Consider this a musing about a calling. I begin so aware of the connections, of all who, through 45 years of campus ministry, helped me to understand. I realize I was given credit for many things I did help happen, but which began as the ideas of another. We acknowledge these thoughts, but most of us don’t write them down until challenged to do so by something like the 50th Anniversary of the National Campus Ministry Association. Then comes the dilemma: Is what I am remembering what actually happened, or are my thought processes improving upon reality? Another dilemma: I wasn’t asked for a 500 page volume, but not including everything means persons and situations for which I continue to be thankful are going to be left out. Please accept this for what it is: a short, intensely written summary, offered in thanksgiving for a career which continually allowed me to learn. It is a “period piece” directly related to my own campus ministry experiences between 1969 and 2012. Campus ministry is currently in the midst of change as denominations struggle to retain identity and membership; possibly some of my “learnings” will be of value to others. Hopefully they will be of some value to those involved in the current denominational and institutional struggles over whether campus ministry and chaplaincy should continue to be funded at all.
A spring of 1969 graduation from Pacific School of Religion, a summer spent as administrative staff for the Community of the Great Commission camp site in Northern California, and then an August move to Stanford University in a position initially called Assistant to the Dean of the Chapel: this was how I began in campus ministry.
The Dean of the Chapel was Davie Napier, an extremely personable, thoughtful, poetic, intellectual Hebrew Scriptures specialist (yes, we called it “Old Testament”), who was willing to be an “activist” Dean. He reported to the President of the University and was well liked by many members of the Stanford Faculty. Sunday church services attracted students and Palo Alto community members from many faith traditions — most seeking valid ways to live their own lives. The resident rabbi approved Jewish students taking Davie’s Hebrew Scriptures course. My initial involvements were (a) providing some administrative leadership (the University Administration would have called it “supervision”, but…) for the many religious leaders credentialed to work on the campus, (b) slowly taking on responsibilities for creating liturgy to resonate with the congregation that gathered to hear sermons preached by Davie and invited guests, (c) serving as teaching assistant for the Hebrew Scriptures course, and (d) “hanging out.” I was initially assigned to live on and serve a floor in a residence hall; somewhat introverted person that I am, I was a complete failure in the dorm eve though I had worked in Res Life at my own undergraduate institution, and a very kind Head Resident and a very kind Dean thought it would be best if I moved off campus at the end of the first academic year.
Senator George McGovern was our initial guest preacher in the fall of ’69. First major learning: in a setting like Stanford you quickly become accustomed to being around highly respected people – those from within and those visiting the campus. It was the “Vietnam Era” and many Stanford students and faculty were involved in anti-war activities. The Chapel (locally called Mem Chu) welcomed being a location for some of those activities. We were blessed to have two staff persons within the Division of Student Affairs who, out of their own strong Quaker traditions, believed that students who opposed war needed to carry their beliefs beyond “anti” into choosing and developing careers which respected the earth and all that lives upon it; those two worked at creating the seminars and volunteer situations which helped students do that.
It wasn’t that we “all got along.” We didn’t. There was a strong and much appreciated Non Violence House on campus; there were also faculty and students who believed revolution was the only way, while others believed you do what your government requires. Some students were struggling to establish their own identity which, not unusually, often conflicted with the value systems of the families from which they came. But there was also a great deal of respect. At my first Stanford sit-in I stood in awe as the student leaders completely cleaned up the area they had been occupying. No one ordered them to do so; that was just appropriate behavior.
In contrast, moving freely around campus as most of us did, I went to an on-campus demonstration in front of the Hoover Institution on War and Peace, a public policy think tank. I soon knew what it feels like to have a bayonet held against my backbone as I was personally ordered out of the area.
One evening, members of a self-defined “revolutionary group” announced a “take over” of Mem Chu (a 2000 seat facility) at the end of a campus anti-war teach-in. How do you handle it? It was solved as two great students, Pia and Tom, well known in the non-violence community and a part of the Chapel student leadership, picked up brooms and went into the middle of the sanctuary. They calmly announced they were the custodians for the evening and it would be appreciated if those sitting-in didn’t create any more work for them. The group was welcome to stay as long as they wished, but please, be respectful of the custodians. The group disbanded shortly after midnight.
We were all learning; most of us were learning all of the time. Our teachers were one another.
There were eighteen and nineteen year olds much wiser than I; there were students of different colors willing to educate me about the realities of their experiences. I continue to be grateful for casual invitations to go bowling with members of the Black Student Union. After the Kent State debacle a very generous African American professor quietly suggested we never mention Kent State without mentioning Jackson State. Thankfully he made the suggestion prior to our making any great mistakes.
