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By Sean Bell (LCUR Chaplain)
The Chaplain's office at Luther College is located just off the student lounge. Strategically placed at a busy entrance to the school and a hallway that hundreds of people walk by every day. The office door is always open, and students and staff take advantage of the availability of someone to talk to who is connected to all levels of governance and student programming. It’s kind of like having an office at the edge of a busy mall during a Hurricane… or Sharknado.
Chaplaincy is done in the soft edges and in-between places of life on campus. There are no grades awarded for creating community, and week-by-week the job involves different skills because different people are in touch with chaplaincy. This means supporting staff and students and coordinating fair trade sales and sexual health fairs, while creating quiet spaces of prayer and loud spaces of singing… maybe even going to the hospital once in a while. University is a stressful, challenging, and ever-changing environment.
My first eight months as a chaplain has been an experiment and experience in marking time, being present, but also engaging in bombastic events. This is perhaps the hidden power of having a chaplain on staff that most institutions do not have. The chaplain has time, listens deeply, and is fully present when someone needs a moment. I also plan events and build community for everyone by encouraging student action, working with student staff and running events with the whole community. Luther College is a very busy place punctuated by celebration, blowing off steam, and finding the energy to get up and do the mountain of work that is on everyone’s plate. But chaplaincy is more than helping people to just “get it all done”: it’s about engaging in life and community in a way that is specific to university and more specific to Luther.
Chaplaincy is about marking time.
The Christian Liturgical year and the University year have a strange synergy. Fall harvest is the time when students gather to begin their year. Food, parties, new connections, and new friendships are harvested. November and All Saints Day mark the days of mid-terms. Advent as a season of waiting and watching for signs of new hope and God being born into the world becomes the backdrop to final exams and waiting for the semester to end. From here, students are sent to celebrate Christmas.
The second semester starts at a sprint. Classes resume, and it’s busy until spring (or rather winter) break. Lent falls close to the break and, since it’s a season of self-reflection, it makes sense to struggle through the classes. As I write this I haven’t lived through Easter here… but I imagine the celebration of spring, Easter, and final exams come together for a fitting launch into summer and beyond.
In other words, Chaplaincy walks this crazy adventure with the students, picking up and connecting all the loose pieces in an effort to get everyone through this unique university time.
Or maybe is it mostly about being present?
Dr. Eugene Peterson wrote, “Listening is in short supply in the world today; people aren't used to being listened to. I know how easy it is to avoid the tough, intense work of listening by being busy.”
Listening is not something that can be rushed, and it requires being fully present. “Being present” is hard to quantify, but it is perhaps more important than we ever know. Many stories of a teacher or staff member who went the extra mile to really care or be present for a student in a time of need are shared around a place like Luther. The chaplain enhances the volume of these unseen encounters by planning Christmas parties, leading Tuesday Time-Out chapel, supporting people in prayer, leading people in Sunday worship, bringing stories to life in sermons, allowing space for people to share their stories in sermons and other times of sharing, and having time to contemplate big questions. “Being present” means helping people see where they are and share who they are in their time at Luther College at the University of Regina.
Maybe Chaplaincy is about Bombastic Events?
There is nothing in my seminary training that would have prepared me to stand in the middle of the Riddell Centre shouting “Eid Mubarak” which simply means “happy Eid”. It was October 2015, and the Pilgrims were finishing the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). This is the beginning of a feast, and my Peer Chaplains wanted to celebrate it and raise awareness. So Debra made cupcakes in the shape of sheep, and we freely gave them away in a spirit of celebration and coming to know why Muslims celebrate at this time. We learned just a little more about how to greet each other, and how we celebrate at different times during the year.
Road trips to retreats are more than just functional… it is a time of taking Finnish exchange students to take pictures by a giant moose in Moose Jaw, dinosaurs in Drumheller, and the world’s largest metal tipi in Medicine Hat.
Chaplaincy is craft tables in halls, quiet tea parties, raucous Christmas carols, and special meals – events that challenge and inspire us to integrate all parts of ourselves into what we are becoming.
Chaplaincy is events, presence, and time for the formation of community and growth.
We all have a past… we all have roots… we all came from somewhere.
We all carry baggage… we all have great memories… we all have things we want to forget.
We all have room to grow and perhaps, the University years are some of the fastest growing we will ever do.
Luther College and its Chaplaincy takes the disparate raw ingredients and mixes them together to create space for a unique university experience. It’s an honour and joy to live and work in the soft spaces of what makes Luther College amazing.