“For Such a Time as This”
By Betsy Alden
Note: Since conceiving the notion of collecting the Pages of the Sages for NCMA’s 50th Anniversary, I sat down in the fall of 2013 to write my own memoir. What follows is quite idiosyncratic, reflecting the differences between coming into campus ministry in the mid-70’s as a young wife and mother, receiving a very specialized “call” to work with community college ministry, and receiving the benefit of many memorable mentoring relationships with the “older and wiser” campus ministers whose stories I wanted to document in this collection.
After having served on the North Texas UMC Board of Ordained Ministry for eight years, I came to realize that my call was similar to that of other women, who had experienced the same recognition that their gifts and graces were needed in a particular context, and that ordained ministry was the best way to fulfill their particular calling. Since this was not the norm (especially in the appointment system of the UMC!), I have reflected here on how and why I did respond to my unanticipated call to campus ministry, and what life was like, both personally and professionally, during the decade that I began my ministry, 1974-84. As my later feminist studies taught me, “the personal is political,” and somehow all of this seems relevant to my 40-year career in ministry in higher education—from Dallas (’74-84) to UMHE National Communications Coordinator (’84-’89) to Central NM Community College and UNM (’89-’96) to Duke University, where I officially “retired” in 2008, but continue to work closely with students and staff in mentoring roles—as well as performing weddings for many of my “Women as Leaders” alumnae!
Serendipities and Synchronicities
In August of 1970 my neighbor suggested that she and I (both mothers of 3 pre-school children) drive out to the new campus-under-construction of the Dallas Community College District—Eastfield College. She thought we both might find some part-time teaching with our hard-earned Masters degrees (hers in math, mine in English) from before babies. We traded hours with our baby-sitting club and headed out to Mesquite, TX, a blue-collar suburb 20 minutes from us on I-635, and came home to announce to our husbands that they would need to do some babysitting on a couple of weeknights that semester. I plunged into teaching 2 sections of Freshman Comp and Lit, startled to find my students ill-prepared for college-level work. Most were women who had never had a chance to attend college, Vietnam veterans on the GI Bill, balancing school with jobs and families, and aspiring young adults whose chance at a “career” depended on acquiring an Associate degree.
I continued to teach at Eastfield, also picking up Saturday classes, and discovered that using a Journaling process greatly improved my students’ abilities to write and reflect on their reading more coherently. I required that they each keep a journal, to be handed in three times in the semester– not graded, but I told them I would read through them and make constructive comments. And did they write! This was the first time, many told me, that anyone had encouraged them to articulate their ideas and attitudes, and they had a lot to say! As I read and commented, I was more and more conscious that I did not have the professional training to respond to some of their existential crises and their outpouring of questions of faith and meaning in their lives, as they tried to connect with the probing and provocative literature they were being exposed to.
I had always been active in the Presbyterian Church, currently teaching our high school class, so I naturally wondered how the Church, at large, was ministering to the thousands of students who were now attending classes at one of the 7 campuses of the flagship DCCD. And I found out that most of the churches (often Southern Baptist or Catholic in the Eastfield neighborhood) were ignoring this aspect of their members’ lives, even implying to the women they should be attending their Circle meetings or preparing for the church’s Christmas Bazaar instead of studying for finals!
In August of 1972, as our station wagon headed for our usual vacation with my family in the NC mountains, we stopped off at my husband’s 15th high school reunion at a park in Nashville, TN. He was delighted to see his old friend Richard Beauchamp, now a UMC minister, who happened to ask me what I was doing these days. I told him that I was teaching and wondering if I should go back and get an MSW so I could respond more helpfully to my students’ needs. And Richard said, (and I quote), “Well, my Yale PhD roommate is a Dean at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, so when you get home, just give him a call and ask if you can sit in on some of their Pastoral Care classes.”
The day after we returned from NC, I called LeRoy Howe, gave him Richard’s greetings, and relayed the suggestion, to which LeRoy said, “Can you come in today so I can meet you? Classes start tomorrow.” I hastily arranged for child care, and left LeRoy’s office 2 hours later with a course schedule, an enrollment form (“You should just take the course for credit in case you might want to transfer sometime,”) a promise of free tuition, and the assurance that Perkins welcomed all, even though I had no intention of becoming a “minister”!
