Do you have suggestions for getting campus ministry on the campus when space and rules get in the way?

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One of the things that has surprised me these last couple of months is the wide variety of space limitations that we face as campus ministries. For instance, here at MSU, in order to host any event on campus, we first needed to gain recognition as a Registered Student Organization (a process which involved writing a constitution that matched MSU's requirements, setting up financial accounts at the university, and more than a few headaches). Now, as an RSO, every event we host on campus is scheduled through the Department of Student Life. My office is off-campus, at River Terrace Church across the street. All (denominational) campus ministries are based out of the churches that border campus; parachurch ministries house themselves primarily in individual dorm buildings or rent/own buildings on the border of campus.

As you can imagine, this makes for a very different dynamic for getting involved on the campus than, say, a campus ministry housed out of the Chaplain's office.

How accessible is space on your campus? Are you located primarily on- or off-campus? If you are based off-campus, how do you get on-campus?

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Hi Kory,  If the church is across the street, doesn't it save money to have free office space? Would it be more effective to be on campus under the msu rules?

I just would like to hear your personal idea's.

Thanks Ken

Ken:

You are right - it certainly saves us a lot of money to have my office located at the church rather than on-campus (for which we are extraordinarily grateful to River Terrace Church).

The difficulty this presents is that I am aways an "outsider" to campus. This manifests itself in a couple of ways. First, it means that it is more difficult for students/faculty/staff to come to me unless they already know who and where I am. Those who do know where I am are less likely to come to me if it means a separate drive over to the church; for those who do not attend River Terrace Church this is even more likely. Now certainly, the easy response to this conundrum is for me to go to the students - but here again I run into the outsider problem, as I am not an organic part of the community into which I am trying to integrate.

Another difficulty this poses for us is a bit of an "identity crisis." As a young ministry (this is our first year), we have very little name recognition on campus. Without a designated campus space associated with Campus Edge Fellowship, it can be difficult to gain. Now, name recognition doesn't come just from being a building - as we build the community of Campus Edge, people will be drawn to it naturally. Yet, I would still argue that it is more difficult to build that community when you don't have one centralized place to call "home."

I certainly don't think that having an office on-campus would magically solve all of these difficulties. Whether you are off-campus or on-campus, challenges will go along with it. I think it is important for campus ministries to think about the limitations, challenges, and freedoms of physical space, as we often find ourselves somewhere between church and parachurch.

What about a Kiosk type structure with portability? This along with with the church office? Just tossing a few ways off the top my head. Thanks for your service. Ken

Hi Kory,

My campus ministry is at York U in Toronto, Canada. I have a very similar situation as you - my ministry has to be a recognized student organization with Student Services, constitutions, etc. We have our meetings by booking seminar rooms/classrooms/meeting rooms through student services.

One difference though is that as a student group, I can apply for an office space on campus. This is a competition basis for limited spaces. There's over 250 student groups and very limited office spaces. Thankfully, as a religious group, there are 10 office spaces (5 shared rooms) around the chapel that are dedicated to only religious groups, which are over 30 currently at York. I have one of these offices. But every year, I have to re-apply without guarantee of getting it back. I have to vacate the office during the summer months and if re-assigned to an office, move back in the Fall.

I still would prefer this arrangment than being off-campus. For all the reasons you noted already - it's important to be part of the community. Now, my office space is very administratively functional. That's how they built the space - a few chairs with a table/work station, and a cabinet for storage. The other half of the office is a mirror image, occupied by another group. So, it's not really set up for ministry but for administrative work.

But, it's a place to hang my hat. Location-wise, the office is central and accessible, but not visible. It's tucked away in a corner with no good visible signage. The university partly couldn't care to advertize the chapel. So, it's a good and bad situation. It's central but you wouldn't get lots of walk-ins. People can't easily find you unless they already know it's there.

It's hard to build a presence and it's hard to build community and long-term connections with people. There are other office spaces that are more visible but that's open to competition to all student non-religious groups - so the competition is harder. They are also away from the chapel. So, it's a toss-up. I always struggle with this - do I stick close to the chapel but lose visibility or do I go for more visibility but lose the symbolic (and political) connection to the chapel?

The chapel is supervised by Student Services, which I have taken many years to build up a very good relationship of trust with. The other visible office spaces are run by the Student Federation. Being at the chapel has helped me develop my relationship with Student Services. So, I wonder.

One of the things I am trying to do to build a presence despite the space limitations is to have consistency in meeting places. I don't know about your campus, but very often, it is not easy at York to get the same space/room for your meetings due to stiff competition for meeting spaces by all the other groups. I have chosen this year to go to a less popular location on campus (a little less central) but to have it there, same room, same day, same time, every week as a way to build a "home base". I hope to see if this works in the long term. The fact that it's less popular allowed me to actually book it weekly.