Of great importance to me and the larger community was an informal volunteer network of creative women, some of whom were identified as “faculty wives;” many of them were highly credentialed but were in families where the husband was the designated bread winner. These women went way beyond “volunteering.” They developed alternative employment agencies, partnered with women from East Palo Alto to work cooperatively on eliminating racism, opened their homes and hearts to any of us in need of their wisdom, and willingly participated in groups some of us designed.
Colleagues! YWCA Directors, United Ministry in Higher Education clergy, leaders of the Catholic Newman Center and interns; I think we experienced what it was like to be “collegial.” The group expanded to include individuals representing several denominations as well as para-church staff willing to engage in theological discussion and participate in co-sponsored events. I learned this was not the usual model. Campus ministers in other settings often worked alone or in competition. Why was Stanford this way? During the “Napier” years, I’d attribute it to the Dean, to the presence in the Religious Studies Department of people like Robert McAfee Brown and Jerry Irish, who appeared to move easily between the academics and the practice of religion, and to the women referred to above.
I was sometimes confronted by people who had “never met a woman clergy before,” or “weren’t certain women could be clergy.” Forty-five years later those kinds of encounters continue.
My title changed to Assistant Dean, and Davie Napier left Stanford to become President of the Pacific School of Religion, while I worked with a series of short term interim Deans: Wayne Rood, Bob Brown, Brad Abernethy (previously Chaplain at Rutgers}.
The extensive work of a search committee, commissioned to provide three names to the President, and the subsequent calling of a new permanent Dean of the Chapel, meant Religious Life at Stanford was moving in a new direction. Two names that had been submitted were of nationally well- known activists. The President made it known to the committee that no matter his own feelings, administratively he could not extend an invitation to either of them.
After a year with the new Dean, with the urging of visiting preacher Beverly Harrison, I applied for an Underwood Grant from the Danforth Foundation and spent 15 months at the Graduate Theological Union in classes focusing on the relationship between liturgy and social change, a time for which I will ever be grateful. I learned from others that Bev, a member of the Underwood selection committee, didn’t leave the room until several persons she wanted to receive the grant were so honored. And receiving the grant meant that Bob Rankin, Underwood administrator, involved several of us who didn’t fit the historic depiction of campus religious leaders, in a variety of national gatherings. My unending thanks to Bev and Bob!
As the Underwood grant came to an end, Roy Sano, then Chaplain at Mills College, Oakland, CA, asked if I’d be one of several applying and interviewing for a temporary position at Mills, as he was going on sabbatical. It seemed viable. I was familiar with private institutions, Mills was in the Bay Area and it would allow me to finish the academic work I had undertaken. I had heard privately that some women faculty, staff and students were intrigued with what a female chaplain might bring to the setting. The position was listed as half time (Dr. Sano was also a part of the teaching faculty; I would not be in the classroom but could sign off on independent studies for students). Some female faculty were very welcoming and I sensed community as students, limited to women at the undergraduate level, chose the campus chapel as a place to gather, talk, share their lives. But a power struggle was also underway.
Some long-term male faculty, not comfortable with women in leadership positions, made their concerns known in many ways. There were also concerns I simply couldn’t grasp, again expressed by some of the long-term male members of faculty and staff. Women’s dances were questioned; wouldn’t they create “illicit” relationships? At the same time I was told of a male faculty member who used his authority to initiate a sexual relationship with a student. My mistaken notion of “confidentiality” kept me from finding an appropriate way to intervene. Just across the Bay in Palo Alto I had friends I could have approached for counsel, but my lack of confidence kept me quiet.
As the academic year came to an end, Roy made it known he would not be returning to Mills. Several students approached the administration asking that I be kept on, but were not responded to – and soon Diane Kenney became the focal point of student-led demonstrations as banners and leaflets appeared demanding my retention as the choice of students. Then finals hit, as they always do, and the year ended.
One of my errors was in not asking, before Roy left, that he name an advisory group to serve at my request. I continue to think of a short list of students I know I did not serve well, even though my very occasional Googling of their names tells me they are creative, talented, much-respected and productive women.
The job search began! I belonged on a campus. The National Campus Ministry Association was highly respected for many things, but of importance to many of us was the information it provided on positions that were open. A few months of looking for direction, and I faced a choice. A congregation in Austin, Texas was seeking a staff person to direct ecumenical campus ministry. I was having trouble deciding whether Texas was where I should be. The lovely search committee wanted me and wooed me with weekly shipments of Texas Pecan Pralines, but I was intimidated by the “church-based,” although ecumenical, nature of the ministry to be created.
