It’s time again – this time four weeks earlier than the past three years. It’s time to get ready for a new semester of campus ministry at UC. Days are filled with planning events, preparing publicity, and hand wringing. If I can just get one more thing done, then I can get to the really important work of preparing Bible studies, catching up with students, connecting with God’s Word in the world.
After four years of this, I wonder why this preparation is so dry and such a trial. Something is not right. I talk about story and pilgrimage and I imagine it should be so easy to bring these ideas into ministry. Sometimes it happens. But most of the time I seem to be waiting for the right time to arrive so that I can do it. Once everything else is in order, once enough posters are hung and students are involved in activities. To some extent preparation is necessary for pilgrimage – before heading out, good medieval pilgrims got their household in order so that it would work well while they were gone and would be ready in case of a person’s death.
However, pilgrimage is really focused on the journey. If one stays in preparation mode, the pilgrimage does not begin. Jane Addams uses Tolstoy’s evocative phrase, the “snare of preparation”, to describe her experience and frustration with the practice of taking so much time to prepare that one never really lives life. Thus, she determines to get going “however ill-prepared” she might be.
Similarly, the journey to a story starts in the midst of everything else. Within the ministry I’m involved with at UC there is a story we’re heading towards – students connecting to God’s Word in the world and being formed by God, as well as the university during these years of their lives. Will this be a living ministry or one of preparing? The preparation will probably never be complete. In reality I’m already in the midst of the journey to some extent. The question should be how am I living and connecting with students in the liminal places – those places in between where we came from and where we are going – in the midst of this ministry.
Often I am waiting and not seeing myself in the story in front of me. Instead, I want to be in exotic places – a cathedral in Assisi or the moors of Haworth and talk about people’s experiences in these places. Maybe someday I’ll lead groups to these and other sites. However, now I’m leading another type of group and in a different place. Not all students are heading to the same story, except perhaps a degree or finished research of some type. Some are aware of God’s story, others aren’t. Some are ready to see how God’s Word relates to the world, others are leaving it behind. Where does ministry, where does God fit into their lives? What about connecting with God’s Word in the midst of it all? How is that possible? I wish I had more answers than I do. I could continue to wait for plans to come together, but that’s not how people work. Where are the students now? Where are we going? Though I’ve reflected on these questions in my head, and at time with others, nothing has ever really come together and I feel that I continue to just pass the time in preparation.
So, it’s time to take a different path of reflection in connecting with God’s Word and exploring how to integrate pilgrimage and ministry. It’s time to stop preparing and to get going. To process this work within community, I will take time to share my field notes on this blog. Over the next year this will be a place to return and explore unfinished work, questions, and even celebrate moments of connection. It will be messy. I won’t have time to outline or edit. I’ll even be ill-prepared. Even so, I will finally be awash in content moving towards a story – connecting with God’s Word in the world of the campus.