Mewsings from Lowecat (aka Indianacat)

My rants, ravings, and overall 'mewsings' on life, the universe, and everything.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Goin' the Way of the Dinosaur

Today I made a journey across the state of the town of Terre Haute. Located near the IL/IN state line, it's a sleepy college town where Indiana State University, St. Mary of the Woods College, and Rose - Hulman Institute of Technology is located.

It's where I spent two years of my young college life. It's also where I had my second home away from home, the United Ministries Center, aka Campus Ministries Center.

It was a bit of a bittersweet journey, as a reception/luncheon honoring Rev. Jack Diel (pronounced 'dial', like the soap) was being held at the ISU library. Jack is leaving campus ministry after more than 30 years (38 total, 30 at CMC).

The UMC/CMC was and still is funded by a number of denominations (hence the UNITED Ministries back in the day), including my own - the United Methodist Church.

Unlike the UCCF at Vincennes University, which I attended and graduated from in the late 70's (United Campus Christain Fellowship), the UMC/CMC was not a house, but it still felt like home. The building is on 7th ST, right next to a United Methodist Church (appropriate/ironic, eh?), and it looks like a typical educational building - on the outside.

On the inside was a small chapel, staff office, a large livingroom with the largest windows I've ever seen (where the television and stereo and comfy couches and chairs were located). In the back was a library/meeting room. Upstairs was another large lounge/meeting area and kitchen. Downstairs was Jack's office, where he would often talk with students seeking counseling on school/life/family issues/crisises.

The UNC/CNC, like the UCCF, provided nourishment not just for the body, but for the mind and the soul. Though located on the ISU campus, Jack reached out to the SMOW/RHIT campuses as well so that student and staff there could be included.

Being a preacher's kid, I kind of naturally gravitated to the campus ministry centers. Being ecumenical (accepting of all denominations), the welcome mat was always out, the door always open during business hours. They were a place to study, rest, eat, make new friends, relax, and sometimes find a little unexpected food for the soul/spirit. The campus ministry centers not only reached out to the campus, but to the community as well. You didn't have to be a student to cross the threshold. All were welcome.

Jack, I'm happy to say, isn't retiring form the ministry entirely. As a fully ordained United Methodist minister, he has an appointment to a local church not too far from the home he purchased many years ago. It's a small, rural type of church, he says about 50 - 60 members. Doubtless that alumus from UNC/CNC will find their way there sometime in the near future.

I think that part of the reason the journey was bittersweet is that my denomination has drastically cut back on the amount of funding for campus ministries. Campus Ministers now have to wear a lot of hats, including that of fund raiser.

Besides Jack, the other campus minister in my life from the Vincennes UCCF, Rev. Ruth Dunn, was present for Jack's reception/banquet. Ruth retired several years earlier from the Presyberian ministry. At one time, as Ruth and I were playin' a bit of catch up, Jack wandered over to listen in. We were talkin' about former UCCF alums we knew. At one point, Jack stated that he and Ruth were goin' the way of the dinosaur, as it seems that there's no place for the type of campus ministry they provided.

This scares and saddens me for the future generations of college students. If campus ministries as I knew it ceases to exist, where will the future students go to find spiritual/emotional nourishment? True, the local church is present, but let's face it, if a student hasn't already been to church, they're not likely to darken the door of a strange church in a strange town. A student's life is transitory - semester to semester with blocks of go home time in between - that tends to play Hell with continuity and belonging.

That's why campus ministries remains so important. And why today was bittersweet. It takes a special person to be able to mentor, nuture, kick butt (literally and figuratively), and guide students without conditions while reaching out to the community surrounding the campus and meeting the demands of many people at one time.

Not that another Ruth and/or Jack aren't out there, but with the cut backs by the many supporting/sponsoring denominations, it makes me fear for the future of this much needed institution.

An institution - not just a building, but an idea, a ministry, and a support system - could easily go the way of the dinosaur. Damned if I can figure out to keep that from happening.


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