Upended, Replanting, and Building Campus Ministries
By: The Rev. Benjamin Garren
Overwhelmed. Upended. Empty. The last few days have left me, at best, despondent about my life as a chaplain. All of the routines of my daily life, all of the patterns of the community I serve, all of the systems my ministry engages have fallen apart. Figuring out best steps forward for my community balancing a complex reality of medical and mental health needs with the dynamic of social distancing and no group gatherings. Trying, and often failing, to take some personal inventory of my own medical and mental health in the midst of all of the above. I had not sat down to journal in few days and when I finally did everything started as a near useless stream of consciousness. After a few pages I had gotten back to the basics of what campus ministry is about.
Campus Ministry is a space of near-perpetual church planting. We may get that occasional year or two where a super solid group shows up and stays but eventually, we all know we are going to be down to a handful of students and building things up from scratch again. Most of the time this is based upon some really fickle realities… my group size has been cut in half because a library study group had a falling out, because the fine arts department moved their standard rehearsal night, and then there is the ever-common moment when the entire group goes on study abroad or graduates at the same time. In Campus Ministry we are used to things falling apart because of the stupid stuff of student life… various things that we are all prepared to roll our eyes at and then regroup.
We are not, however, used to having everything upended by something that is not fickle. The complete upending of all our ministries at once by something completely out of our control, something that impacts the entire globe, is unprecedented. We cannot roll our eyes in the midst of this and just move on, this is not just one of those things about student life that happens, the whole process that normally happens when my ministry is upended does not initiate. This does not mean, however, that the basics of what campus ministry is about are not still in play.
When we start to gather again in the fall, or perilously maybe next spring, and things recalibrate to whatever the new normal will be… when that happens I am sure of one thing… we are church planters, we are community builders, and what we do is regroup and restart from square one with an ever-shifting demographic. For me, at least, the seriousness of the overall problem, far afield from the things that normally disrupt the frail framework on which I build my ministry, was making me blind to the fact that, with a recognizable whole new set of variables, that the core of what is going on here is still what we do as Campus Ministers. This is what my fellow chaplains have supported me in doing for basically a decade now, and what we will continue to support each other in doing.
Realizing this is what I, at least, needed to be able to restart and work my way out of the feelings of being overwhelmed, upended, and empty that our current situation had left me in. Once I was able to see the situation from this angle, I could plan from that small level of a pattern I am used to cycling through. It was a matter of realizing that this is what we are about, if on an unprecedented scale, that let me take that first step forward amidst the mire. I share it in hopes that it will assist others in taking those first steps as well knowing that together, by grace, the work that needs to be done will be completed.
Written by The Rev. Benjamin Garren, Chaplain at the Episcopal Campus Ministry at University of Arizona