Youngstown State University, in Youngstown, OH seemed a better fit. No, this Californian had never faced a true winter, had no experience with public higher education, and knew next to nothing about communities based on industry. I did know people from Ohio. One family from Stanford was now living in Ohio; another was now at Union in NYC, and therefore not terribly far away via the Pittsburgh airport. I thoroughly enjoyed the interview. The campus ministry was independent, but was affiliated with the Mahoning Valley Council of Churches. The University was perpendicular to Wick Ave, and Wick was home to a series of congregations (Disciples, Presbyterian, German Congregational, Greek Orthodox, and Episcopalian) committed to and involved in the single campus ministry. The congregations had learned to work together in service to the local community. Anyone entering a congregation to ask for food or money was sent across Wick Avenue to the Council of Churches, where a social worker was on duty during regular business hours. An intake interview was held, clarity was reached about the resources that would be most helpful, an agreement was signed listing responsibilities of the agency and the client, and initial resources were distributed.
The Catholic Newman Center was a block away from where my office would be. The Catholic Diocese was a very few blocks away. The campus ministry board made an offer; I replied affirmatively,and arrived to temporary housing having been arranged and to a fully functioning board with funding in place. The Board consisted of very nice and competent persons who knew the area and its cultures. Some were strong members of the University Community; others were clergy and laity in local congregations. Almost all treated me as a friend – and the learning began.
The initial learning: through the Department of Religion I was to teach two or three sections each semester of “Intro to Religion.” There were no approved guidelines for the course; one or two local pastors would teach additional sections (the tenured faculty didn’t want to do it) and it hadn’t been decided that it would be of value if we worked out a joint syllabus. Students flocked to the course because it fulfilled a humanities requirement. Many had been raised in the Catholic Church and, as was normal for the era and the place, “knew what religion was.” So it must be easy. Registration was limited to 30 in each section. I spent the five years I was there modifying content and methodology. Whatever I did, some were hooked; others sat through. I confused some by making extensive comments in red pen on their essays and then giving good grades.
An on-going program was a Wednesday lunch in the Episcopal church, complete with tablecloths, cloth napkins, full place settings and candlelight! The site, setting, food and clean up were contributions of the Episcopal congregation to the campus ministry. Those who chose put $3 or so in the basket. Faculty, staff, students appeared, often numbering 70 or 80. It was an extremely gracious hour made available to a very diverse crowd, and it was the idea of the congregation’s administrative assistant as to how they might serve the university.
Soon a retired nurse, a member of First Christian, approached me with her idea. She had connections at a local hospital; the medical records chair and several physicians and residents were willing to offer free services one evening each week if we could find a location for a free clinic. The nurse thought the basement of First Christian, complete with stage, dressing rooms and restrooms would make the perfect site. Was I willing to pursue it? She also put together a system where physicians donated their not-needed or soon-to-be-outdated pharmaceuticals. We sorted throughthem, and an appropriate company came to make certain those that would not be dispensed would be properly disposed of. We presented the idea to the governing board of First Christian. The one awkward but sincere question, which she handled magnificently, had to do with whether V.D. could be contracted through toilet seats.
We were up and running. Students liked the Free Clinic because, as most continued to live with their families, they could now see someone other than their family doctor. Interns, physicians and nurses liked it because they saw and treated things they might not normally encounter in their local hospital. Soon faculty were using it for the annual physical their benefits provided (and their insurance was billed as a contribution to our clinic operation), and the R.O.T.C. found it a great way to get necessary physicals for their recruits. That is how one lay woman, with connections, envisioned and helped provide something of great value to the broader campus community.
During the clinic time relationships were built and some very practical, hands-on, theology was shared. After the clinic closed each Wednesday evening, all professional staff and volunteers met at thelocal beer joint and very honest conversations continued. A good friend and member of a religious order volunteered each week but did not join us at the after session. It took time before I deciphered the cause: the issue was not beer, but not having cash to pay for it. Soon a different volunteer was inviting her each week to come as their guest. The clinic idea was the product of a lay woman with connections; the stable presence was the woman from medical records who knew and was respected by the hospital staff. The campus ministry and the campus received the benefits.
The size and historical stability of Youngstown made things possible I had not experienced before. It was normal for us to do meditative moments on the local radio station. The University President asked for help because the young adult child of a trustee was participating in what we then called a cult. This young adult was no longer in contact with her parents, could I help them understand what was going on? I have to wonder why these connections appeared in my life. The director of the campus career center was a long time Youngstown resident and highly respected on campus and in the community. People in important places knew she was totally committed to the campus ministry. We had access because she was always recommending us.
