Food for Thought
by Laura Wind (March / April 2005 — Volume 21, Number 2)
Congregation-based campus ministry at its best enriches all involved — the congregation, the college or university, and the students. Food (of several kinds) plays a big part in this North Carolina congregation’s program.
At the Table
When Jesus was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. (Luke 24:30-31a)
The meal arrives piping hot, promptly at 5:30 p.m., just in time for the weekly Tuesday evening ritual. The spicy aroma of Moroccan curried beef fills the narthex of the Lutheran Church of the Epiphany. Couscous and a black bean and corn salad complete the main course. I peek at the desserts. The rich, warm, fudge-covered brownies tempt me. I load the food into the car, doing my best to contain myself, and I manage not to eat a brownie on the short drive over to Wake Forest University. (Later on in the semester, the homemade cannoli will not fare as well.)
Since 1964, the Lutheran Church of the Epiphany has celebrated its partnership with Lutheran Campus Ministry at Wake Forest University. This partnership began with Epiphany’s second pastor, Earl McCombs Jr.; Epiphany’s third pastor, George Keck, expanded the campus ministry program. At this time, the men of Epiphany organized a coffee house called the “Attic,” which met on the first Monday night of the month. Doug and Beth Kearney were active in campus ministry; after seminary, they would return to serve as pastors at Epiphany and continue to expand the campus ministry program at Wake Forest.
|We have been designated as a congregation-based campus ministry. In some ways, this provides students with the best of both worlds — the academic stimulation of a university community and a parish in which to find a “home away from home.”|
Throughout the past 42 years, Epiphany has taken seriously its call to minister to the students, staff, and faculty of Wake Forest. Because of its close proximity to the campus and a strong commitment on the part of the people of Epiphany, campus ministry has been a vital part of Epiphany’s ministry. With the arrival in 1995 of Pastor Steve Gerhard, a strong supporter of campus ministry and previous campus pastor at North Carolina State in Raleigh, Epiphany has seen its campus ministry continue to grow.
Because the Lutheran Church of the Epiphany is only 2.5 miles south of the Wake Forest campus, we have been designated as a congregation-based campus ministry. In some ways, this provides students with the best of both worlds — the academic stimulation of a university community and a parish in which to find a “home away from home.” The students participate in programs and build relationships both on the campus and at Epiphany. From the start, we invite all students to join us: being Lutheran is not a prerequisite. At Wake Forest, the academic demands are rigorous, so students are encouraged to participate as they are able.
Campus ministry is a group project, successful because of the support of the members of Epiphany. Tuesday evening, members of the church provide delicious home-cooked meals, which I deliver. After our meal various kinds of programs occur: guest speakers, Bible study, student-led sessions, and discussion groups on topics the community is facing.
Not everything is serious. One of the highlights of our Tuesday evenings was a surprise salsa dance lesson taught by Tyler, the leader of the university dance club, named Dirrrty. Secret was the key word. As one student stated, “If I had known we were going to dance, I would have stayed on my couch.” The students were great, and by the end of the lesson they were salsaing all over the campus lounge.
Worship is central to our community life. Regular worship occurs both on campus and at Epiphany. On Sunday mornings, members of the church provide transportation for students to attend the 11 a.m. service. Weekly worship also happens Sunday evenings with the Episcopal Campus Ministry on campus.
Reveal yourself to us, O Lord, in the breaking of bread
As once you revealed yourself to your disciples.
(LBW: Ministers Desk Edition, Augsburg Publishing House: Minneapolis and Board of Publication, Lutheran Church in America: Philadelphia, 1978, p. 29 [#34])
Perhaps the most important tenet of campus ministry is “if you feed them, they will come.” The Tuesday evening meals are free. There is something decidedly theological about that.
The Tuesday evenings are, however, just the beginning of the food. During exam week, the church provides snacks for those who are studying in the campus ministry lounge at church. Hundreds of cookies are baked and distributed to students. Goodie bags — or, actually, end-of-semester survival kits — filled with hot cocoa, Twizzlers®, lots of chocolate, fruit, popcorn, and other necessities are assembled by our youth groups and given to students on campus.
Goodie bags are not the only food for students, though. They are fed by the Word of God in study and worship. They are fed at the Lord’s table, fed through the love and care of the members of Epiphany, fed and sustained by the community of Wake Forest, and fed by their love, care, and commitment to each other.
As the ministry to Wake Forest has grown, so has the university. It has changed dramatically in the past fifty years. Enrollment has increased, and now the dominant religious group at this once primarily Baptist school is Roman Catholic, with approximately 1,000 students out of 4,000 undergraduates.
Central to the relationship between Epiphany and Wake Forest is Wake Forest’s strong tradition of campus ministry. Approximately thirty percent of students participate in campus ministry, a large percentage compared to other campuses. For fifty years, Wake Forest has held an annual event called “Pre-School.” Begun by the Baptist Campus Ministry group, this three-day event gathers incoming freshmen prior to orientation. Students have the opportunity to meet other freshmen, hear about campus ministry, and meet faculty and staff members. Held off campus, the sharing of stories, small group work, and nightly campfires allow students to begin to find their still point before they are plunged into the spin cycle of campus life.
The real story of campus ministry is the students. There is Marsha, who instead of pursuing an advanced degree in mathematics, did a year of volunteer service and is now at seminary in Philadelphia. Jeff, too, talks about volunteer service, saying, “I’ve been given so much, now it’s time for me to give back.” Matt boldly proclaims the good news that we are justified by grace through faith at ecumenical student gatherings. Craig, currently studying in China, will return to bring his faith and convictions to his vocation as a business leader.
Zach, whose gifts of hospitality help create community and passion for service, reminds us of our baptismal call to serve all people. Sarah leads the student Bible study and always brings snacks. Kapri, a talented artist, wants to work with special-needs children and Cindy, with autistic children. Caitlin is pursuing an advanced degree in cognitive psychology. Mitzi works with our church youth group and leads the handbell choir. For all of them, campus ministry helped shape their faith and provided them a safe place to develop their gifts and discern how God is calling them to use those gifts.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the time we have shared breaking bread and the gift of friendship we have found in each other and Christ Jesus have been made holy. Our parish has been enriched by witnessing these students' growth in faith. We have been blessed by their presence and their gifts. They have made a difference in our parish. Campus ministry has made a difference in their lives, and now, living out their baptismal promises, they are making a difference in the world.
Laura Wind is campus pastor at Epiphany Lutheran Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for students from Wake Forest University.