Campus ministry conference offers rejuvenation

July 3, 2007

"Renovate: Episcopal Campus Ministry Conference" held at St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle, Washington June 23-25 drew more than 80 Episcopal college and university chaplains and those committed to campus ministry together for conversation and to experience transformation.

"For those who are called to be chaplains and undertake the church's evangelical mission on college campuses, the chaplains' gathering is a time of encouragement, strengthening, and renewal," said the Rev. Douglas Fenton, staff officer for Young Adult and Higher Education Ministries. "It is also a time of fellowship and community building with peers across the church."

Viewed as a discreet ministry that operates outside of the bounds of parochial ministry, Fenton said campus ministry is often overlooked, and "seen as an 'extra' and frequently is cut from diocesan budgets."

The gathering opened with a pre-conference which offered orientation to 36 new chaplains. The chaplains were welcomed by Bishop Suffragan Nedi Rivera of the Diocese of Olympia -- on the feast day of Alban -- who spoke of how ministry is about standing in for the persecuted, the dispossessed, and the marginalized as Alban did.

The chaplains also received a surprise visit from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori who was in Seattle attending the North American Association for the Diaconate (NAAD). Fenton said she prayed a blessing.

"I know that the chaplains deeply appreciated her 'dropping in' to say a personal 'hello' and by doing so she affirmed them in their collective witness on campuses," he added.

Author and social scientist Sharon Daloz Parks invited the participants into a conversation which asked whether they desired real and complete transformation or whether asking for renovation held the hope that in it nothing would change. While the concept of 'renovation' might be applied to academic or ecclesial systems it also offered the opportunity for personal reflection and "interior renovation".

At the closing banquet the Rev. Gary Brower, PhD, who will become the first university chaplain at the University of Denver in 40 years, received the Distinguished Leadership Award, and Susan Hanson, MA, out going Episcopal chaplain at Texas State-San Marcos, was awarded the Sam Portaro Award for Creative Expression and Intellectual Enquiry.

Fenton said he hopes the chaplains left the conference with "a sense that the church is re-investing itself in campus ministry" and that the church "cares for them and values the ministry they do."

"With five new start-ups in the last triennium and seven in the current triennium, including the first in Province IX (Diocese of Honduras) they are able to see tangible evidence of the same," he said.

The 2008 Episcopal college and university chaplains' conference will be held New York City June 26-29.