And Finally: June/July 2018
As many of you know, one portion of my work as Pastor of Discipleship is to minister to Hope College students. At first glance, some might think that this is superfluous work, asking “Why would a Christian college need a pastor from outside their community to disciple them? Don’t they have plenty of resources to support their faith on campus?” This is a great question! The fact is Hope does have wonderful resources from which to choose. Students can get spiritually supportive care from Campus Ministries, which offers chapel services 6 days a week, as well as chaplaincy support for students who desire one on one mentoring and prayer. A number of professors and staff offer encouragement and prayer support as well. There are also a number of student led Bible studies and small groups, both formal and informal. So with all of these faith enriching tools, why WOULD Hope College students need someone like me?
My answer is two-fold. First, Hope College takes church commitment pretty seriously. While there are a number of ways students can be discipled on campus, Hope’s philosophy is that none of these should be a substitute for belonging to a church family. College students are encouraged to explore Holland area churches and get involved. While Hope College meets many individual needs, they know that being part of a church family is integral to Christian faith. While Hope is home for a few years, the church is a home for life. What better time to take ownership of one’s faith away from home, by learning for yourself what kind of church is best to connect with?
The more poignant reason why Hope College students need pastors like me is that there are currently no official channels for LGBTQIA students to find Christian community and discipleship that meets their specific faith needs. There are many wonderful places for LGBTQIA students to get personal and social support through Hope College’s counseling services and student groups, in addition to having access to supportive staff and faculty, many of whom are members of Hope Church. However, the college’s current stance on LGBTQIA people matches that of the Reformed Church in America’s, which is to affirm LGBTQIA people as long as they are celibate; a “love the sinner hate the sin” stance as I have heard a number of students describe it. Students also are not offered protection from discrimination if they are gay or trans with the same protections offered on the basis of gender, race, or disabilities. Because there are not strong enough protections for these students on campus, many LGBTQIA students express not feeling safe or even feeling loved by God. On multiple occasions, I have students tell me that as they come out, they feel they have no choice but to choose either their orientation or their Christian faith. Healthy Christian discipleship during the process of grappling with one’s sexual and/or gender identity is crucial.
About 70% of the students with whom I meet regularly are gay, queer, or trans. What a gift it has been to share the abundant love of Christ to students. To be told by a pastor that their whole being is declared “good” by their Creator is a rarity for LGBTQIA students and I love lavishing them with this good news!
Though Hope Church is not yet recognized as one of the official ministry partners of the college, I have been blessed to find a number of different avenues to connect to students. Several times a year, I serve as a panelist at events or as a guest lecturer in classrooms. I also attend as many arts performances and multi-cultural events as my schedule allows, which also puts me in front of students. From there, I build relationships with them through one on one coffee dates, invitation to Pub Theology, and working alongside them as an ally at awareness building events. Next year, I have even been invited to start a Bible study with LGBTQIA students, which excites me to no end! This year has been a meaningful time connecting with these beautiful students and I look forward to deepening those relationships even more next year.