Yet, each speaks a language with nuances particular to its own mission, and often, we don’t know each other well enough for easy conversation. Like relatives at a family reunion, however, when we make intentional space in our lives for each other, common heritage and family bonds help us to move past awkward introductions toward long-lasting and meaningful relationships.
So with packed schedules and diverse priorities, how can colleges and churches have effective opportunities to know each other? For the 64 colleges related to the PC (USA), spring and fall breaks provide outstanding opportunity for thousands of college students to become actively engaged with congregations and communities as they travel during Alternative Breaks, study trips or choir tours. And hospitable church congregations are putting out the welcome mats.
Mission through service is a Presbyterian family value. Preston Fields, director of community engagement at Maryville College, explains that it is no accident that the MC Center for Campus Ministry houses the offices of engagement, mission and service, and the chaplain’s office. Scholarship, faith and service are a powerful trio. “The ethos of the Presbyterian Church creates an environment of serious inquiry, the tradition of taking issues to a deeper level. It is often through service that students move from the occasional to committed volunteer, from casual interest to passionate advocacy.”
In the March 28 Presbyterian Outlook, Rev. Lee Hinson-Hasty discusses development of future church leaders based on the findings of the paper, Raising Up Leaders for the Mission of God. Leaders, the paper contends, need to be “people who focus on ministry in the world….it is social justice oriented; it is a ministry of love and care and nurture. Leaders in our time must be able to recognize, attend to, and value the cultural realities, differences and perspectives that underlie human interactions.”
CROSS (Charlotte Regional Outreach Spirituality and Study) program brings groups to Myers Park Presbyterian Church from around the country for Christian service to over 20 different agencies. Building servant-leaders, the program challenges youth to cross lines that divide, eliminate stereotypes and keep the cross of Christ as their focus.
Director Jody Strange refers to “incarnate ministry” or being one with whom you serve. “College students bring people into their joy, their pain, and their desires and into their journey. College partnerships are good for the church because for many (students), seeing an active, servant loving community is their first glimpse into the church. This generation commits to community first, and when Christ is the center of the community, people begin to see what God looks like. These college opportunities also serve to fill a gap that is missed in a lot of churches; there is a (church) focus on youth and then young professionals, but sometimes a void for college.”
Tyler Massey, Davidson College graduate and summer CROSS intern, found “the CROSS program is unique in the totality of its outward focus. It is about the other. This program is a training ground for learning to live as God created us to live … in deep communion with one another.”
Spring break 2011 home-away-from-home for Westminster College (New Wilmington, Pa.) was First Presbyterian, Edisto Island, S.C. As chaplain Jim Mohr describes, a home repair work trip became much more. “The church members welcomed the team with open arms which included an oyster roast, boat trips, educational exploration, discussions of the history of the island, the church, slavery and the Civil War. The students’ favorite part — getting to know the people.”
Choir tours, however, may hold the record for Presbyterian Church and College speed dating. Six hundred miles, five days, and ten concerts for the choir translates into unloading (and loading) 50-plus people, 50-plus garment bags, 50-plus suitcases, musical equipment and admissions brochures, finding the church dressing rooms, practicing sanctuary entrance and exits, extensive warm-up and the concert. In the meantime, generous church folks have been swimming in Excel files, matching home stays with choir members, arranging always-delicious welcome meals, publicizing the concert in the church and community, and stocking refrigerators for midnight snacks. All of which sounds like (and is) a great deal of work, until enter the Holy Spirit.
From Rev. Julie Jensen’s (FPC, Cartersville, GA) blog the day after hosting the Maryville College Concert Choir.
… Everywhere we saw them, they were singing something. They were having fun, and so were we.
When the concert started, there was a woman in the front row of the audience who danced through the whole thing. I’m not sure the last time our pews had people dancing in them like that. The choir fed off of that energy, and you could just see on their faces that they were having a blast. We were having a blast. What started as polite clapping from the audience were cheers by the end of the night.
Here’s the thing — we did what we do, we opened our doors and welcomed people into our church. Yes, it was not what we usually do, in that we don’t have a choir come every Friday night, but our host families were their normal selves, our congregation members were their usual selves as well. We came and had fun with a group that had fun too. I’m grateful to them for coming and sharing their musical gifts with us, and allowing us to share our hospitality with them.
So it is with hospitality; it is the gift that keeps on giving to young people, to the Presbyterian church, and to a world in need of a better day.
Kathleen Farnham is director of church relations, Maryville College, Maryville, Tenn.