Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Welcome, Engage, Connect, Send: The Revolving Door of Campus Ministry

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Welcome, Engage, Connect, Send: The Revolving Door of Campus Ministry

Article excerpt

Canterbury Downtown is a campus ministry that has been evolving in New York City for going on fourteen years. Now housed at Grace Church, Manhattan, which sits right on the dividing line between the East and West Village, it is literally surrounded by college campuses. New York University, Cooper Union, and The New School have undergraduate and graduate programs in buildings dotted across the city, with their main campuses all within a few blocks. Grace Church, a neo-Gothic nineteenth-century building, rises against a patch of blue sky, a contrast to the busy cityscape of Broadway, just below Union Square. The church is eye-catching, and with the doors open daily, tens of thousands of tourists and new-to-New Yorkers cross its threshold to catch a glimpse of this house of prayer. Hundreds of those are students starting new programs every semester, and many of them find a place to rest and pray with our campus ministry community.

Though we are housed at Grace Church (my office is located here, and we hold our fellowship meal following a Sunday evening worship service in the church), we are a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. The full-time staff position of chaplain to students in lower Manhattan was created in 2003. The five parishes located in the East and West Village neighborhoods (St. Luke in the Fields, St. Johns in the Village, Church of the Ascension, Grace Church, and St. Marks in-the-Bowery) discerned a commitment to build a shared outreach to college students, which was later adopted as a ministry of the diocese and funded along with other part-time staffed chaplain positions in strategic locations. The gift of staff and program funds supporting this work is immeasurable in terms of time and energy. The Committee for Campus Ministry reviews and relates to the diocesan-supported chaplains and does the work of raising awareness and requesting funds from the diocesan convention budget. The chaplains are thus able to devote our time and energy to pastoral and programmatic work with students and the campus communities we are called to serve.

I have served as the priest and curator of the Canterbury Downtown community for the past five years. My call to serve as a college chaplain was planted twenty years ago when I went off to college myself, far from home. As a cradle Episcopalian, I found myself struggling to find palatable Christian community on the very small college campus where I lived, much less within the local Episcopal Church. On campus I was met with a student-led Bible study whose materials provided by a para-church organization offered only a very narrow interpretation of scripture, canned answers, and no room to ask questions. In the local Episcopal Church the tiny congregation was simply inward-focused and unable to recognize a short-term college student as a potential new community member knocking on the door.

I had taken my love of God to college with me, but I did not find fertile ground in which to plant and grow more deeply into my faith as I was growing into and claiming my adulthood. In fact, I often felt ostracized, unrecognized, unneeded, and unwanted in the church communities I tried to connect with. As a transient student, my season was too short. My regularity was unpredictable. My needs were too disparate from those of the parish life cycle. One Sunday was a deep touchstone for me, but it was made obvious to me that my investment was not seen as enough for a returned investment in my spiritual life and formation. Over the course of four years I studied religion but my most consistent faith practices were in solitude or a few hundred miles drive north in an Episcopal campus ministry community near my family home. As I discerned my call to priesthood while working as a youth minister after college, I remained committed to the important work of discipleship in the context of young adulthood and found my calling included building better bridges between youth to college students and campus ministry to parish life. …

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