Youngstown was a steel town. Resident families had been there for generations. Then US Steel and other facilities decided there was more money to be made in other fields and the plants began closing, leaving thousands of families without income. A coalition of religious persons was formed to work against the closures. Someone suggested that a Protestant female and a Catholic female needed to be part of that coalition. I was asked; my campus ministry board decided major changes in employment always affected universities; therefore, I was to spend approximately 25% of my time with the coalition. Similar decisions were made in the Catholic diocese and Protestant denominations. I’m not certain how this happened, but I became the official designer of liturgy for this body. Eventually the very kind Catholic Bishop got used to Protestant me telling him that something liturgical he was suggesting for a community- wide meeting just wasn’t going to work. We all were learning! My California roots had taught me ethnicity was often related to skin color, but in Ohio ethnicity was related to what part of eastern Europe your relatives had come from. Those communities differed strongly from one another, but they all had the same hopes for the next generation. The shutting of steel plants was shattering those hopes.
The Ecumenical Coalition of the Mahoning Valley came into existence in response to the announced closing of the Campbell Steel Works, eliminating the well paid employment of 4000 persons. This was the first of several plant closings. The Coalition began with a phone call from the Cleveland office of the Episcopal Bishop, John Burt, to the Youngstown Catholic Diocese Bishop, James Malone. Within days the Bishops called a meeting with other religious leaders and Dr. Richard Barnet of the Institute for Policy Studies (a research organization based in Washington, D.C.}. The Institute recommended to the soon-to-be-named Ecumenical Coalition of the Mahoning Valley, that work with the Exploratory Project on Economic Alternatives, headed by Dr. Gar Alperovitz, should be undertaken to address the economic problems facing the Mahoning Valley. I know that most major decisions concerning direction were made in small closed-door sessions or on the telephone, but since it had been determined that two professional female faces needed to be present in all public and press related gatherings, I was involved. For flights to Washington the plane was provided by John Glenn. As the “worker ownership” concept grew, my interviewing skills were tested as several from the Coalition would meet late night hours in a quiet hotel room with workers willing, without the knowledge of their employers, to help us create a financial plan for the reopening of the plant. Staughton Lynd, a former American History professor at Spelman College and Yale University, provided legal counsel to the Coalition. For some of us Staughton was much more than a legal mind. A committed Quaker, he functioned as though everyone, regardless of title or education, was of equal worth. He never appeared to be rushed. In continuous, informal conversations he provided an on-going education on everything from social analysis and worker history to Quaker belief systems. His affirmation of persons meant connections grew between individual clergy and local steel workers. I enjoyed continual conversations with several steel workers who, having no interest in a degree but committed to learning as much as they could, had taken every possible history course at the University. Lynd and Alperovitz were well acquainted with each other. A joint publication prior to their Youngstown involvements explains how through “public ownership and coordinated economic planning, popular participation in decision-making can be increased and power can be decentralized.” However, decentralized power was not what corporations were seeking. Soon the local union leadership discovered union headquarters did not consider it in their best interests, either. On a trip to Pittsburgh, to union headquarters, Youngstown union leadership discovered the goals which led to corporate decisions paralleled the goals of international unions. The personal tragedies began: heart attacks, strokes, accidents. We attended far too many memorial services and kept tabs on many workers then on medical leave.
Ramsey Clark signed on as a pro-bono advisor and the young and committed leadership of Northeast Ohio Legal Services entered the arena. We had proven, at least to our satisfaction, that worker ownership was feasible. Could corporations be forced to make available their plants to a worker-community cooperative? Funds were in personal bank accounts ready to be used for the purchase. Companies refused to sell, preferring to close. The decision of the court was they could not be forced to sell. Additionally, attorneys with Northeast Ohio Legal Services were advised by the judge to refrain from involvement in any further cases. Strategy sessions continued on many levels, but for many of us living in Youngstown, the time we were committing to the Coalition now focused on pastoral care for residents of a city in despair.
That summer my roommate at a denominational meeting was Beverly Harrison. She asked questions, listened, and eventually told me I had most likely done everything I could in Youngstown, and it was time for me to leave. I hadn’t considered it. The multi-generational residents of the area had nothing to leave for, so how is it that I could leave?
A few months later I asked family members if I was welcome to come back to California without a job. They responded affirmatively, and I submitted a resignation to the campus ministry board for the end of the 1981-1982 academic year. One week later I received an announcement of an opening for “Ecumenical Campus Minister, University of Southern California.”
I arrived in Los Angeles on a Wednesday, interviewed for the USC position on Saturday morning, and spent the rest of the day at a Dodger game. I was offered and accepted the position that Sunday afternoon.
The University Religious Center (URC) on the USC campus was built in the 1960’s on land provided by the University and with funds from the denominations involved and the University. The organizers of the project were leaders in Protestant denominations. They had invited all religious organizations then practicing ministry on the campus to participate in building a joint facility. Hillel, the Catholic Diocese and Latter Day Saints chose not to participate in a joint project, but to create their own facilities. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Episcopal Church, American Baptist Church, Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church were a part of the building project. The name of the facility was chosen by the Trustees of the University. Denominations and funding continued to evolve. In 1982 the United Methodists, Presbyterians, Disciples, Church of the Brethren, and United Church of Christ were working together at USC under a regional United Ministries in Higher Education (UMHE) design, and it was this local consortium that was hiring me as the campus minister. Each campus had its own denominational configuration.
