Reflections from our Campus Minister

Millennial Courage
Written by Ginny Taylor-Troutman   
The Me Me Me Generation: Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists, who still live with their parents.” Ouch. This harsh characterization of the generation that includes the college students with whom I minister appeared on a recent cover ofTime Magazine. We’ve all seen and heard this before. Teens and 20-somethings are berated by older generations for being incessant texters, materialists, and technology addicts. And based on data, that’s not untrue.* But it’s also not the whole truth.

It’s not the whole title of the Time article either. Writer Joel Stein proposes that there’s more to consider with his subtitle, “Why Millennials Will Save Us All.”

While I’m not sure the idea that one generation will save another is a healthy or helpful one, I do appreciate Stein’s effort to lift up the strengths of millennials and his suggestion that they have something to teach all of us. There is something “great” about this new generation.

Stein writes, “A generation’s greatness isn’t determined by data; it’s determined by how they react to the challenges that befall them.” Jesus also had something to say about what determines greatness; “The greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves” (Luke 22:26).

This gives me hope for the Presbyterian Church (USA).

We all know the data and it isn’t good. In fact, it’s downright terrifying because it puts us in touch with how drastically different our challenges are today than they were just a few years ago. But we don’t have to let the data determine who we are. What if what really matters is how we handle these challenges? Will we let fear and anxiety persuade our decisions? Or is there another side to the story? Who, then, are our servant leaders?

This summer I am meeting with college students once a week for “Holy Happy Hour.” We gather at a local watering hole, talk theology, and share the ups and downs of our lives. Every week I leave feeling energized and inspired by the students’ questions and musings about faith and scripture. They are just so thoughtful and smart! This past week was no different in that regard, but I was especially struck by our casual conversation as we waited for everyone to arrive.

Two students shared experiences from their weekend volunteering with the Special Olympics in a nearby city. Another had just come from volunteering at a refugee center where she taught English to an older Iranian man. Still another talked about taking swimming lessons and how proud she was that she swam under the water for a few feet when just last week she was afraid to get in at all.

Everyone chatted, laughed, and encouraged one another. They weren’t sharing these stories to impress but, nonetheless, I was inspired. These conversations moved me to reflect, When have I embraced a new experience that stirred up fear or anxiety within because I believed in it? When was the last time I did something that required such courage?

We all have heard one side of the story. But, these college students are the PC (USA). They face new territory with fierce courage because of their faith – not in that they alone can save us, but in someone greater than us all:

“Take courage.” Jesus said this over and over again, “Do not be afraid.”

“I am with you.”

“I am with you.”

And together we can be courageous. We can be great.

What makes a space sacred?
Written by Ginny Taylor-Troutman, Outpost blogger   
As I listen to the sound of hammers thudding and drills whirling beneath my office, I find myself thinking about what makes a space sacred. How do the rooms, walls, chairs, and windows that house our ministries impact what we do? What effect does space have on our faith communities?
We are under construction at “Cooper House,” the building that houses the Presbyterian Campus Ministry at Virginia Tech. We have begun the process of tearing down two walls in the student center in order to open up a tight space.  The contractors figure we will gain about 110 square feet to our roughly 600 square feet space.  It’s a small project, really, but one that I am hoping will have a significant impact on our ministry.
Space matters. When we gather on Tuesday nights for table fellowship, we hardly have enough room for tables. In the past, because it has been so challenging to set up tables in a comfortable way, the students ate dinner on the couches that line the perimeter of the room instead.  Eating on couches is all well and good, but something is lost when folks can’t look one another in the eye or when a stranger can be easily missed and excluded. I’m not talking about just the act of eating together; I believe that there is more going on here. There is theological significance to this simple ritual of eating together.
Jesus sat at table with his disciples at Passover, as well as with sinners and outcasts throughout his ministry. He shared resurrection meals with followers in Emmaus and fed crowds with just a few fish and loaves of bread. Ministry happened when meals were shared. In the blessing, breaking, and giving of bread, Jesus embodied grace to those with whom he ate. He opened eyes, transformed hearts, and welcomed all. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we remember these stories that connect us to Christ and sustain us in our journey to follow him.   
Our spiritual practice of sharing meals together at Cooper House is an extension of the celebration that we share at the Lord’s Table. It is at the heart of what shapes our ministry. The community is nurtured here, at table. It’s what connects us to one another while also inviting us to reach out beyond our own tables. It’s hospitality. It’s inclusion. It’s grace.
Space matters, yes. The walls, and doors, and windows of our buildings may hinder or enable us. At Cooper House, the ability to gather around tables helps us to be who we want to be. Having enough room to extend hospitality allows us to live into our call. We do well to think about and examine what messages we communicate in the ways we use or don’t use our space.  Why? Because ministry happens with the people who occupy these rooms. It is between these walls where we pray and sing and eat and cry and worship and laugh.
This building renovation doesn’t do anything to make our space more sacred; it’s up to our community to do that, by the leading of the Holy Spirit. We can have the perfect sized space with the most beautiful tables but if we don’t embody hospitality, inclusion, and grace within ourselves, we will fail to bear witness to the sacredness, to Christ, who is with us.

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