25 June 2011

Hope Reframed, Trust Re-founded

Subtitle: "The 2011 Lutheran Campus Ministry Staff Conference in Review"
God is our refuge and strength, our safety in times of trouble.
We are calm though the whole earth trembles, and the cliffs fall into the sea,
Our trust is in the Unnamable, the God who makes all things right.
Come see what God has created the miracles God does for humankind.
God puts an end to our wars and snaps our weapons like twigs.
God offers us God’s abundance and God’s peace, to the ends of the earth.
God whispers to the heart, “Be still and know that I am within you.”
Our trust is in the Unnameable, the God who makes all things right.

I'm sitting in Metropolis, a coffeehouse near Loyola University Lakeshore in Chicago, where I've spent the last four days with 80+ of my ELCA Campus Ministry colleagues.  We have laughed, cried, imbibed, laughed more, worshiped, prayed, said hello, said goodbye, spoken the truth and generally girded our loins for the road ahead of us.  I have always treasured this time together, but this year seemed especially emotional and necessary for those of us who love campus ministry so much.

The theme for our conference was "Reframing Hope."  Our keynote speaker was Carol Howard Merritt, author of a book by the same title, who I thought did a marvelous job helping us remember who we are and how our ministry is a vital, essential, crucial part of our church.  A campus pastor herself, Carol combined intelligent reflection on generational issues with an insider's perspective on what we do, and I thought she really helped us reflect as a group and recharge ourselves.  I'm thankful she was with us and I'm looking forward to reading her book and using her insights as yet another conversation partner in the work we're both trying to do.

Dr. Stephen Bouman was also with us, for one of the more candid, honest Q&A sessions I've ever experienced.  Dr. Bouman, as the division director for campus ministry in the ELCA, bore the responsibility of announcing the proposal to cut campus ministry funding from our churchwide organization by 38%.  As one likely expects, our reaction was immediate, angry and vocal.  Thankfully, there wasn't much equivocation from Dr. Bouman in our time together.  He was apologetic, respectful, and honest.  He presented himself as an advocate for our cause and appeared to pledge his willing partnership in changing whatever perception it was that drove our Conference of Bishops and Church Council to divest from campus ministry so radically.  The work will be long and hard, but as is usually the case, an honest apology and a sincere desire to rectify a mistake does much to begin re-establishing trust.

Trust became a central issue for us as the conference went on.  It's unfortunate, but I'd have to say our trust in the Conference of Bishops, the Churchwide Organization and those "in charge" outside of our immediate circle is at an all-time low.  At our final banquet last night, we honored Galen Hora, Bill King and Rich Zawistoski, three dedicated campus ministry staffpersons who were laid off in the most recent round of re-organization in our national office.  There were tears for many of us as we recognized well over 80 years of combined campus ministry experience being dropped so unceremoniously, and no amount of applause or embrace can ever overcome the hurt that comes with being abandoned by the church one loves.  Even as we work hard to "raise our profile" among those in power in our denomination, the burden of rebuilding trust falls on those in our Church Council and Conference of Bishops who refuse to listen as we advocate for our ministry among the young adults our church so desperately needs.  I fervently hope there might be a willingness on their part to rebuild that relationship through honesty, openness and accountability.  We shall see if that's a possibility or not.

One of our worship leaders read the translation of Psalm 46 I posted above (I can't find its source at the moment - I'll gladly add it if anyone should know its translator).  Given the precarious situation in which most campus ministries find themselves, and given the definitely precarious situation in my own, it was a powerful reminder of where our trust should ultimately be placed.  As much as we might wish that the church were as trustworthy as the God she serves, the psalmist reminds us that it is God in whom we trust, that it is the One Beyond Naming who knows us better than we know ourselves, that it is the God we serve who promises to make all things right.  The earth will tremble.  Floodwaters will rise.  Tornadoes will blow.  Churches will abandon faithful servants.  Our fears will overwhelm us.  But God is mightier than all of this, and God calls us to reframe our hope and re-found our trust in God.  Without this hope and trust, all other hopes and trusts are as vain as chasing the wind, to paraphrase Qoheleth.

Mindy Rolle, the campus pastor at Texas A&M University, preached a wonderful sermon last night.  She reminded us that Jesus is God and we are not, that the answers for which we fervently pray are not immediately apparent, that before God works resurrection there must be death.  "I don't know" has seldom been a more hopeful message.  We have much to do for the sake of our ministries at colleges and universities across the country - I am thankful for the loving God who has filled me with hope this week, even as the earth trembles.

1 comment:

  1. Scott,
    Thanks for the update. I have been in a situation where my position was eliminated so I will say that bad news is never good to get... so, my two cents.

    I have always felt that the optics of campus ministry was focused in the wrong direction. Instead of looking to Chicago for mission support I truly feel that the future of campus ministry is in looking back to the congregations and individuals who have been the baptismal/formation communities of the young adults to whom you are ministering. I wish that partnerships could be built from the grassroots rather than campus ministers kind of taking our kids and saying, "Thanks we've got it from here." What would a truly engaged congregation/campus ministry look like?

    The ELCA is never going back to the way it used to be. The economics are never going to grow more than enough to just keep you guys from starving. I think you are truly going to have to do what many of those of us in parish ministry are learning ourselves and get out and scrounge upyour own supporters and funders. The colleges did it a couple decades ago, now it's campus ministry.

    I have spoken like this to more than one campus pastor and only one has taken me up on my challenge.

    What would a retreat look like NOT in Chicago but in Ames with you, ten supporting congregations, and a bunch of your students look like?

    Ok, enough. I've raised my hand yet again :)