Commentary

Stretching the campus ministry comfort zone

“Deep and wide, deep and wide. There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.”

As I traveled to New York City for an alternative spring break trip with 27 Lutheran and Muslim students from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, I noticed how curious they all were, but also how committed to their own spiritual tradition. Each of these students has been raised in a particular tradition, and still they remain curious about the lives of one another and how the others live out their faith.

The spring break week was an experiment in living out our faith through service projects (which has become a standard in colleges and among Lutheran churches). These students, however, were also living out their faith through exploring similarities and differences between the two traditions, by sharing tough stories and asking tough questions about life after September 11 (while visiting Ground Zero and the Park 51 Islamic Cultural Center), and by laughing and crying and dreaming together about how we might be together in this increasingly divisive and fear-ridden culture.

Kate Reuer

We underestimate our young adults.

As stories of pervasive fear among families and friends post-September 11 were shared, we reflected on how that fear has stayed with us as a culture. We also reflected on the signs of reconciliation, love, and hope that students experienced at that same time. We concluded that, as people of faith, we felt courage to reach out to others, to be curious about one another, and to be friends with one another — without having to change or judge the other person. As regular practitioners of the traditions we represent, each of us felt a sort of security, a freedom even, to live and love boldly in the world.

Stretching one’s ministry

A yoga teacher once told me that, if you want to move deeper into the poses, you have to first stretch out and then go deeper. “Breathe in as you stretch and, as you exhale, notice the extra space that has been created. This is what lets you move deeper.”

During this week, and as we returned with plans of continuing our newfound relationships on campus, I couldn’t help but think about how we were in many ways stretching out. We were creating new space in our spiritual lives to ask challenging questions, but also to realize those parts of our own traditions that we love.

The Lutheran Campus Ministry students emerged from this trip proud of, and with a deeper understanding of, their own Lutheran Christian identity. As one student defended her decision to go on this trip to her mostly theologically conservative friends, she “came home” to her Lutheran roots as she was reminded of the freedom she found in Christ. One student remembered and fell in love with our corporate worship and prayer saying, “It’s just different when it’s everyone all together.” Another is contemplating seminary for the first time.

We underestimate our young adults. They are curious, compassionate, thoughtful, deeply committed human beings who not only will be, but in some cases already are, leading our church and our world. We must not be afraid to go deep with them, allowing room for questions and doubting, nurturing them through Word and Sacrament, challenging them, and giving them significant leadership opportunities. This is how we can go wide — bringing Christ to the world (and the dorms), and being curious about all that God might be up to in our lives, in our communities, and in this world God loves so much.

There is, indeed, a fountain flowing deep and wide.

Kate Reuer is an ELCA pastor serving Lutheran Campus Ministry at the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota.

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