Once on the Perkins campus, attending a few classes, I realized I was not much different from the other students (though I was a little older, with a family!) and that my interests and inquiries were congruent with seminary students. By the next year, I went to see LeRoy again, wondering if, perhaps, I “should” enroll full-time (now that my children were 4, 6, and 8 and in school part of the day), but I did not know if I had a “call.” Again LeRoy was very helpful; he referred me to Reinhold Neibuhr’s description of “the Providential call”—being in the right place at the right time to perform a particular ministry. He liked my idea of perhaps developing a new ministry with the community colleges and affirmed my call to this! So I filled out my official application to Perkins, using Dag Hammerskold’s quote from a bright yellow 70’s Abbey Press poster I already had on my kitchen wall, “I don’t know who or what put the question, but..my answer was ‘Yes.’” I would come back to this later as being prophetic without my realizing it then.
“I don’t know Who, or What, put the question, I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone, or Something, and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”
In the summer of 1973, I went to see the Presbyterian minister who was in charge of the Committee on Care to apply for candidacy for ministry and was told that the idea of trying to become a minister with three small children was not wise, and that I should come back later “when your kids are older.” Shortly after, I was headed downstairs to class at Perkins and a woman I had known in our Presbyterian church (Norma Meyers) was walking upstairs, so I called out and told her of my experience, and she said, ”Forget the Presbyterians—they just make it all too hard. I’ve become a Methodist!” That fall our family decided to join Spring Valley United Methodist Church, one-half block from our house. I had attended a couple of classes with Don Benton, the pastor,( who was working on his D.Min degree), and we occasionally car-pooled to Perkins (his wife was my daughter’s Brownie leader, and two of my children had gone to Pre-School there) . He welcomed us with open arms and that winter he told me that he wanted to sponsor me, along with four young men he had mentored, as candidates for the Order of Deacon, the first step to full ordination in the UMC. Obviously I had not fulfilled the requirement of being active in a local UMC for the requisite period of time, so, as we were in his office one afternoon, he called Zan Holmes, then the District Superintendent, and told Zan that he would like to have that rule waived since I was “a mature woman with a family” who had always been active in her local Presbyterian Church, had completed the necessary hours of seminary, and the church would be “lucky” to have me! (I was probably the only candidate who did not know what an “Administrative Board” was, but the Board of Ministry told me to study up on that, and I got through the first hoop! (The next summer I took Methodist Polity and learned it well enough to be elected Bishop at our mock-Jurisdictional Conference, an honor also probably bestowed because I brought a cake to class for John Wesley’s birthday on June 17.) So I was duly ordained with the other 19 male deacons and one other woman (Karis Fadely) that May at First UMC—a church larger than the population of my home town in Indiana. My parents came for the ordination and were supportive, though they really could not imagine what I was getting myself into. And neither, of course, did I!
In September of 1974, standing in line for the weekly Perkins Community Lunch, a seminary friend commented, “Oh, Betsy, aren’t you interested in doing some kind of ministry with the community colleges? The man behind you is Wally Chappell, Director of the Texas Wesley Foundations, and you should meet each other!” I proceeded to greet Wally, who was very interested in my ideas, and he completely surprised me by saying, “I just got a notice of a meeting in Des Moines, IA next month on the very subject of community college ministry, sponsored by United Ministries in Higher Education. If you’d like to go, I’d be happy to send you to it!”
Yes! I called my mom in Indiana, and she agreed to come to TX and take care of the kids so I could go to Des Moines, and from that moment on, my course was set. At that Conference I met all the national leaders in campus ministry who would continue to influence and affect my work for the next 20 years. They all realized they needed new strategies for ministry with commuter and community colleges, and were brainstorming and creating new models for interpreting a new style of “campus ministry” to the church, ecumenically. Wayne Bryan, who had grown up in Dallas, suggested I be in touch with the Dallas Council of Churches to create a Task Force for Community College Ministry, with representatives from each judicatory. I had continued to teach at Eastfield, throughout seminary, so I had some ideas about how to work with faculty and local churches in a “reciprocal relationship of mission to the community.” Since the community colleges used “mission” language in their own publicity, Dwight Judy helped me formulate the phrase “churches and colleges together in mission to their community.” When I called the first meeting of the Dallas Council of Churches task force, with their blessing, every major judicatory sent a representative. No one had a clue how to relate to the burgeoning numbers of their members who were attending, teaching, or working on the seven campuses that surrounded Dallas and occupied one campus right in the center of the city. (Statistics at the time showed that one of every 4 adults in Dallas County had some relationship to the community colleges.)
