One of my absolute favorite parts of being able to advocate for campus ministry for two weeks at General Conference 2012 was getting to know amazing campus ministry colleagues from around the connection as we lived together in two homes in Ybor City.
First of all, if you’re with people for 24 hours a day for two weeks – eating together, sharing living space, driving back and forth together, taking breaks together – you get to know them really well. In the midst of legislative committees and watching debate you find out really quickly where people stand.
We had specific legislation that we were tracking that related to campus ministry and advocating was a lot of what was on our agenda as members of the United Methodist Campus Ministry Association (UMCMA). One of the other things that was a goal of ours was to make campus ministry visible and to tell a positive collective story. We did this by handing out awesome buttons, cards, creating a prayer station for delegates, helping staff “Higher Education and Ministry night,” and overall telling the story to anyone we saw. When we first arrived at the Tampa Convention Center we were constantly being stopped by someone that one of us knew. I might not know that person from Cal-Pac but chances are that Rob or Alissa did. I might not know that person from Iowa, but there’s no doubt in my mind that West and Paul did. By ourselves we have our own contacts, but together we handed out buttons to people from all over our church.
It was beautiful.
It was amazing sharing in the Monday night Higher Ed reception and getting to talk to our African brothers and sisters about campus ministry, while spreading the word about all of the critical and necessary work that our general agencies do on behalf of those of us that don’t look quite like a typical local church.
Our collective voice is so much stronger when we come together.
This is not to say that we didn’t have some disagreements. I realized quickly those first few days in the house that I was the only one from the SEJ (Southeastern Jurisdiction) or SCJ (South Central Jurisdiction) and we are not always the rest of the church’s favorite group of people. Yes, my name is Narcie and I’m a member of the SEJ but I don’t want to squash your voice, I’m not an old white man, and I can jam and have a good time right along with the rest of you. Just having that back and forth dialogue about perceptions was critical in all of us knowing and understanding each other better. I’ll never forget Alissa, a Clairmont graduate, and Richard, an Asbury graduate, getting to know each other and bonding saying that they should stand up on the floor of General Conference, say where they went to seminary and that they are friends, and then drop the microphone. I’ll never forget my mom as I drove her to the airport saying that getting to know everyone and talking to everyone helped her understand so much more about campus ministry and our connection, and her then sharing that she now understood why sometimes people look at our name badges that say South Carolina and they don’t have the happiest look on their faces.
You see as we all have learned, have said, and know it to be true that – it’s all about relationships. It’s a heck of a lot harder to try to demonize someone if you’ve shared a meal with them. It’s a heck of a lot harder to shut your ears and ignore someone if you’ve been living with them for a week and you have a whole other week to go.
The reason we handed out so many buttons and had voices at many of the tables is because we had formed relationships with many of these people and in our crazy world of Methodism there’s not many a time when you can’t figure out some kind of connection with someone. That’s one of the beauties of campus ministry – we know it’s all about relationship. We know that this most sacred “work” and journey comes out of community. We have seen students that fundamentally disagree with each other on many levels come together around the communion table. We have seen people join together in a common cause whether on a mission trip, local service, or outreach. We know that’s where transformation takes place.
So those two weeks – although they were crazy and I still have a hard time articulating the insanity – were a gift. They were an absolute gift from God. Because whether we agreed or disagreed or whether our “side” won or lost, we all came together at the end of the day as one and we all were hopeful and ready to start the next day as we piled into the cars to head back over.
My campus minister during his retirement speech said that the only way to live life is in community and I couldn’t agree more. What if instead of living out of hotel rooms for two weeks, delegates lived in community with each other or with others in the local community? What if instead of just sitting at tables together and making quick introductions, committees and sub-committees actually shared meals and got to know one another before lines are drawn? What if we could re-create the schedule of General Conference completely and the focus not be on the “business” but on building relationships with one another so that the work and ministry flowed naturally out?
I hope that the community built in two lovely little homes in Ybor continues to bridge into the rest of our church. I know one thing for sure – we’ll be getting some houses for Portland. After this special time with colleagues and the perspective of being a little bit out of the bubble – I wouldn’t have it any other way.