United Ministry had been in place for a long time. All involved in campus ministry know there are many more possibilities for design and implementation than any one ministry can engage with integrity. Although previous United Ministry directors had worked in peace with justice activities and small groups, the emphasis had been on counseling. The Board wanted to move to a new model. Faculty had long been involved. Were there emphases that would help additional faculty and staff with what they were attempting on campus? Additionally, United University Church (technically Presbyterian and Methodist but welcoming all) was next door, so we were asked to not provide Sunday services. All ministries in the URC worked together under a Gift Agreement that would serve a minimum of 40 years. None of the ministries housed in the URC paid any expenses for facilities; one representative of each organization served on the governing board; we had individual suites of offices and shared several rooms in common. We worked in conjunction with the Office of the Chaplain, also housed in the facility. It seemed to be the best of all possible worlds! In addition, USC was going to be an Olympic Village in 1984, and the URC staff, Roman Catholic Staff, Hillel Staff and LDS staff, with a few added to meet the needs of those severely under-represented , were to be the Chaplaincy staff for the Olympics. The URC would be inside the village, and we would keep our regular offices during the Olympics. The common spaces would serve as a television room, a snack bar, and a place for meditation. We were free to program any way we chose. Much of our cooperative time that first 18 months focused on creating possibilities for Olympic realities. In the Olympic setting as well as in our regular programming I was never quite prepared for my own intensive learning. One afternoon as I was sitting in front of the TV with athletes from several countries, one of them asked me why US television always switched event coverage to whatever it was a US athlete was currently winning. I was silenced by my own stupidity, for I hadn’t even noticed!
The URC governing board had long agreed that groups which found it difficult to obtain space on campus but represented our own somewhat undefined values would be welcome in our common space. That meant that, in 1982, GLBT rap groups were already meeting several times each week. The United Ministry Lounge welcomed Health Center staff during the middle of each work day, as they had no adequate staff lounge in their facility next door, and that provided me a tuition free education on the realities of student mental health, viruses affecting the football team, additional AIDS information, and material on other relevant topics. Mary Kurushima served as administrative assistant to Paul Kearns, the regional UMHE Secretary, who was also housed in the facility. And Mary was a gem! Within a very few weeks I was acquainted with most Asian Pacific women working on the campus and began to understand how women would take positions which were underpaid and without appropriate regular benefits because, if they stayed on the campus for 15 years, their children would have tuition remission. Mary’s husband, Eddy, was an artist who came by to pick her up from work every afternoon. He brought me sketches from his World War II internment camp and military experiences. He would say it was partially “because of my urging” that he began painting from these sketches, and his art work was the first of an informal series of art shows we hung in the United Ministry Lounge over the years. Corita Kent posters, John August Swanson’s work and African History Month displays helped to build an image of an informal setting committed to diversity and ethical development.
In May of 1985 my life changed wonderfully. DarEll Weist and I were married in the patio of the URC. DarEll was the United Methodist representative to the group that hired me. His question of me the day of the interview had centered on things I had attempted in campus ministry that had failed. I knew then and continue to know what it is like to have someone who always has your back, is a risk taker, and responds to each “Geez, I’d really like to but it won’t work” with a “Why not?”
A casual grouping of staff people from the Division of Student Affairs, a few faculty and several students began to gather every other week, struggling with ways to aid faculty and staff to develop broader understandings of what diversity might mean. The United Ministry lounge was the safe place for such things; my office took responsibility for inviting staff and students to be honest with one another and to commit to holding comments and concerns in confidence. We named ourselves PROACT (Push Racism Out, Accept the Challenge Today). In classes and group meetings we distributed hundreds of sheets asking students to self-define and then describe what it was like to be “that” on the USC campus. We grouped all responses and put them on large boards in the middle of campus. An administrator from the business school walked by, read them all and then quietly stated that this information had to be put in the hands of the faculty and administration. The only way it would get there is if we put it in an inexpensive publication and placed it directly into faculty mailboxes. Work-study students designed the booklet; a small grant from a denomination paid printing costs, and into campus mail it went. A highly respected professor of journalism was subsequently asked by the Provost to chair a campus-wide committee to address these issues. He was willing to do so if I could be on the committee (which bent the institutional rules). My participation was agreed upon, and in very intentional ways USC began working, indeed struggling, with course requirements and other ways ofbroadening the experiences and understandings of students, staff and faculty.
