these comments make me feel welcomed or like this is a community I want to belong to.  They make me feel separate, different, too young (and foolish?), and like I wouldn't really fit in there.  And if this is the response I get while wearing a collar, what do those who appear to be young, but don't have a collar on, hear?

According to my students, often silence.  Often nothing.  Often no one will talk to them, or those that do apologize that there aren't any other 'young people' there.  Even when those apologies are couched in an effort at humor: "We're glad you're here!  You bring our average age down by at least 30 years!" - it's just not helpful.

So what do young adults want?  ASK THEM!  Seriously!  They'll gladly tell you.  Don't assume they're too young, or you're too old.  Like anyone else, young adults want COMMUNITY.  They want to be in a place where people know them and care about them.  Questions like, "Where are you from?  What are you studying?"  Or "what do you do?  Or, what do you want to do?" are great.  These are the same questions you'd ask a visiting 40 or 50 or 60 year old.  And then listen.  If they've walked into a parish on a Sunday morning, they are probably interested in worship.  And maybe fellowship.  Or (this is a biggie for a lot of millennials) outreach projects.  They don't usually want to be told how young they are, or ignored.

I really believe we need to shift our thinking about young adult ministry away from 'we want young adults in our church because our population is aging and if we don't bring in young people eventually everything will go away' to: 'we want young adults in our church because they are children of God, and if they are not here right now then we are called to go out, find them, and minister to and with them.'  This is a very different approach.  The first way yields the 'here-is-my-idea-for-young-adult-ministry-even-if-no-one-wants-it-but-at-least-then-we-can-say-we-tried' result.  The second way is harder and more labor intensive.  But it is the approach that will most likely work.  Ask any campus minister.  I could plan an entire school year full of programs and if the students aren't interested in it, they won't come.  The same is true in the world outside of the college environment.

Evangelizing young adults will and will not save our churches.  Packing our pews with 20-somethings will not solve our financial crises or ensure that people will populate our buildings for years to come.  But they will bring new energy, ideas, and a hunger for God and ministry to our church, and that is what is needed - by us and them. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

2012 Resolution: Feel Taller

Every New Year’s Day we get to focus on the year to come and reflect on the year behind us. We get to think about things we have done, left undone, and make plans for the things we would like to do and maybe not do. It’s like a New Year’s absolution and resolution packed into one day. It’s cathartic and hopeful.
Of course, most people I know either don’t make a New Year’s resolution or they make superficial promises that usually come up empty. I have nothing against either route. I usually watch as others play because a promise to lose weight or read more books or go to the gym or whatever just hasn’t appealed to me. However, this year, the year of 2012, a year that packs so much promise, I made the decision to go big. I have made a resolution.
But this resolution is not just mine. It’s ours, because the only way this resolution comes true is if we make it together.
In a recent study by Michelle Duguid and Jack Concalo it was concluded that, “although a great deal of research has shown that more physically imposing individuals are more likely to acquire power, this work is the first to show that powerful people feel taller than they are.” In other words, if you have power, you feel taller. And so this year, my resolution is for Episcopal Campus Ministry at Wash U. to feel taller.
The rebuilding process that is happening here at The Rockwell House has been a process of learning how to stand tall again. Nothing bad happened here and there is certainly nothing hiding behind the doors. But after only a few years of inconsistent leadership and therefore membership, it was time to call it what it was: a restart.
A restart isn’t a bad thing, it’s actually a great opportunity to shape the way we do things. We have the chance to explore and change who we are with little or no resistance. We knew it would take patience, but if we could enjoy the process, success would surely follow. And by success I mean having the ability to recognize our impact in the world while feeding our souls and whetting our spiritual appetites.
How do we quantify this resolution? How do we make bench marks and achievable goals? How do we feel taller?
Well, the simple answer, if there is one, is to keep going and to never settle. Never become comfortable with what we’ve done or who we are doing. Always push the bar. And most importantly, we must do this because want to do it for our own growth and because it makes us happy and gives us purpose.
In a recent interview on the Diane Rehm Show, the newly consecrate bishop of Washington, Mariann Budde said, "We have become an institution focused on our own survival, and when an institution or faith community focuses on survival it loses its creativity. It loses its ability to risk..."
So in this year of 2012, may we stand tall in our creativity and in our risk as we claim our power in this world. Naturally, we’ll think we’re taller than we really are if we do a good job.

Monday, January 9, 2012

New Year, New Quarter

Today, UC Davis' Winter Quarter begins.  There's always a sense of excitement and newness as a quarter begins.  That's the beauty of the academic calendar, right?  Every few months, everything changes: new classes, new schedules, new expectations, new rhythm of life.  But this one holds some different wonderings for students: what will carry over from the way the last quarter ended (with pepper spray, tents, and media everywhere)?  Will tuition and fees skyrocket?  How much of that can they balance along with their studies?

The issues facing students in the UC system and at many other colleges are big ones.  And it's all wrapped up in the questions about the economy and individual's futures: should college education be affordable and accessible to all?  Is a degree necessary to finding a living-wage earning job?  Are any of those jobs even going to be available when they graduate? 

And yet, the students by and large are not losing hope.  They press on, finding ways to finance their educations, working more jobs, finishing school sooner.  Students' tenacity and resolve amaze me.  I don't know what this quarter, or this year, hold for this campus (and this campus ministry).  I know that we will be here to help discern God's will in the midst of much anxiety, and to be looking for places where the Spirit is active and thriving.  Campus Ministry will provide hospitality, a respite, and a sacred space to bring those longings and expectations.  I'm so grateful to be here doing this ministry at this time, in this place.