An Invocation for NCMA’s 50th
Friend and colleague Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann quoted a student who, in a workshop with poet and playwright Merle Feld, wrote these words when she was asked, “If you were to write your own Mezuzah…”
God, you know I have no space to call my own. I am a wandering ship, my anchor still stowed safely in its hold. My doorways are always changing, my homes always temporary, I have no constancy save myself and you. Let this token remind me that whether I am entering into my quiet domain or entering the world beyond my room, you are with me, part of me, part of my shifting life. Help me to be a portal for love, and Torah, and an opener of doors.”
May this student’s reality and prayer guide NCMA’s 50th story telling. My particular story of ever changing doorways in campus ministry includes varied calls; strategic conversations; changing generations; ministry in the Western U.S.; NCMA experiences; change making and being changed. May we each, may we all be portals for love, Torah, Gospel, and openers of doors.
My Calls to Campus
My call to campus ministry began in 1970 as a student worker at what was then San Fernando Valley State College in Los Angeles (now California State University, Northridge). I worked with campus ministers Al Axelton and Daniel Statello at “the Dialogue Center.” Through campus ministry I opened to new worlds and my questions were taken seriously. I met and learned from Caesar Chavez and Paulo Freire before I knew who they were. The walls between personal faith and social justice crumbled as I followed Jesus.
As the first in my working class immigrant family to graduate from college, I found a lifeline in campus ministry in every sense of that word.
While in seminary at Boston University School of Theology, I was part of a small group that founded the Anna Howard Shaw Center, and I served as the first Student Director of the Center. My first full time campus ministry position was as founding Director of the Landberg Center for Health and Ministry at University of California, San Francisco, an ecumenical campus ministry with medical and nursing students launched by a patient’s bequest received by the only ecumenical campus ministry in the city at that time, Ecumenical House at San Francisco State University. I then served as Wesley Foundation Director at San Diego State University, and later for eight years at UCLA. In 1993 I became the first full time Director hired to re-start a Wesley Foundation at UC Berkeley.
I also served three pastorates, most recently 9 years as pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church in Berkeley.
From 2000-2004 I was the first Program Director of Contextual Education at Pacific School of Religion, and in 2012 I returned as faculty member and Director of Field Education and Contextual Learning.
Because of a life changing mission study trip to Chile in the early 1970s, I am called to initiate and facilitate what Robert McAfee Brown called, “Creative Dislocation,” immersive learning experiences that change world views and open new worlds every year and in every setting.
Strategic Conversations and Actions
Strategic and contextual conversations for mission and ministries in higher education have also been part of my call: through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the National Committee on Campus Ministry of the UMC, through NCMA, regional denominational and ecumenical commissions, forming partnerships to launch new ministries and movements (e.g. Ecumenical Black Campus Ministry, 2000 California and Nevada Campus Ministry Mission Strategy). Board development, contextual analysis, and model development have been my primary consulting areas.
Current trends in student demographics, economic and educational disparities, divisions between delivery of services and learning outcomes, student indebtedness, graduate employment rates, and for-profit initiatives in “untapped” higher education markets that leverage and “unlock” assets of campus ministries and colleges and universities all require strategic thinking and campus ministries are uniquely placed conversation partners in discerning discipleship, justice and meaning in the ways ahead for church and campus. May each doorway be a portal to love, Torah, and Gospel, and may we be openers of doors.
Changing Generations in Campus Ministry
Women entering campus ministry in the third wave of the 1970s and 1980s responded to the “in but still out” realities of a field challenged by changing contexts, diminished support, and long tenured staff. Hospitality to new generations of colleagues was not a core practice in a time of seeming scarcity.
I recently found correspondence from campus ministry colleagues and regional leaders explaining to me why the compensation package for the campus ministry I was just hired to direct would leave with the former campus minister to a new site and therefore I would have to live in the campus ministry building.
While lay and clergy women had founded and served campus ministries for many years, top denominational and para-church leaders were overwhelming white males, and local Directors as well (though with an increasing number of women program associates). Women found and founded new ministries and new models of leadership bridging campus and community.
Campus Ministry Women was a network where women mentored and supported one another and acted together. In CMW it was never only about women in campus ministry. I remember a Campus Ministry Conference in Illinois where we gathered at the home of the Illinois governor to protest that Illinois was one of fifteen states to refuse to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (which failed in 1982 due to those fifteen states). Access to education, wage equity, sexual violence, and international solidarity with women struggling against injustice were foci of our gatherings and action.
One vivid memory I have from an NCMA Conference held at Temple University was when Womanist theologian Dolores Williams was asked during Q and A (in a long, energetic and highly descriptive question) what she thought about a complex and controversial denominational reorganization in one denomination. She was silent for a moment and then responded, “I think it is simply another realignment of the white male power structure.”
The expansion, changing realities and leadership of public higher education in the western U.S. has not always been reflected in the focus, funding, studies, conferences, histories or strategies of denominational or ecumenical ministries in higher education.
A few anecdotes worth sharing from my experience that hopefully prompt interest in scope and particularity of stories from all regions:
- Herman Beimfohr was Campus Minister and Director of the Wesley Foundation serving UCLA from 1936 to 1975. His tenure included pre-WWII, WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam student eras.
- By 1936 there were student centers or campus ministries at junior colleges, teachers colleges, public and private universities throughout the Western U.S. serving thousands of students.
- Until it closed in 1999, the Landberg Center at UC San Francisco initiated: Anatomy Lab burial rites, a CPE program for medical students in Haight Ashbury, community clinics with Glide, advocacy for a health science women’s center, immersive courses on Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Health Care and Healing.
- In 1972 Mary Alice Geier wrote There’s a Community College in My Town and in 1987 she co-wrote We Got Here From There- Reflective History of the Southern California and Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ: on the Occasion of Its 100th Anniversary, 1887-1987.
- In 1996 Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Davis campus ministries created Tet Ansamn, multi-year ecumenical student network of teams and solidarity with the ti eglise movement and the people of Haiti.NCMANCMA also connected me to lifelong friends and adventures. Through conference planning committees, international delegations and exchanges, learning and teaching at institutes and academies, writing devotionals and serving on editorial boards, student conferences, and lay theological institutes, through serving on the NCMA executive committee and then as president, I have been changed and challenged by dear friends, wise teachers, brilliant students, colleagues, comrades, sisters and brothers. You know who you are! I am so grateful. This anniversary and the interest of seminarians has prompted me to develop a course proposal: “Changing Ministries in Higher Education.”
- NCMA provided me primary professional affiliation, development, theological study and strategic working papers, collegiality, and an ecumenical community of accountability during the necessary season of rebuilding denominational bases for campus ministry.
Happy anniversary, NCMA.
(This anniversary and the interest of seminarians has prompted me to develop a PSR course proposal: “Changing Ministries in Higher Education.”)