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.
This January, I (Campus Pastor Ben) began the new year by traveling to San Antonio to participate in the Bethany Initiative, a brand new initiative from the National Campus Ministry Association. Launched this year, this initiative is designed to create mentoring and reflection sp ace for new campus pastors. All who were selected to be in the pilot program have fewer than three years of experience as campus ministers. We exist in very different contexts – some are college chaplains who are employed by institutions to run the spiritual life of a campus, others like myself, are part of affiliate organizations attempting to be present on a campus that may or may not be receptive to the work they are doing. It was incredible to hear the joys and struggles of this new group of peers, and to spend some time in retreat reflecting on my own sense of call.
Arriving back in State College brought me back to reality. Week one began with the spring Involvement Fair, an event that offers clubs and organizations like ours a chance to connect with students who are looking for ways to become more involved. 3WC is still new enough that many students do not know who we are, nor do we have the name recognition to pull them in to our info table. Still, I had a good experience talking with a small group of students who connected with our table during the day. At the involvement fair I was reminded again that we are appealing to a very specific kind of student – one who is interested in peace and social justice issues, but also still see the value in a faith tradition. We are not like other faith groups – we don’t offer a communal worship space, or safe Christian bubble – but we also are unlike other social justice groups.
Campus ministry happens in many different ways. Some of them are formal – events and activities – others are informal, such as simply being present with students who are in need. I’ve been reminded time and time again that there is real value in connecting with students in one-on-one ways. Some of these are scheduled or organized, such as connecting for coffee, while others are simply due to paths crossing during daily activities.
This month I found simple connections and conversations while connecting with other events on campus. These included experiences that happened around the MLK celebrations at Penn State this month including the main banquet as well as the keynote speech given by Trayvon Martin’s mother.
Some of 3WC’s most meaningful events are those centered around table fellowship. Our monthly grad student pub night and our monthly home cooked meal both provide spaces for students to gather around a table and reflect on what is happening in their lives. Each month we see some students who return to these spaces, and we also see new students drawn in by the experience of food and conversations.
In January 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 very 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. It has been a challenge to find other voices to lead the short reflection on peace. I led all of these gatherings in January and focused on peace at Penn State, MLK Jr.’s peace legacy, as well as the importance of silence in our busy lives.
- Our Peace & Justice Bible Study continues to look for students who are interested in understanding the Biblical narrative from a peace and justice perspective. We are using Shane Claiborne’s Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, and we look forward to trying to build meaningful conversation in this challenging context.
- 3rd Way Conversations has felt like our keystone event since 3rd Way Collective began a year and a half ago. Each week we invite a different guest from the Penn State campus or surrounding community. On one of these occasions this month we joined with Westminster Presbyterian Fellowship to share in their Thursday night gathering. My desire to do so was through a connection with their campus minister as a person from their group who had a meaningful experience in Japan learning about nuclear warfare and peace. While there were only four students who came from 3WC, they came ready to engage in a space that was unfamiliar from their usual one. I enjoyed watching the two groups interact, and was thrilled about the information that was in the conversation and presentation.
The month ended with another great opportunity for personal retreat and reflection as I traveled to Orlando, Florida for a conference with Mennonite youth ministers and my fellow Mennonite Campus Pastors. While my time with this group always reminds me that contextually I’m in quite a different space than my peers who work with Mennonite institutions. I’m also aware that campus ministry is changing in every context right now, as more and more millennial students understand religion and spirituality in ways that are different than the previous generation.