Work Study Students! We were totally dependent upon them for most of what we attempted. We struggled for that initial contract. Dr. Alvin Rudisill was University Chaplain and Director of Civic andCommunity Relations. He had begun at USC as Lutheran campus minister, taught in the Schools of Religion and Medicine and was respected as an administrator. I carefully considered the government regulations on work study students and knew that much of the work campus ministry offices were doing could legally be served by students on the work-study payroll. I presented the information to Dr. Rudisill, and together we made an appointment with the appropriate financial aid administrator. The informal hearing did not go well. The administrator could not get beyond “separation of church and state.” We left. I was horrified; Al then gave me lessons in how to go beyond and above certain administrators while apparently giving them credit for administrative boldness. Our contract appeared and at the next Religious Directors meeting the guidelines for employment of work-study students wereshared with all Religious Directors.
During the 80’s and early 90’s denominations were making program grants to campus ministries. The funding was not excessive, but creativity was prized. I served on an informal committee out of the Joint Educational Project, a campus office which worked with students and faculty interested in service learning components as a part of their classes. A counselor from Manual Arts High also served on the committee. I approached a denomination for funding , hoping to place approximately 12 undocumented high school students in university, museum or school board work settings during the summer. Technically these people would not be “employed,” but would be receiving leadership development grants from United Ministry. Each work contract would be developed with the particular supervisor. The funds were received. Now I needed the high school students. The Manual Arts High School counselor chose about 15 students for interviews. I had approached various settings about their willingness to take an “intern” for the summer at no financial cost. Now the task was to match the student with the setting. I knew the students were not adequately documented; the counselor knew the same, but it wasn’t information that needed to be shared. The response? The students were spectacular! Their supervisors called throughout the summer to praise them and ask how I had found these wonderful high school students. The students were happy for good summer work and impressive additions to their resumes.
Most of them had come to the US with their parents when they were very young. One of them, at the age of 14, was sitting in a movie theater on a Friday night when a raid took place. She was rounded up and sent back over the border. Nine months later she appeared in the office of her Manual Arts counselor. She had worked her way back across the border and to Los Angeles.
Each campus ministry runs its own series of “regular” groups. They vary: traditional weekly gatherings with food, a coffee house, women’s groups, retreats, film series, invited guests, anti-war activity and “The Last Lecture Series.” Then there is the serendipitous; for example: the squirrel that came in the office each day to receive a part of a granola bar from my hand. When church people ask about your ministry, they are often referring to these groups. Ours changed on almost a yearly basis as we worked hard to have students take leadership and responsibility for how and why they wanted to gather together.
Then we developed “A Community Place.” USC is located in a central part of L.A. called University Park. Like most very urban situations, there are many levels of poverty. United University Church was handing out sack lunches to the homeless during regular working hours. The administrative assistant, creator of the program, decided it was interfering with regular church programming. We talked informally about possibilities and I said I’d think about what might be done. I began a conversation with the campus director of security, and in the process learned his story. He was headed for the ministry when a Vietnam War experience redirected his commitment. He needed to answer a call to help people be safe, and subsequently earned graduate degrees which prepared him for major roles in campus security. I had come to him to see if he could help United Ministry find a place on or near campus where a food distribution program could continue without disrupting others. He told me he’d watched me since I’d arrived, because he was intrigued with the tasks we initiated and the positions we took. I had a friend I hadn’t known about. Soon we had a patio site in a local Lutheran church directly across from the campus. The site was historically understood to be a safe place by neighborhood people in need. We had campus police on call should we ever need them – with the understanding that if called no force was to be used and their task was to help solve problems, following my direction. Additionally, all officers under his direction carried “A Community Place” business cards. If they found a neighborhood person seeking handouts on campus, they directed them to A Community Place.
A student leadership team pulled together; we worked on funding and involving volunteers. Three days a week, from 11-1, sack lunches were handed out following specific guidelines, and the first week of every month bus tokens and taxi vouchers were distributed to those who registered and qualified. I was present most of the time to problem solve, but constantly stood in awe as students addressed every client (and often there were more than 100 in the two hour period) by name, asked about family members or the job search, and helped them with other needs. Often those needs included filling out forms for someone just released from jail who was not literate, or talking with seniors about possibilities for housing. International students often volunteered with A Community Place because they wanted to get over their fear of the neighborhood. Thursdays at 5:00 volunteers met to prepare lunches for distribution. The program has now been running for 15 years.