In 1976, I was given my “field education” placement as an intern at First UMC, Dallas, under Ben Oliphant, Dudley Dancer, and Jim Ozier. FUMC was open to experimental ministries and agreed to support my convening all the big downtown churches for a conference on ccm, which generated many ideas for innovative ways to connect churches and campuses. Armed with some success in spreading the word, I applied to the Texas Campus Christian Life Committee for a $5000 grant to “create” the Dallas Community College Ministry. My seminary friend Martha Gilmore’s husband happened to be on the DCCD Board, and he assisted in getting permission from the District for this new non-sectarian ministry to “be” on their campuses. In 1977, several pastors and community leaders agreed to serve on a new DCCM Board, and I wrote and received a grant from the local Fikes Foundation for $20,000 so that we might expand the ministry with part-time campus ministers on several of the campuses. We hired a Disciple minister, an AME seminarian, a Roman Catholic seminarian, and a part-time secretary and set up the office on the back porch of our home (with a propane space heater and two big desks salvaged from FUMC and a yard sale—one for me, and one for Norma, one of those “returning women students” I recruited as our new secretary.) Other judicatories and some churches “contributed” program money or staff, and pledged to include the DCCM in their campus ministry budgets.
I had been too busy creating the DCCM to finish my coursework to graduate from seminary, but tested out of two Church History courses so that I could be eligible for an appointment from the North Texas Annual Conference by May of 1978. Some of my Board members had managed to convince the UMC North Texas Conference Powers That Be to create a new appointment for the Dallas Community College Ministry—and to appoint me to it! But I was unprepared for the backlash on the floor of Annual Conference when this was announced. Some of my own fellow seminarians objected to this idea of appropriating the funds before the new appointment had been “approved” (which it had been by the Higher Ed Committee, of course), and much discussion ensued about “how can one person manage to offer ministry at seven campuses” (ignoring the fact that this would be an ecumenical ministry, also supported by other judicatories). Finally the matter was settled as a respected elder stood and said he thought we should give it a chance: “Seems to me John Wesley did pretty well covering his parishes all over England!” The vote was called, the DCCM was officially sanctioned, and I had a new job!
I had continued to teach English throughout seminary, so my transition into the role of campus minister (and Director of the DCCM, under the Greater Dallas Conference of Churches) was not difficult. I asked faculty colleagues to let me come to their classes and speak on whatever subject might be relevant, so that I could become identified as a campus minister. In Sociology, I was given a textbook on Organizations, Institutions, and Behavior which made the point that, “Over the years, the Church has dealt with their deviant clergy in a number of ways—burning at the stake, excommunication, and more recently, giving them a pastoral role on college campuses.” Remember the 70’s?? That anecdote itself launched me into many fascinating conversations with students (and faculty) over the changing nature of the church in society!
On our initial five campuses, we tried anything people asked us to do! Jerry Miller worked with Eastfield’s Continuing Ed program to offer courses for “Elders” (usually through local churches), using oral interviews to help them tell and record their life-stories (a new idea, pre-computers and the memoir-writing age!); Tom Slater at Mountain View created new courses on African-American studies; Father Christian helped music students develop and perform an Oratorio for local churches. I helped create the Everywoman Center at Richland for returning women students. We held Religious Awareness Days at our campuses, working with Religion faculty to bring speakers from our areas to discuss everything from Creationism and Evolution to contemporary theologians to Sex and the Single Girl. Obviously, many of these programs were of interest to the surrounding community, and brought new people to these amazing new campuses. It was all Win-Win, with DCCM serving as a link, providing extra people-power through our networks of church connections, and garnering publicity for campus programming.
