I am writing this on the flight to the Province 8 Conference for Episcopal College Students (and their Chaplains.). This yearly conference is held at whichever ministry site has the resources and gumption to host it; last year was UCDavis, this year, because none of the sites with staff could do the job, the intrepid band of students from University of Hawaii are doing it.
So I am en route to Honolulu. (Hey, nine times out of ten following Jesus leads to the cross, but that tenth time, turns out Jesus is heading to Hawaii. I am not questioning.)
And I am taking this opportunity to point out the following things:
1.) UH has no staff for campus ministry. None. Zip. Nada. When I find out how to say “none” in Hawaiian, I will add that to this list. Their ministry currently consists of some amazing students who show up to the Cathedral, and other local churches, and who come to this yearly conference, and who do so on such a consistent basis, that they convinced the Province coordinator to let them host this conference themselves.
Which leads to:
2.). Next year, as things currently stand with the draft budget, this conference won’t exist. Likewise the program that will send three of my students to General Convention. So for students like the young adults from Hawaii, or the student from Utah, who is also on my flight, bam! No more contact with young adult Episcopalians.
This is what the wider church provides, in terms of campus ministry. Events like Prov 8, and opportunities like the Young Adult Festival at General Convention (which I went to in 2003, and which 3 of my students are attending this year). The Church Center doesn’t mandate what we do, and they don’t give curriculum, and they don’t tell us what to do and not do– they empower networks without which an already-nearly-impossible-job would be entirely impossible.
Right now, there is a needed conversation happening about the respective roles of denominational structure vs local structure. And that’s fantastic.
But this conversation won’t be fruitful if we continue to misunderstand what the different structures are capable of. Local structures, right now in many places, lack the resources and vision necessary to enable networks that work across traditional boundary lines. But larger structures can do that. In fact, if we’re all going to do our jobs well, larger structures must do that.
Larger structures actually do have a role, especially in a time when local parishes and dioceses are so cash-strapped that they are having trouble keeping the lights on, much less looking to start new ministries. (And let’s face it– any ministry with anyone under 45 is going to be a very long term investment).
My colleague and fellow AZ deputy, the Rev. Susan Snook, has written several excellent blog posts exploring ways to correct the budget problems, at least in the short term*. (Susan+ is one of those people I give great thanks for. To some, God has given talent for math and budgets, to others….sarcasm. And shoes.). The long-term exploration of how to fix the budget process, and the balance between denomination and local levels, continues.
Meanwhile, I head to Hawaii, and if this is to be our last Conference with these amazing young adults, then may it be a profound and joyous experience for all of us.