After a long period of waiting, I feel like I've finally arrived at where I'm supposed to be. This calling to Hollins University just clicked, it feels right, I feel at home. And yet, I'm still figuring it out. What now, after I've spent all my time anticipating this? What is next, or more importantly, how do I exist in the now? How do I thrive in this setting to which God has called me?
It's not what I expected, but it's wonderful. I have made lots of connections, but not the way I thought it would happen. I've started a weekly worship service that has weak and fluctuating attendance. I love those who come (mainly a different group each week) and they seem to get something out of it, but I'm still struggling to find a way to connect with the other 840 or so people on campus. I see them, I know them, we talk and they even say good things about me, but I don't know how to help guide them in their spiritual journeys when I can't get them to come to the chapel. I guess I've bought in to the "if you build it, they will come" consumeristic view of ministry (which I hate in theory, but it seems to be somehow ingrained). I've been told I need a "gimmick" or for popular people to come in order to draw in crowds. I've been told all I need is a good worship band with cool music. I say it's not about me, but then I feel hurt when no one shows up. The view of ministry I've always known is a group coming together to meet (in church, in a service, for an activity) that builds community and supports one another. My campus ministry was my main source of support in college. But we're not living in the world of 20 years ago where most everyone went to church (or at least believed they should be). I'm volunteering with the youth at my church, and we have a hard time getting them to come to anything due to their multiple commitments, even though they have grown up in the church with faithful families to support them.
And writing this, I hear a voice saying that I have it all wrong. It's not about getting students to come to the chapel, or to my events, or to be connected to me. It's not about sitting in a church service and finding God anymore. We can all find God anywhere and on our own terms (and the sad reality is that many feel uncomfortable with the church, like in Rachel Held Evans' post "15 Reasons I Left Church"). I'm the first to say that all things are spiritual, but the downside of this is that it gives us the freedom to interpret for ourselves, to pick and choose. That's not all bad, but it's not all good either. We need community to support us, to remind us that it's not a solitary journey, and that it's not just about US. We need to keep growing, keep searching, keep making meaning, keep listening for that still small voice, and keep sharing what we're learning with others.
Oh, but that's a risk. What will they think of us? What if we disagree? What if I'm not accepted? What if I'm wrong? What if I'm right...what then?
I've been reading a lot about how youth ministry is changing. Many churches are doing away with a paid youth minister (out of financial necessity). Others, like mine, are having conversations about how to make ministry in general more inter-generational and less about age-specific programming. After reading the book Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids, I see the benefit in this. But what does this mean for my college students who are exploring independence for the first time? Some intentionally leave their faith behind at home (perhaps it was never truly theirs), while others get busy and it slides into oblivion behind multiple other priorities and explorations.
I'm doing serious thinking about what ministry means to me here now, in this time, in this place. I realize that they may never come to me. Even if I design the most fantastic worship service with all the flashing lights and rocking music, it's not going to appeal to everyone, and it doesn't guarantee spiritual growth for those who do. I'm understanding that it is less about what programs I offer, but about providing the space and time to safely reflect, to pause and connect, to renew the spirit and to explore how our inner spirit connects us to the Divine Spirit that is always surrounding us, in all things, at all times.