Take Care of My Loved Ones
by Judith Ann Cobb (March / April 2003 • Volume 19 • Number 2)
Going away to college can be a stress-filled experience for young people and for those in homes and congregations who have nurtured them. The nurturing can and should continue on campus.
Editor's Note: Two authors write on the mutual expectations that church colleges/campus ministry sites and leaders of congregations have of each other as many of our church's young people go off to colleges and universities.
Judith Ann Cobb, a former campus ministry staff person and youth worker and until recently a parish pastor in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, responds to the question "What do pastors and rostered lay ministers of the church expect from our church colleges and campus ministry centers for our young adults/sons and daughters who attend them?"
In the article that follows, Ernest Simmons, a professor of religion at Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota, looks at the question from the perspective of the church college/campus ministry.
The sending off of young people to college is emotionally exhausting. I have done it twice with my own sons and about 150 times as a youth director/pastor. As a parent, I occasionally mused that God made our children's senior year at high school miserable at home so that we wouldn't miss them so much when they left for college. Initially, I badgered each to complete his entrance applications. After college acceptance came, I nagged each to continue to study and be responsible in high school.
Meanwhile, both did their best to stretch boundaries. The constant repetition of "next-year-you-won't-know-where-I-am, so-why-have-rules-now" lingers in my memory as a nightmare. However, the day eventually arrived. We vacuum-packed the car with all earthly belongings. We opened the new bank account and gave the warning about maintaining an accurate balance despite the use of an ATM. We numbly danced the motions of meeting the new roommate.
Reality inched in. This is not camp. This is not vacation. A new life for all of us is beginning. This child is separating from me. My life seems to ache. This roots-and-wings thing is wrenching.
As a pastor/youth director, I have experienced the "it's not fair" emotion. I was with them when they annoyed me all night on retreats. I stopped the fire when as acolytes they knocked over candles. I called them approximately 100 times to give reminders. I brought peace when a youth group romance broke up or the entire teen population seemed angry with each other. I cajoled them through Confirmation and prayed with them through turmoil.
Why must we send them off now, when they are responsible, respectable, and mature? For the pastor/youth director, too, sending young people off to college is emotionally exhausting.
|I want them to love the journey into adulthood knowing that God is always saying, "You are mine."|
Walk with Them
So, my initial desire is for each to go to a college of the church or another college or university where there is an active campus ministry center or a nearby congregation that does outreach ministry to university students. My heart wants these campus ministries to take care of the ones I love. My heart says, "Watch over them and keep them safe." My heart says, "Please teach them what I haven't been able to complete. Make sure they participate in worship. Tell them to call me weekly and e-mail more frequently."
In one way, that is really what I want, because it would perpetuate my own attachment. My altruistic and nonselfish expectation and prayer actually is that campus ministries would "walk with" students as each learns "life's nature and how to participate in it."
Anne Lamott, author of Traveling Mercies (New York: Pantheon Books, 1999), characterizes life's nature in this way.
Our preacher Veronica said recently that this is life's nature: that lives and hearts get broken those of people we love, those of people we'll never meet. She said that the world sometimes feels like the waiting room of the emergency ward and that we who are more or less okay for now need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the waiting room until the Healer comes. You sit with people, she said, you bring them juice and graham crackers.
And then she went on vacation.
"Traveling mercies," the old people at our church said to her when she left. This is what they always say when one of us goes off for a while. Traveling mercies: love the journey, God is with you, come home safe and sound. (p. 106)
Laugh, Feed, and Stretch
This description of "life's nature" leads me to some of the expectations that pastors and rostered lay ministers have for church colleges, campus centers, and congregations involved in campus ministry.
1. "You sit with people. You bring them juice and crackers."
I want campus ministry to be welcoming. Our students need to know that no matter who you are, what your background is, or how smart or confused you are, this community wants you. I think that the chaplain/pastor needs to get the religious-preference cards as soon as they are available and send postcards to students. I visualize every bulletin board, dorm office, and commuter lounge displaying an invitation to gather. Then I hope there will be a lot of sitting with students: talking, laughing, listening, and praying. Sit with them in dining rooms, pews, dorm rooms, concerts, and sports events. Feed them with pizza and an occasional salad. Feed them with the very Bread of Life that satisfies their hungry hearts.
2. "Love the Journey. God is with you."
I want campus ministry to accompany college students on their journeys. Leaving home means listening to new voices. Starting college means testing ideas that were taught since childhood. I expect that the ministry to these students would encourage this journey. I hope that the students' understanding of Jesus and the call of baptism would expand. I want them to understand that God follows us out of childhood Sunday School rooms and into places where political science and advanced biology are taught: "Classrooms and labs! Loud boiling test tubes! Sing to the Lord a new song! Athlete and band! Loud cheering people! Sing to the Lord a new song!" (LBW #558)
I want them to love the journey into adulthood knowing that God is always saying, "You are mine."
3. "Lives and hearts get broken."
009; I expect campus ministry to be a ministry of emergency and crisis. The nights can be very long and the pains great during college times. Sometimes all the money is gone. Sometimes the love of your life walks out. Sometimes there is abuse of drugs. Sometimes the paths are not clear. Sometimes academic pressures are fearsome. Sometimes aloneness is overwhelming. I expect that there will be peer ministry. I expect there to be phone numbers available for any plea.
4. "Take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded."
I expect that our campus ministries and congregations will be involved in outreach to the community that supports those in need. I want our students to be encouraged and called into these ministries. The life of a student is very self-centered. They can easily become occupied 24/7 with taking care of only themselves. I yearn for campus ministries to change the eyesight of students that they may see and serve those who are wounded, that they learn what it is to be the Christ to the one in need.
5. "The Healer comes."
I expect that those ministering to college students always teach that Jesus alone is the Healer and the center of our lives. This Healer calls us into community. We are "part of the family," "the body of Christ," the church. This family gathers for worship where the healing of forgiveness takes place. I believe that students who hear this message in college will be inextricably involved in the church throughout their lives.
6. "Come home safe and sound."
In a perfect world, I would hope that the home congregations would remember their students in the Prayers of the Church and send care packages during exams. I would hope that the student would be welcomed home and invited to a meal. I also expect that college ministries would encourage their students to go home to parents, friends, and a congregational family. It is easy for a college student to lose sight of the importance of these foundational and integral parts of their lives. It is a good ministry to teach that the past gets integrated into the present.
The sending off of our young people to college is emotionally exhausting for both parents and pastors and youth leaders. The welcoming of them home can be a joy beyond compare. We give thanks for the chaplains, pastors, and lay ministers who invite, watch, pray, and nurture.
At the time of the writing of this article, Judith Ann Cobb was a pastor at St. James Lutheran Church, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. She has served as both an associate in ministry and as a pastor over the years. While serving at First Lutheran Church, Norfolk, Virginia as an associate in ministry, she also worked as a campus minister at Old Dominion University. In January, she became Region 8 coordinator and deployed staff for the Division for Ministry and the Department of Synodical Relations.