A particularly fruitful connection occurred in 1978 when I saw a billboard on the North Dallas Tollway one afternoon which read “Oh Come, Ye Successful” (advertising Johnny Walker whiskey), and almost went off the road! I went right home, pulled out my Alternative Christmas Catalogue, written and published by Bob Kochtitzky in Jackson, MS, called him up, and said, “Can you come to Dallas so we can mount a campaign against the crazy commercialism of the holidays here?” He jumped on this chance to start a Dallas crusade, I rallied the campuses and area churches to host workshops, we had talk radio shows and much newspaper publicity, and hundreds of Dallas folk attended the workshops and agreed to reform their Christmas consumerism. (“Whose Birthday Is It Anyway?” was the slogan, and it hit home in consciousness-raising. CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite featured one of our workshops on TV, the DCCM produced an Alternative Holiday card to inform recipients that a gift had been given to a charitable organization in their name, and we filled orders for these for weeks! (At the time the Heifer Project and other non-profits had not yet caught on to this “marketing” idea!)
The flagship Dallas Community College District, coupled with this investment by the Dallas Conference of Churches in the DCCM, gave us access on a broad scale to make a significant impact with our programming, and all of our staff worked at a constantly stimulating (and exhausting) pace because the rewards were so evident, and we were thrilled to be part of such a lively and satisfying ministry!
In the summer of 1978, I thought I should connect with the larger world of professional campus ministry and registered to attend the National Institute for Campus Ministry (NICM) week-long conference in Denver with Jim Forbes, Bernard Lafayette, Bob Johnson, and Brother David Steindl-Rast. Shortly thereafter, I was invited to be one of NICM’s seven new “Program Directors” across the US, to support and develop programs in our regions. At one of our meetings in New Orleans, the Hillel Director led us (and the crowded roomful of tourists waiting in Preservation Hall for the next jazz set) in singing “Kum Ba Ya,” and I realized how happy and lucky I was to have escaped suburbia and bridge clubs for this!
By Spring of 1979, when Bill Hallman and Clyde Robinson invited me to join UME’s Community College Task Force (the group that had sponsored that first ccm conference I had attended in 1974), they suggested that we produce a slide show which could be used to show “how to develop a ccm in your community.” And they commissioned Wayne Bryan, who had become a professional photographer and script-writer, to go to Dallas and film the DCCM in action. (Note that at the 1974 conference Wayne was the one who suggested I go to the Dallas Council of Churches to get started, so he clearly had an investment in this project! And he had also just produced another UME slideshow “Islands and Bridges” featuring the community college ministry of Robert Thomason.) The resulting production, “DCCM: The Church and the Community College in Mission,” launched me into “Show and Tell” venues all over the country, and, happily, quite a number of new the community college ministries resulted from sharing this “how-to” model.
Through UME, I met Neil Merritt, President of Ealing College of Further Education in London, and we brainstormed the idea of offering community college students a chance to “study abroad” at his college. A generous member of our DCCM Board (Jeanette Early) offered to fund scholarships for 2-4 students a semester, and the DCCD recognized her philanthropy as making a significant contribution to their students—and expanded the program.
The UMC Board of Higher Education was interested in our work and asked me to be a consultant for the community college ministry with UMC Wesley Foundations; they also sent me to the Ministries to Blacks in Higher Education (MBHE) annual meeting in Atlanta, and I was appointed to that board, as well as being elected to the UMC National Committee on Campus Ministry (1979-83). So I had the chance to employ all my networking skills between the various campus ministry organizations, connecting efforts initiated by one of them to each of the others and sharing insights. (“Right place, right time” for an energetic young woman to bring the (mostly) boys-in-charge together!)
Meanwhile, in Dallas, I invited some Richland students to participate in Faith Development interviews—based on a research project my friend Jim Fowler had done at Harvard, showing “stages” of faith development analogous to Piaget’s and Kohlberg (and later Gilligan)’s models for cognitive and moral development. In these intensive series of interviews, I became aware that these mostly “adult” community college students felt their lives were much too scattered—with school, jobs, family, only ”18 minutes of discretionary time” on campus (to get from the parking lots to their classes!)—and that they felt they were missing a “meaningful” connection to the “real world” of social and community issues.