As a member of a Presbytery I helped lead three groups to Nicaragua on work teams under the direction of CEPAD, the evangelical or Protestant churches of Nicaragua. Our on-site experiences were facilitated by a Presbyterian clergyman from Pennsylvania, working with CEPAD. After the second trip he asked why I wasn’t bringing students. The reality? I hadn’t thought of it. Presbytery experiences were so distant from campus experiences, I wasn’t certain I could find appropriate students. The conversations began. He was very interested in discovering more about women’s leadership in Nicaragua. I was very interested in grass roots organizing. We put together a ten day program for USC students in Nicaragua focusing on “Women’s Issues,” open to males and females. The second year we added some conversations with Nicaraguan GLBT groups, because of the interests of two students traveling with us. The third year we began to have conversations with persons who had attempted to come to the U.S. illegally, and our new title was “Women’s Issues and Immigration Realities.” Each year the agenda for the approximately 15 students was slightly adjusted. Only one or two individual students, out of the seven year total of 100 students, expressed disappointment. And I continued to learn. One year we were meeting with the appropriate person from the US Consulate in Nicaragua to talk about immigration. He wanted to know something about the group. I sat in shock as the first four students introduced themselves and indicated their parents had come to the U.S. illegally. I hope he was listening. After the first year the Dean of Social Work was pleased with the reports her students brought back and chose to fund any of her students who were subsequently accepted for the program. Women’s Issues and Immigration Realities continued through 2012, when I technically retired from USC.
When I began at USC an on-going unit of the ministry was Orchard House, a rather historic building just a few blocks from campus. Through a series of exchanges it had been a gift to the United Methodist Conference with the understanding it would only be used for USC campus ministry. When I came it was occupied by student musicians who enjoyed living together because each of them understood why it was necessary to experience the practice sessions of others. The Director of International Students and Scholars called several times asking if a place could be found for a particular international student, and we made an accommodation when possible. One morning the house next door caught on fire, destroying much of that property and killing one of the next door students who was trapped in a bathroom. The fire jumped the driveway to our property, but the extreme attention of the fire crew saved our building, although there was damage to electrical systems and outside surfaces, as well as flooding. Although the Red Cross was on site to provide new housing for our students, the students decided they wanted to go through this together. With my permission, although I’m not certain the Conference would have thought it appropriate, a generator was brought in and they continued to live “in community” through the five months required for complete repair.
Then, with the help of a faculty family, we decided to make Orchard House more intentional.
At an appropriate time we transformed Orchard into a residence for students interested in living in community who wanted to maximize their urban experience. Curt Roseman, Professor of Geography, was retiring from the university but would return to campus each Spring semester to supervise continuing graduate students. He approached me, I agreed, and one large room in the house was saved for Curt and his wife, Elizabeth. Each Spring semester they led urban tours, welcomed other faculty into the house for seminars, and aided students living there with projects related to urban life. Students formally applied to live there. Continuing students and I did extensive interviews, attempting to choose additional residents who would learn from each other. The rent was fair; everyone had responsibilities. Most semesters it was a strong success.
The initial 40-year period of the Gift Agreement for the University Religious Center was coming to an end. I was serving as Chair of the Ecumenical Mission, which was the Governing Board for the Center, and asked Byron Hayes, a highly respected attorney whose specialty was Real Estate, to evaluate the legal documents related to the Center. Byron, an extremely committed United Methodist layman, was willing to provide Pro-bono services. Byron responded to my inquiry: “The documents were written by attorneys of diverse opinions who knew that when the 40 years was over they would not be around to deal with the consequences.” And there we were. With Byron’s help we did some on-going strategizing. The documents called for several ten year extensions but did not list costs or responsibilities. Several months later the Provost’s Office called asking for an appointment with the Governing Board. We went over, filled with trepidation. We were met by two skilled administrators from the Provost’s Office and a Professor of Religion and Law. One Provost began, “We’ve been evaluating the Gift Agreement and feel as though the USC Administration has not fulfilled its responsibilities. Therefore, we would like to suggest some conversations about how to fulfill those responsibilities and how to implement the extensions.” “From this point on,” one Provost continued, “the denominations you represent need to be treated as major donors to the University because of what you and your predecessors have provided the campus.” We managed to maintain our dignity and composure until we were out of sight.
A second meeting was held with the same representatives and skilled persons from Physical Plant. Work began on improving furniture, changing carpeting, updating the kitchen, and doing necessary work in the Chapel.
Al Rudisill had retired from the Chaplaincy, and, after a search, the position was filled by a local rabbi. The position was re-named Dean of Religious Life. Dean Laemmle served a term and an extension, and then she asked to not continue. Another search was held and was truncated as the search committee announced they would be appointing the first Hindu Dean of Religious Life in a major U.S. University. With each appointment the Governing Board was called upon to make it clear to the Dean that, unlike other appointments within the University, the facility did not come with the title.
All things change. The Provost moved on. Several candidates were considered for the Provost’s position. The appointment did not go to the administrator who had convened the Governing Board. The second administrator who had been working with us left the University. The Professor of Religion and Law had to tell us he could not work with us unless requested to do so by the Provost, and he did not think either he or we should initiate that request.
