Recently, the world opened up enough for me to accompany my son, a high school senior, on several college tours. Even though I’ve been connected to collegiate ministry for the entirety of his life, my experience as a parent was different from my experience as a campus minister. This journey – and frankly college itself – is scary as we learn how to navigate the good disruption that higher education offers both students and families. By “good disruption,” I mean leaving what is known and embarking on an intentional journey of discovery and becoming what God is calling us to become.
I would not go so far as to say that the pandemic has been a “good disruption.” Yet for UKirk (which stands for University Church) and other campus ministries at state and private colleges connected to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the pandemic has invited us to discover new things. In his book “Virus as a Summons to Faith,” Walter Brueggemann writes that God requires us “to imagine, to risk, and to be vulnerable as we watch the new normal emerge among us.” But the pandemic has also been an invitation to discover new and better ways to accompany students, so that we all can become what God is calling us to be now in this “normal-yet-not-normal, still-pandemic-but-in-person” world we are living in.
Sarah Hooker (UKirk Atlanta) shares, “We are on three campuses, and the pandemic allowed us to stop long enough to imagine something new.” The pandemic has allowed a partnership model to emerge that includes more leadership training. Instead of asking “can we?” students are saying “join me” as they shape the ministry on their campuses, particularly around justice issues they now see and feel called to address.
Both Caroline Barnett (UKirk Auburn) and Jonathan Sparks-Franklin (UKirk Cincinnati) say that trying new things includes a fair share of failure along with success. Among the duds, though, trying new things has allowed for the building of deeper relationships and for a creative perseverance. These have helped build the connective tissue of vulnerability and trust — among the students, with the campus minister and even with God. This, in turn, has allowed new ideas to form alongside long-held traditions.
I am still not willing to say the pandemic is a good disruption — its deep grief, loss, turmoil and injustice continue to flourish. But, as a parent whose own child is about to go off to college, I am grateful that our UKirk ministries continue to reimagine ways God can work in and through them and our students. By God’s grace and with some creative perseverance, Ukirk shows me how we, as people of faith, can help shape what a “new normal” looks like in our world.