“Me? Connect with middle schoolers? Are you serious?” “Serious as a heart attack,” she responded. The person scheduled to lead keynote happened to be the chaplain at P.C.; he had received a call to a church on the coast so the leadership team was stranded at the last minute. I thought for a moment and said, “Well, let me call a young adult friend and colleague and if he is willing to tag-team keynote with me, we’ll give it our best shot.”
It was wild — 500-plus middle schoolers living on a college campus for four days. We had a great time thanks to the leadership team who coached us through a crash course in the conference theme. We decided to maximize the inter-generational approach. I was the vintage 60s has-been hippie and my friend was the 80s cool mc hammer dude.
One thing led to another. The college needed an interim chaplain and I was looking for a fresh challenge after serving the same church for more than 16 years. I decided to apply.
Crazy stuff! A sixty-year old college chaplain? Give me a break! I’ve always been connected indirectly to campus life and young adults at Davidson, UNCC, Winthrop, and Furman. I love the academics — athletics — arts atmosphere. Likewise, serving on the Young Adult Ministry Consultation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for five years added to my appreciation and love for our denomination. Young adults bring energy and unique gifts of creativity, imagination, and technological savvy to the richness of our reformed biblical heritage. I’m pumped about our future church always reforming and becoming unbound.
Next came the fast-track, all-day interview with faculty, staff, students. I got the job and it’s been the busiest, most demanding, and most fulfilling year of ministry I’ve ever experienced. The campus is beautiful, the faculty outstanding, and the students are getting the best in a comprehensive liberal arts education — bright, fun students who want to make a difference in the world. PC has asked me back as interim for another year and I’m eager for the students to return.
One of my favorite quotes is from Henry David Thoreau: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.” At 60, God is allowing me to do what I’ve wanted to do for thirty-plus years of pastoral ministry. How cool is that!
I’ve switched from church politics to higher education politics, session meetings to student life staff meetings, from preaching every Sunday to coordinating religious life, from filling out statistical reports to filling out reference forms.
PC is a special place — a small southern town, a small school, a close-knit community. Our motto is, “Dum Vivimus Servimus” — “while we live, we serve.” I’m working hard, long hours but I’m jazzed, as the students say. Our student center received a complete makeover this summer, our athletic teams are now Division 1, we have just begun a graduate pharmacy program, and we have a bunch of new staff and faculty.
What makes PC special for me is the spirit of community, not only within the college but throughout the town of Clinton. The relationship is cordial and mutually beneficial. Likewise, faculty and staff are closely involved with students on a social as well as a professional and academic basis. Everyone is valued and encouraged and supported to be successful. PC maintains a positive relationship with the Presbyterian Church and the community welcomes all faith traditions. Religion is a rich traditional resource and open dialogue with a global perspective happens throughout the campus.
Are students different today? Yes and no. They face many of the same challenges and struggles that I did — deciding on a major, forming a deeper sense of identity, balancing the demands of schedules, figuring out where they fit in, to be or not to be Greek, exploring the spiritual-religious dimension of life, and understanding music and media.
What’s different (keep in mind I’m a dinosaur from the 1960s) is the Internet technology (Facebook is a prerequisite), hip-hop, and a much closer relationship between students and their parents. Some students talk to their parents almost daily, and parents often call faculty and administration — no wonder they are called helicopter parents! It’s a different world. I’m also concerned with the drinking habits of college students in general these days. A few beers with proper “aged” friends is one thing; bingeing and getting “wasted” is not cool. This is an issue that all colleges including PC are working to address.
What a privilege to be a part of these young adult lives, to see their passion, to listen to their struggles, to encourage their spiritual journeys, to earn their respect, to develop leadership for the PC(USA), to prepare them to be global citizens.
Some colleagues tell me I should be lowering my golf score and PSA count, monitoring investments, quitting jogging and instead riding a bike. Perhaps they are right.
I prefer to be where the action is — blogging and Facebook and stimulating classes and leading devotions for coaches and staff and enjoying this unique place we call “PC.” I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up but I’m grateful to be a Blue Hose for another year! This is a wonderful second chance at sixty.
Al Masters is interim chaplain at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C.