For the past month, Northern Arizona University has held a series of New Student Orientations: two a week, all through June. Incoming students flood Flagstaff’s pretty little town (and tiny, overstressed roads) and make shopping at the sole Target near-impossible. Along with their parents, guardians, and/or siblings, they tour the dorms, sign up for classes, and attend the ORIENTATION EXPO!
The ORIENTATION EXPO! occurs at 7:30 AM (yes. AM.) outside along one of the walkways on NAU’s campus. Each student activity signs up for a table, and the right to stand at said table, hawking their services. Everyone from Parking Services, to the Bookstore, to Campus Crusade for Christ shows up, and hands out pamphlets and swag.
Basically, it’s running the gauntlet of brochures, overwhelming information, and candy, at an hour that no seventeen year old is functioning. (And there’s no coffee. Did I mention that?)
NAU Canterbury has been present for the past 3 summers. We have colorful brochures, colorful business cards, and a bobble head Jesus. Here is our table. (And yes, I set this up for a month, and JUST NOW realized that Canterbury is misspelled. See what happens when I am asked to do things without benefit of caffeine?!)
These expos are instructive. For as much as we have been talking recently about getting out of the church building and mixing with Actual Unchurched People, this is a way to do it.
Things I have Learned:
- Few know what ‘Episcopal’ means.
I mean, like no one. Almost no one has heard of it before. But those who have, think it’s great. The people who know what the big, scary, Greek word on the banner is, generally have positive associations with it.
- So this is mainly about education. Education that we, at least, aren’t frightening or abusive (and I’m using those terms intentionally.) Education that we aren’t those ‘Christian’ voices who picket funerals, and bomb clinics, and advocate killing groups of people in the name of God.
- This is, obviously, tough to do in 45 seconds. So mainly, I talk about how we have meals with all our activities, we’re welcoming, and affirming, and give them our brochure.
I can’t overcome all preconceived notions about what Christianity is or is not in a 30 second conversation. And this results sometimes in events like the young man who told me flat out that he couldn’t attend my ministry because he didn’t believe that women should speak in church. Alrighty then. And it becomes harder still when the majority of Christian voices on campus reinforce these ideas.
What I can do is be a friendly, nonthreatening and welcoming presence that hopefully, causes curiosity. Maybe the new student will remember that this one time, there was this odd priest-lady who seemed nice, and it might not be so scary to take a friend along to go check that group out, one day, when everything seems awful, and hope seems really distant. That’s worth being awake at 7:30 am.