Looking Over Colleagues’ Shoulders

Dear colleagues,

Have you ever asked Brad Fuerst where he got the idea for his “Outdoor Office Hours” or Zach Parris where he got the name “Bread and Belonging” for the weekly gatherings in Boulder? I think many of us know that some of the best ideas we get in campus ministry come from discovering what others are doing and then translating it ourselves into our own contexts.

In advance of the LuMin Board meeting at the Churchwide offices in October, I made arrangements to do something I’ve always wanted to do – visit some other campus ministries and look over the shoulder of our colleagues who are really doing wonderful work, and each doing something that could translate easily to the ministry I serve. To encourage you to do the same, I’m highlighting here what several of our colleagues are doing.

If you are interested in seeing how a vibrant campus ministry shares its space with a coffee shop, you’ll want to talk to Corrine Haulotte in Winona, MN. When people at the university stop in for coffee and/or studying at Mugby Junction, they can’t help but be drawn to the window signs, banners, “Welcome” chalkboard, rainbow flags, engaging students, and grace-filled pastoral welcome they find at the Lutheran Campus Center, which shares space with the coffee shop. “Be yourself” is the message I got in Winona: While the LCC serves as a gathering space for other groups (and insists that those groups show the same welcome to all as the LCC itself does), Corrine is also a valued participant in the university’s Diversity and Inclusion office, having the respect of students and administrators alike. And, within the LCC, “Independent Theology” and a “prayer concerns” board invite people to bring their whole selves to a community of faith.

If it’s “table hospitality” you are interested in, don’t miss what the Lutheran Campus Center has going at UW Madison.  The welcome that students receive as they are served a free lunch every weekday (you read that right) is matched only by the needed nourishment they receive – Emily Tveite told me that 10% of students at lunch reported that, if it weren’t for the meal they receive for free from the Lutheran Campus Center, they probably wouldn’t eat lunch. So, in addition to creating an atmosphere of hospitality and table fellowship, they are also meeting the needs of food-insecure students at UW Madison. And, they are doing it economically – two chefs and food for 20,000 meals per year (yup, you read that right, too) cost the LCC $20k. In other words, they have the cost down to $1 per meal served! The message I got there was, “You can count on Lutheran Campus Ministry to be here for you.” What a great witness in a world of change.

“Welcome home” is the clear message from the Corner House in Milwaukee, a beautiful example of the kind of “Life Together” that so many students are longing for. The Corner House is a place where people can drop in for prayer, worship, art, coffee, a full breakfast, conversation, pastoral care, and ‘church’ with people who are seeking and discerning together. You can imagine the gentle way Rachel Young Binter helps curate and guide a community of people who find a home at the Corner House, one of our two presences in Milwaukee. (She is also clearly valued by the university administration.) I also had a quick lunch with Jessica Short, who is one of the few of us whose primary ministry context is in a private university. It is helpful, I think, to remember the various challenges of serving on or near, public or private schools, as staff or advisors, in sites or parishes, all together in LCM.

“What is God growing?” That seemed to me to be the prevailing question at our site in Champaign, Illinois, where Amy Thoren serves a Campus Ministry Congregation (like I do). I was eager to see all that she and her community have going on there, and discovered that Amy is dealing with a situation that many of our parish ministry colleagues deal with: community and space that are somewhat mismatched to each other. But, as you might expect from Amy, she and a group of students are cultivating not only a garden on the church property but also a community that is taking strides to be a welcoming place to students and others who pass by their corner.

Lutheran Brotherhood used to have a program for us called “Over the Shoulder,” in which they would cover the cost of Campus Ministers to visit each other and each other’s sites to gain some perspective on (and some ideas for) our own ministries. If anyone has an idea of how to fund such a thing, I’d be glad to help guide it. And, even without it, I hope you can find time and money to take a trip like this yourself. I came back with pages of notes and am already implementing some of the things I discovered our colleagues are doing, and doing so well.

Greg Schaefer, University Lutheran Church, Palo Alto, California