What Went Well in the New River Valley
Nancy’s called for reflection on what went well this year for campus ministry in our portion of the mission field, and that call deserves response! Here’s a couple stories about what went well for us at Radford University and New River Community College.
One of our ministry commitments is to remain unabashedly committed to Jesus while valuing the dignity of other persons and the integrity of other faith journeys. This is a hard line to walk, especially in this vacuum where culture polarizes religion and religions polarizes culture! However, we received feedback from students of various backgrounds, including Atheists, Agnostics, Buddhist, and Reconstructionist Polytheists, that they deeply appreciated a ministry that honestly identified as committed to a particular Christian tradition even as we engaged and embraced those who didn’t share that tradition. This was helped in particular by my ability to begin in the classroom as a teacher, and then expand on my role as a pastor when invited by students outside of the classroom. Creating this space of mutual appreciation and increased understanding is a benchmark for which we strive, so it was encouraging to receive this feedback from different perspectives.
The other thing that’s helped our success is learning when to say yes. I make it a rule to say yes to invitations if at all possible. Would you like to set up a meeting with the new Director for Student Affairs? Yes. Would you like to pray at the awards dinner for the Center of Diversity and Inclusion? Sure! Are you interested in helping plan a Spiritual Leadership Retreat available to the entire campus? Absolutely! Now, this doesn’t mean I say yes to everything. When someone just wants to task me with work they don’t want to do, I often say no, but I say yes almost any time there’s an opportunity to develop partnerships. In the campus vernacular, this helps to grow my social capital. In more spiritual verbiage, these opportunities show people that there’s a faith community invested in the success of the entire campus and not just the growth of their own programs.
Both of those examples point to the fundamental existence of trust. Once we learned to trust one another, students and staff saw our ministry and my presence as a benefit rather than a challenge to the process of higher education. Developing this trust might be the biggest achievement of all for a young ministry. While we’re not yet two years old, we’re beginning to make waves on campus that bring fresh water to those who need it. For anyone on a college campus, that doesn’t take a particular personality, budget, or program. It takes authenticity and willingness to serve. Thanks to Nancy for the call to reflection, and to all of you who serve campuses across the country!
The Rev. Andrew Tucker
Lutheran Campus Pastor at Radford University and New River Community College
Christ Lutheran Church, Radford, VA