Friday, July 3, 2015

Campus Ministry and the Liturgical Calendar:
The Odd Couple of Christian Discipleship

Campus Ministry (L) and the Liturgical Calendar (R) make a better couple than you would think. But a full appreciation for the pairing takes time to acquire.
After five years of ordained ministry in the parish, this August will mark the beginning of my fourth year in campus ministry. The number four is significant, because it signals the start of my second trip through the lectionary on this campus. (Luke, here we come!) This personal lectionary anniversary makes me think that clergy should probably take a page from dogs in determining their RCA (Real Clergy Age). Dogs, of course, multiple their years by seven. A two year old puppy is really a moody adolescent. Similarly, clergy should count divide their years of ordained service by three. Twenty-one years in ministry is seven trips through gauntlet. Seven trips to be enthusiastically celebrated.

With the average age of seminary graduates still hovering near forty-eight, I suspect many will welcome my proposed RCA - with its invitation to a younger age - so long as the HAC number is unaffected (admittedly no sure thing). But I digress.

Anyway, this is why I'm pumped for this lectionary anniversary:

I vividly remember the clergy friend, now retired, who shared his excitement for me when I told him about the new call to serve with students. He, too, had served as a campus minister for a number of years, prior to my knowing him. The best, he said, was when the liturgical and academic calendars began speaking to each other and, together, to the preacher. He warned that this takes a few years, to discern the annual pattern of faith that the community at St. Francis House would experience together, such that we would engage that pattern toward flourishing, and not frustration.

Campus ministries, of course, never celebrate Christmas together. If we played by the wholly good rules of the Advent purists (like my dad), we'd never sing Christmas hymns! Imagine - four years together without one "Joy to the World!" That's all before you reckon with the fact that Holy Week is frequently Spring Break. (Easter is Low Sunday.) And Pentecost sometimes catches graduation weekend, but largely falls into the summer. Summer, for its part, is either a mix of Eucharist and evening prayer with whomever is still around or, as this year - with a significant number of the community interning elsewhere - we designate the student center as fallow cropland. In lieu of Sunday worship, students are invited to weekly meals at the Melton home, praying Compline together after. Some weeks, there are as many as thirteen or fourteen on hand, earning me a long glare from my wife (to whom I had promised dinner attendance would be minimal). Other times, my family eats alone. Such is summer.

While we give up a lot, we get a lot, too. "Ritual observances" include the annual house blessing of the student center, fall and Province V retreats, pumpkin carving at the Meltons, St. Francis celebrations - all animals on deck, the spectacularly awesome pre-Christmas hymn sing, student graduation reflections, game days, lock-ins, and the rest. It's a give and take. Weekly Compline by candlelight has become a transformative part of my own rule of life.

As weird as the student Christian's liturgical calendar can be, it has this much for it: the community is reminded at every turn that the point is living the life of faith beyond these walls. If there's a point to being a part of an Episcopal community on a university campus (and there is!), that point has to include the connection of what we do together to everything we don't do together - all that happens somewhere else. Because a lot of life happens somewhere else.

That a lot of life happens outside of student centers is, I believe, why student communities are such fertile soil for mission mindsets. "Go!" Students are always going. The missional movement adds to that motion the primary conviction that God is already present to and active in the places to which you go. Among other things, to be a Christian is to be learning to see and name God at work in seemingly ordinary, pedestrian places. (Pedestrian here has the double sense - run of the mill and walking - because, God knows, if nothing else, to be a student is to walk your legs off.)

So when I sat down at a coffee shop this morning to sketch out the gospel lessons assigned for the first month of the fall semester, I had to fight back the goosebumps. Mark's gospel starts, "Jesus went..." He doesn't even have a posse yet. There is no church. The movement starts with his movement. Jesus walks into the neighborhood. The second gospel starts, "Jesus went, with his disciples..." People follow Jesus into the neighborhood because, in him, they see God at work there. The third gospel starts, "Jesus and his disciples went..." Three weeks in, Jesus' followers join Jesus as the subject of the sentence; they take an active share in the ministry.

Yes, I thought. Absolutely. Of course this is where and how the student Gospel begins.

Of course, in that beginning there's a lot yet to build on, unpack, listen to, talk about, and practice in our community. But my joy this morning came in that stand-alone and long-ago conversation remembered: my old friend's promise come true - the lectionary and her unyielding rhythms had finally started speaking Jesus in the venacular of the campus. I can't wait to hear what comes next.

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