Each month we hope to give an update on the 3rd Way Collective experience at Penn State! Follow this blog to learn more about how we’ve been creating spaces for peace, justice, and faith at Penn State.
February began in a difficult way. At the end of January, I (Campus Pastor Ben) received notification that a student whom I had been working with on campus had taken their own life . This student helped to create Receiving with Thanksgiving – Penn State’s LGBTQ Christian Network. Their family was kind enough to ask me to speak at the memorial service, and I was honored to be involved in that way.
It is strange to articulate this, but in the face of such a heavy tragedy, I felt fully alive and affirmed in my role as a campus minister. I was able to offer some comfort and support not only to the Roe family as they mourned their loss, but also to a broad network of students and community members who had known Eli. I was invited on to a local radio station to talk about grieving and loss, and connected with many new people who were touched by my words at the memorial service. One faculty member said that my words gave them hope for the future of LGBTQ people in the church.
Yet in all of these incredibly moving spaces, there was a present reality that a life had been lost – the life of a student and person with whom I had connected early on in my time at Penn State. It was difficult and challenging to continue in my role with that reality present in my life and experience.
February included two large campus events – the first being THON, the annual philanthropic dance marathon that raises millions of dollars; and the second being TEDxPSU, a small and localized version of the incredibly popular TED Talk conference format.
THON was a reminder again of how our campus can mobilize around a cause, but also that those who don’t resonate with the event can feel ostracized by the popularity of this massive event. Articles like this one, which say nothing but glowing reviews of the THON experience, do little to curb the sentiment that if you don’t like THON, you don’t belong. TEDxPSU was an incredible conference, free of charge, and covering a wide range of subjects and issues, yet the event was not packed out the way I assume something of this quality should be at a large institution like Penn State. I’m left wondering why students don’t show up for engaging events like this one in bigger numbers, and wonder how an organization like 3rd Way Collective will ever make its mark with a lesser known branding than TEDx. Both events provided me with opportunities to connect to a broader slice of the Penn State community.
In February we continued our weekly event schedule from the fall. This means that every week we offer Pause for Peace (a mid-week event offering a short interfaith reflection on peace, 15 minutes of silence and candle-lighting, and a short reflection time), our Peace & Justice Bible Study, and 3rd Way Conversations (a Thursday night conversation group featuring guest voices from the State College and Penn State community).
- Pause for Peace continues to attract a small group of students who are interested in a moment in their week to pause and breathe deeply. I find this space a helpful way to center my own sense of call, and presence on campus. We were fortunate this month to have several different student voices lead this time and space.
- Our Peace & Justice Bible Study has become a space for biblical engagement with one or two students each week. We are using Shane Claiborne’s Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, and every time we experience a special conversation around scripture and life.
- 3rd Way Conversations this month again provided unique opportunities to hear from people in our community. Two guest speakers that stand out in my memory are students from Students for Justice in Palestine and WORDS. The former shared honestly about the vulnerable space that Palestinian students occupy on our campus, and the other shared about the power of sharing stories in public spaces. Both were extremely moving and meaningful!
The month ended with final preparations for our alternative spring break trip in which we partnered with three other campus ministries to travel to Miami, Florida to serve with the DOOR Miami program. I will have more to share about that experience next month!