I had known, through National Campus Ministry connections, of Thad Holcombe’s Praxis Project which he operated as part of the Free University in Tulsa, OK. I had read liberation theologians in seminary and knew the revival of Aristotle’s term for “experiential education” by Gustavo Guttierez in base communities in Latin America and the pedagogy of Paulo Friere, advocating “action/reflection/action/reflection” for “making meaning” of one’s experience in deeper and more satisfying ways. So I proposed that DCCM work with a few faculty to offer students an alternative to the required freshman English “research paper” by providing opportunities for service in the community throughout a semester, with concurrent “reflection sessions” with other students, and a final oral or written presentation (with appropriate footnotes and documentation) on their new understandings. We called it “Praxis” and within a few semesters we had over 900 students enrolled—in a wide variety of courses.
UME invited me and others to attend the national meetings of the Association of Community and Junior Colleges (AACJC) to give presentations on this successful partnership between the churches and the campuses, and I realized that other campuses (mostly universities) were beginning to engage students similarly in what was soon designated “service-learning.” Soon I was asked to serve on the Board of the new International Partnership for Service-Learning Board and was exposed to some of the best practices in this emerging pedagogy. The PRAXIS Project we developed also became a model for engaging students in community college ministry, and we developed a packet of materials to assist others in creating their own programs. Sybil Shuck, my stalwart secretary (and former Board member!), managed a filing system for all these paper records, which was eventually put onto a computer data base in 1982!
In May of 1982, I received my D. Min degree from Perkins/SMU (thesis topic: Vocational Discernment: Why the Church should Reclaim Calling/Career for Laypeople) and was finally free from “owing” some professor a term paper (I had to request several “extensions” over these years!)—after ten continuous years of seminary/post-graduate work! My only response to “How can/did you do it all?” was always that I was blessed with abundant energy, a quick mind, and a lot of help from my friends—and that God must have “wanted” me to do it because I was sustained and enlivened by almost each venture! When I began Perkins at age 30, my children were 3, 5, and 7; when I finished at 40, they were 13, 15, and 17. Somehow I had managed to keep up with being a Cub Scout den mother (motto: “Keep it simple; make it fun!”) , “Witchie-Poo” Hallowe’en visitations at their elementary schools (and at Perkins, where the Dean saw me racing to class still in costume and yelled, “I knew we could count on you, Betsy!”), piano and ballet carpooling, doctor and dentist appointments, soccer games and Eaglette performances, homework (“Do your speech on the E.R.A.!”), teaching the Confirmation classes for Becky and Joey at Spring Valley UMC, arranging for family vacations and summer camps, birthday parties, and holiday occasions (we usually had several extra folk around our ping-pong table Thanksgiving dinners!). We also had a foster daughter in the mid 70’s, who was pregnant and needed to graduate from high school, so she lived with us, worked hard on her 6 courses and two more by correspondence, moved back to Oak Cliff to have her baby and “get that man to the altar.” (I joyfully presided at their very unusual wedding in 1975.)
Family and ministry constantly overlapped, with the DCCM office in our house, enlisting the kids to collate and fold brochures, UME and NCCM colleagues staying with us, DCCM Board parties, and much juggling of schedules, travel, and help with homework and school projects.
Two defining moments stand out as confirmation of my calling to ministry in higher ed. In 1979, several male clergy encouraged me to “run” for a place on the General/Jurisdictional Conference slate the next year (as soon as I was eligible), so that a clergywoman might be elected to the delegation. (They also let me know that if I wanted to “move up” in the clergy hierarchy I “should” be in parish ministry.) So that summer I spent several days on Retreat and worked my way through Dick Bolles’ The Four Boxes of Life and How to Get out of Them, using his personal values clarification exercises to discern what mattered most to me. This time apart for reflection made it very clear that I did NOT want to pursue ministry in the local church with its attendant jockeying for power. I loved being able to teach and work with students and faculty and to connect the churches with the campuses. I wanted to be with people who shared my interests in education, to prioritize my children above a parish’s demands, and I had no desire to climb the ladder of church bureaucracy. So that settled that—and I have never been tempted to forsake my allegiance to campus ministry!
A while later, around 1982, I was attending a UMC National Committee on Campus Ministry meeting in NYC, and had brought my teenaged daughter Becky with me. As she joined us to wander the city streets and interact with my colleagues over dinner, she turned to me and said, “Mom, these are your kind of people.” I had intuitively known this, but I was delighted that she recognized this, as well!
