Report Back – Listening Project 2021
Written by Pastor Kate
As a campus pastor, I am well acquainted with the rhythms of saying goodbye and saying hello. As we savor the gifts of one particular generation of students, we recognize that the next group of individuals that gather in Christ’s name at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities will be shaped by different experiences and bring different expectations as they join our community. Some things about LCM at the U of M will remain constant, others will shift and change as students come and go. This reality will certainly be true for our ministry this year, and I suspect has significant resonance for the church across our country.
Who will return to our community? Will they have energy for one another? For the stranger? What will they carry with them? What gifts will they want to share? After 11 years in ministry, the month of August remains full of frenzied preparation and a good amount of worry that people will not, in fact, show up. I wonder if others feel this too? In campus ministry? In our churches? I wonder how all of this is especially heightened after this year of disruption, trauma and loss.
As we consider those questions, let’s all take a breath, as we remember who we are and Whose we are. As you read this blessing, let it soak into your bones:
Don’t get up quite yet.
First blink and breathe
you are fiercely loved.
Do not be fooled
by the list that hunts you down
You are called to a few things,
not all the things.
Be still until you hear
the sacred silence whisper,
“Underneath the hustle
and the bundle of nerves
you are desperate to earn
has already been declared.”
And then rise like the sun,
one shade of sky at a time.
-Meta Herrick Carlson, “For Morning Anxiety,” in Ordinary Blessings © 2020
We must root down and into God’s first love for us. And from there we rise, recognizing it is not all ours to do. At Lutheran Campus Ministry-Twin Cities, this slow and patient rise has meant embarking on a significant listening campaign, to connect with students and to discern what God might be calling this ministry into as we begin again. Staff and student leaders invited close to 100 students who will be on campus this Fall to have a conversation with us in July. Using the tools of community organizing, we listened deeply for their passions and energy, for their hopes for life on campus, and interest in spiritual community.
We’ve discovered that most students are eager to return to campus in a more traditional way, having spent most of last year with significant restrictions and mostly online classes. Even though the Delta variant has shaken us all, in Minnesota our students remain cautiously optimistic. Rising first-year students are among the most enthusiastic. Our rising sophomores are the most nervous and worried, having missed their orientation and welcome week, the opportunity to get lost on campus, and having their capacity to develop an in-person social network diminished significantly. Our Juniors (having spent just one full semester on campus) are excited for a return to the in-person activities and friend groups they’d established, and our Seniors mostly want things to be how “they remember them” (colored though that memory may be). Very few students were interested in actively reflecting on the past year, and were much more interested in discovering what was in front of them.
These students share concerns about the climate crisis, and many report experiencing climate anxiety. They’re frustrated that mainstream culture and some of their friend groups seem to have moved on from last summer’s Uprising in the wake of George Floyd’s death. They remain angry at the polarization in this country, the inability of politicians to address obvious and urgent concerns, and the fierce individualism that is defining behavior across the culture.
Though this generation is known for the mental health concerns that are ever-present in their individual lives and/or the lives of those closest to them, they are also learning how to ask for what they need, to evaluate what is most important to them, and to arrange their lives to support wholeness, healing, and justice – for themselves and others. For many, a hunger for spiritual formation and authentic community tops the list of commitments they’re hoping to make.
As we integrate what we’ve learned into the beginning of our program year, we recognize that on campus, some hustle and abundant opportunities for connection are always an important part of our first weeks on campus. It’s how we meet folks, and it feels full.
And, as we settle into life together, we’re planning a semester grounded in the simplicity and beauty of word and sacrament ministry, alongside programs that continue to be steeped in listening, deepening connections, and helping us all find our sea legs as we move into another liminal season. The sun will rise fully at some point, but this year, in the beginning, we will rest in the beauty of the changing colors of the sky, anticipating the fullness of God’s new day while understanding we are not there yet.