Approximately four years into the term of the Hindu Dean of Religious Life, we all received a letter. He believed the University had more than met its obligations, the initial 40 year Gift Agreement period had ended a few years previously, and he was terminating the agreement. We would meet to decide how much space each of us could continue to have, and what the conditions for retaining that space would be. Byron Hayes became a very public presence in our conversations. Because of the incompleteness of the legal documents he did not think we could win the arguments over space legally. He believed they could be won ethically. Bishop Jon Bruno, of the Episcopal Diocese, in conversation with other denominational leaders, decided to take on the argument. Soon thereafter, however, he was diagnosed with a very serious illness that required existing in a tent while on chemotherapy for several months at a time. His commitment to the dilemma of the Ecumenical Mission had to be set aside.
In January 2011 the Southern California Ecumenical Council, at its Week of Common Prayer celebration, honored me with the Gene Boutilier Award for Excellence in Ecumenical Leadership. In April of 2011 the Council Director for the United Methodist Conference called and said she needed to see me. I had to pick up something from a gallery near the Conference Office, so agreed to come by that afternoon. I walked in and was asked to wait “while others gathered.” We met in a small conference room and I was handed a letter which indicated the Conference would no longer provide any financial support for my salary. I could continue in the position and the campus ministry space as long as I chose, but there would be no salary from the Conference. Then a disagreement began between the District Superintendent and the Council Director. She wanted me to turn over the keys and responsibilities for Orchard House at the end of the semester. He maintained that if I was continuing under the auspices of the local board, then I could continue with Orchard House as a part of the program. She wanted to sell the property. He indicated he could not support the selling of any property at such a down time in the market. The conference had been providing 50% of my salary and had served as my employer. There was no reason given, but from information the Council Director shared with others, I learned she had told the Conference Board of Higher Education they had to cut expenses. They had not done so; therefore she “showed” them how it could be done. The Board of Higher Education was told the Conference did not intend to be employing any campus ministers within five years. And why was I the first one cut? This has not been verified, but I assumed part of the reasoning was that I am not a United Methodist, therefore they did not need to guarantee employment, I was beyond the traditional retirement age, and a United Methodist/Presbyterian Church also existed on the campus.
I have always cherished local Boards. When I got home from that meeting a call was waiting for me from the United Ministry chair. As I left the Conference Office, the Council Director had called him to inform him of this action. He asked me to think about what I wanted and we met for dinner two days later. What I wanted was a respectable time to adequately close down the ministry. That would include several tasks: managing Orchard for one more year since we’d already chosen the residents, continuing with A Community Place for a year while I sought a new 501C3 organization to provide legal and supervisory support, deciding whether there would be life for the Nicaraguan adventure after the trip planned for May, 2011. The Board agreed. We located some funds for an intern who had participated in many of our programs and was willing to do hands-on work under my supervision. She brought a community garden aspect to A Community Place and aided in the recruitment and preparation of students for the Nicaraguan adventure. The Nicaraguan adventure continued through the summer of 2013, and it was my decision that we not continue any longer. A Lutheran urban collective provided legal and supervisory support for the student-run A Community Place. United Ministry managed Orchard House for the additional year and then happily turned it over to the Conference. And in the time between May 2011 and 2013, I stepped back a bit further each month. It has taken us until this Spring to fully close the checking account by depositing the few remaining dollars in the A Community Place account.
A few learnings from these last few years: In having my campus ministry career end this way I recognized for the first time the number of persons who, throughout the years, have had the same experience. One wonderful Disciple retired clergy said “Diane, all of this happened to everyone else 20 years ago! How did you manage for so long?” People within institutions, whether it is the church or the university, are more comfortable relying on legal or administrative decisions rather than talking things through. All of this could have been handled without the pain for anyone if open conversation had been encouraged. Ironically, those who inflict the pain then want to give the retirement parties. (I didn’t accept!). And there are those whose comfort comes in saying, “But I was just the messenger!”
Some of your considered good colleagues will never speak of these realities with you. You disappear. I do understand that part of it is the fear they may be next.
The “church” places people on campuses with little clarity as to what the expectations are. The materials you find to work with are situational. I understood my task in each setting to be the creation of a work of art on a canvas, much like a Jackson Pollock, filled with the lives of students, the experiences of faculty and staff, the realities of civil society, even the realities of civil unrest or 9/11 terror. It is all there to be worked with. And on the campuses I served I was surrounded by those choosing to be a part of the process and very willing to help in executing the design. When it works, the result is a ministry where power is decentralized, talents are recognized, all are learning and respected, and the Word comes alive in unexpected ways.
My thanks to those who made it possible.