When the seminary wanted to offer a course on campus ministry, my UME colleague Mark Rutledge and I developed a syllabus for a summer course, which we offered at Perkins and at St. Paul, and shared with others. I attended my first NCMA Conference in Georgetown the summer of 1982, and was thrilled to be with so many ecumenical colleagues who shared a vision for the church’s ministry in higher education, as we listened to concerts by “Sweet Honey in the Rock,” spoke with our Senators, and studied “Politics, Peacemaking, and Poetry” with Will Campbell. Phil Berrigan was in jail, but his activist wife Elizabeth McAlister inspired our new Campus Ministry Women’s group.
(Thereafter, I attended every NCMA Conference until 1997, and when Mark and I were married in 1987, many of our NCMA colleagues came to our Balloon Fiesta wedding in Albuquerque, officiated by dear friends Helen Neinast and Clyde Robinson.)
PRAXIS/Service-Learning was booming (and becoming well-known throughout Dallas), we now had paid staff on all seven campuses of the DCCD, and I, as Director, found that I was spending more of my time being an administrator and personnel director than a campus minister. I decided to apply for a one-semester sabbatical from the GDCC, with my salary going to my able assistant Jerry Miller, while I took time to assess “Where to, from Here?” My proposal was approved and I looked forward to my first real “rest period” ever. And then United Ministries in Education advertised for a national Communications Coordinator, and I heard from many (and also felt myself) that “this job has your name on it” so I applied, and I was hired by Bill Hallman in the fall of 1983, just before I was to begin my sabbatical. Fortunately, everything was in place for Jerry to “take over” the daily operations of DCCM, but my leaving meant that we would need to find new office space (i.e., not in our house), a new Director would need to be appointed by the UMC, and all the history and info that was in my head and paper files had to be transferred to my successor. And I would need a new secretary and have to set up my UME office (which could still be in my home), and be ready to start in May!
So—no time for gardening or personal projects! Just a little more leisure from the day-to-day, as I personally “recruited” the clergywoman (Georjean Blanton) I thought would be best to take over as Director, lobbied with the UMC for her appointment, was given a new DCCM office in the Presbyterian church near Brookhaven where my dear friend and DCCM secretary Sybil Shuck was a member, cleaned and cleared boxes of files and records, sadly said farewells to my amazing DCCM Board, found a terrific new UME secretary in the neighborhood, and we purchased our first computer!
The first decade of my ministry was coming to an end, and I was about to embark on the next adventure. One child had left for college at the University of Texas, and two others were close behind as NCMA met in Fort Worth in 1984 to discuss Time-Management with Ann McGee-Cooper and Spirituality with Paul Jones, and I was initiated into the UME national staff of seven “bureaucrats” who carried their denomination’s portfolios for campus ministry—Bill Belli for the American Baptists, Larry Steinmetz for the Disciples, Mark Harris for the Episcopalians, Gary Harke for the Moravians, George Conn and Clyde Robinson for the Presbyterians, Verlyn Barker for the UCC, Bill Hallman as our Chair, and, thank goodness, Shirley Heckman for the Church of the Brethren, so I had another terrific mentor—and a roommate for all those meetings for the next five years!
We worked cooperatively with the United Methodist BHEM (especially with Helen Neinast, who became my dear friend and “traveling companion”) to create and publish resources like the Directory of Campus Ministers (with 1700 entries and all the judicatory and ecumenical organizational contacts), Church and Campus Calling, and UME’s quarterly Connexion newspaper. All involving printed copies, in the days before digital computers, email, Fed-Ex, and cell phones! We spent lots of time on airplanes and at our Selectric typewriters, and phone bills were built into the budgets!
To be continued…
Betsy Alden was ordained in the UMC in 1974, created and served as Director of the ecumenical 7-campus Dallas Community from 1978-84 and as national Communications Coordinator for United Ministries in Higher Education from 19-84-89. She was also a consultant for the UMC and Program Director for NCMA. In 1996, she and her husband Mark Rutledge moved to Duke University, where she was on the Religious Life staff and Director of Service -Learning for the Kenan Institute for Ethics from 1996-2008. “Officially” retired, she continues to teach the Intergenerational Ethics class, keep up with her children and five grandchildren, former students, and wonderful campus ministry colleagues all over the country.