Thursday, April 2, 2009
Presbterian Bloggers: Why I Love (Lutheran) Campus Ministy
This post is a part of Presbyterian Bloggers Unite, a project initiated by Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow. This month's topic is campus ministry. Next month's topic is poverty. I figure that as a Presby-in-exile I can throw in my two cents.
"Y'all see this bandana?" I hold up a rainbow, tye-dye bandana, covered in smiley-faces and peace symbols, and waive it in the direction of Ben Buss, the Lutheran Campus Minister at George Mason University. "That man over there in the green shirt gave it to me. If y'all haven't met him yet, you really should. He's a force to be reckoned with."
The reason I was embarrassing Ben in front of fifty or so people last Tuesday was that he had shown up to our Pride Week celebration of allies, and I couldn't let the opportunity to thank him (and embarrass him) pass me up. Ben Buss is the person responsible for convincing me to give campus ministry at Mason a second chance, and so he deserves a lot more thanks than that. Maybe I'll bake him a cake.
So, how did I, a cradle Presbyterian and someone for whom my Reformed identity is an important piece of my story, end up participating Lutheran Campus Ministry? I'm sure someone out there is wondering why I didn't connect with a Presbyterian church's ministry (incidentally, I frequent the pews of the Metropolitan Community Church of Northern Virginia) or even with the ecumenical Protestant ministry at Mason, for which the National Capitol Presbytery is one of its biggest sponsors. The answer is, in some ways, lies in my complicated relationship with the institutional church. In other ways, the answer is that it was incidental: I didn't connect, for whatever reasons of scheduling, interest, and experience. The fact that the PC(USA) hasn't figured out how to honor the baptisms of its LGBTQ members probably contributed, although I recognize that isn't a particularly grace-filled thing to say. That lack of recognition certainly turned me away from Campus Crusade for Christ, an organization with which I was involved for a couple of years.
I left Cru my junior year, and didn't intend to return to campus ministry. I was heavily involved in my local church, and I had made peace with the fact that seeking out Christian community at Mason was a lost cause. Besides, I found enough "beloved community" with Pride Alliance, Mason's student org that celebrates and connects with people of all genders, sexualities, orientations and expressions. I experienced-- and still do see-- my leadership and participation in Pride as my way to minister to people, creating a safe space where people can experience life abundant. As Ben Buss says, God is loose in the world, and from my vantage point the Spirit was definitely stirring up love and justice among the folks at Pride.
I met Ben almost serendipitously. We have a mutual friend, Rachael Dickson, who gave my name to Ben's wife, Kriss, so that she could contact me about a project on LGBTQ college students for one of her social work classes. In my answers to her questions, I mentioned that we didn't have any LGBTQ-affirming ministry on campus besides the witness of the good people at Hillel, and she had me meet Ben. At that time, January 2008, Ben was leading a discussion group on Fridays using "The Gospel according to the Simpsons," and even though I went once or twice I didn't really think of Lutheran Campus Ministry as part of my life. Then, in March, Ben sent me a message that went something like this: "We're registering to be a Reconciling In Christ organization [which in the Lutheran church family is their LGBTQ-affirming program], and I was wondering if you could give me some feedback about this affirmation of welcome I wrote."
After that it wasn't hard for Ben to convince me to join the planning team for a weekly creative worship service. All he had to do was ask.
The creative Christian worship services-- dubbed 747 because of their time slot, 7:47pm on Wednesdays-- are a collaboration between Lutheran Campus Ministry and United College Ministries, the ecumenical Protestant group, which sometimes makes me shake my head in bemusement. Here I am: a Presby-in-exile, who attends an MCC and is working with and loving Lutherans, in contact with Presbyterians again. Sometimes this odd amalgamation of religious identities that I carry around seems freakish to me. But then, the more stories I hear, I've begun to suspect that this is how most college students operate: we've come to this place via a multitude of traditions, and we either claim non-denominational or multi-traditional identities. In some ways, emergent is the best way to describe where I am and what we're doing in 747-- something creative and life-giving is coming out the collaboration of pilgrims and the Spirit loose in the world.