Back at it this past week – students back in class, faculty and staff back in the routine of office hours and dealing with student crises. And I am aware once again of what a different rhythm this ministry has from parish life. I spent Christmas ‘off’ – the university closed on December 23 and re-opened on January 2. So while most of my colleagues were running around like crazy, I was actually in one of my slow seasons.
It has left me thinking again about the differences between parish and campus ministry. There are many. (In fact, the students use this as a chorus when I look particularly surprised by an event or comment. “Megan”, they say with a grin, “Tell us again, how is this different from life in the parish?!”) Some of these differences are created simply by the informality of ministry with young adults, and their willingness to ask questions – and to enjoy shock value! So yes, there are loads of very frank conversations about sex and relationships going on in the Ministry Centre and my office, and yes, we had a finger puppet pageant at which Mary explained to Gabriel just exactly how she couldn’t be pregnant yet…
But some of the differences are more profound. The students I see are genuinely interested in faith and ask questions wanting to deeply explore spiritual matters. I have more real conversations about faith in a week on campus than I had in an entire year in the parish. That is significant. So is the reality that I am clearly understood to be middle-aged on campus. Even among staff and faculty, being in my mid-forties means that I am older than most. Yet in a parish context, or when I go to church meetings in the diocese or deanery, I am seen as one of the younger generation. It has left me far more aware than I used to be about the aging of our churches.
There are more differences, of course. But that last one has struck me anew this holiday season. Ironically, over Christmas I attended a church which seemed to have lots of young adults in the congregation, all apparently visiting their families over Christmas. So I do not mean to suggest that every church is about to die off! But it is significant that my youngest daughter (aged 22) whispered to me in surprise during the service, “Hey mom, do you see how many young people are here?!” It was noticeable precisely because it is unusual. And in a church where I am often seen as ‘young’, how much more difficult is it to try and connect with the likes of my daughter, who already is of a different mind-set and generation than the 17 year olds I deal with in residence?
I don’t mean to suggest that only ministry with youth is valuable, or that we should be putting all our energy into ways of connecting with the latest generation! However, sometimes we are unaware that even those the church considers young are in fact several generations removed from that reality – and perhaps we should be more cognizant of that. How might that change the ministry we do?