I don't know if any of this sharing of mine helps at all Kory. But you are not alone with this predicament.

Kory,

This is I think a constant dynamic in Campus Ministry. Having physical space does give you a sense of belonging to the community, though ultimately this is really established and kept through relationships rather than occupying a physical space. The plus side of not having a physical space is it does force one out into the campus, to be a sojourner if you will, rather than someone who waits for others to come. That being said, some sort of physical space is needed if one is to gather a community and it does help if you can count on this being the same space each time. In starting out, I'd focus first on building relationships within the admin community (i.e. Student Life as mentioned by Chong), try to secure a community meeting space second and worry about any sort of office space third, if at all. I'd make my "office" in key strategic meeting places on campus that would allow me to regularly interact with students, staff and faculty. Loitering with intent can enable you to build some key strategic relationships with people and establish you as a faithful and visible presence on campus. 

You might also want to chat with Brad Close in Halifax about his experiences there. The multi-faith team there has a house on campus that until recently was shared with other services. The university has begun to see the multi-faith team as strategic in their recruiting and retaining international students and so has begun to make it more of a priority. As a result, the whole house is being renovated to better serve the multi-faith team and their activities. This has come about, however, through Brad's commitment to building relationships within the administrative community over several years. 

Thanks, everyone, for your insights. I'd love to hear more experiences from others.

I continue to learn more about the ways in which everything works here. Residence hall staff are funded by fees of that hall's residents, so student groups have to pay for the use of residence hall lounges and conference rooms. Classroom space is free for anybody to use as long as the building is scheduled to be open at that time. There is the alumni chapel on campus, but it is mostly used for die hard Spartans who wish to hold their wedding on campus. We plan to rent it out for our large group worship services (starting the end of this month) but, as best I can tell, no other student group uses the chapel regularly.

I'm curious, Shiao, how the administration decides who gets to use office space. Is it primarily first-come/first-served?

I appreciate everybody's insights about getting to know the administration. I am doing my best to do so, but this too is hindered by the fact that as an MSU affiliate (my official title on my MSU ID) I am allowed to be an advisor to a student organization but according to MSU rules, should technically not have any official "power" over the organization. Thus, student life doesn't necessarily want to have a lot to do with the campus ministers who work with the organizations. We do have the Religious Advisor's Association, which is the "official" channel for connecting with the campus. I have found them helpful to connect with but more or less bureaucratic when trying to connect with the university.

Because of our focus on graduate students, faculty, and staff, we have opted for hosting most of our events off campus. Bible study is at my apartment, prayer groups are at River Terrace Church, dinners are also at RTC. Our large group worship will be in the chapel and we're starting another Bible Study, hopefully to be held in one of the classrooms on campus.

To be honest, this has been one of the most unexpected struggles in these early months. I look forward to hearing more ideas and experiences.

Hi Kory,

Student Services and the Student Federation both assign office spaces (for the year) based on a qualitative set of criterias that only they are privy to. We can guess (and when we ask) what some of those criterias are: group membership size, how active the club is over the past year, the lack of violations of rules the club has, and then the really fuzzy parts - the types of events and programs and activities the club held, and how the club is perceived to have contributed to the university community as a whole. Of course, you have to apply for an office space - non-applicants are not considered. They look at the whole set of criterias and decide among the applicants. What criteria might have a bigger value is anyone's guess. It's very subjective, let's say. And not up for debate.

With Grad students, Kory, you might also consider if some of them have homes too that can host a gathering or two. One of my student leaders 3 years ago was a grad student who chose to host a dinner and a movie discussion night. it was way off campus, but it became an outing - a special event - for us. People car pooled, some traveled on bus together, etc.

If you can get people into your home/off campus and that works, I think that's great. Location is only a means to community. If you can build community off campus, that's still great. I want to encourage you in that. It seems very hard for me to get students to off-campus at York. The only times it really worked was when a student, like my grad student did, was hosting and people came because they were her friends and knew her, and we organized transportation. And it was a one-time, or occassional event. Regular weekly off-campus meetings is poorly attended.

I have been tabling this first week back at York. Tabling means I book a table and have a promotional display with literature and brochures to promote myself and the club. There's designated areas where clubs can do this on campus and we can book a table online with Student Services at least 5 business days in advance. It's another way to build your presence.

I want to encourage you about plugging along with student services - also with the Religious Advisor's Association. We just recently, a few months ago, established a Multi-Faith Advisory Council composed mainly of religious staffs/clergy, similar to your RAA at York. Although the mandate might be a bit different than yours but it is the first time in my 10 years now at York that Student Services had asked religious staffs or clergy like myself to be more involved rather than less. There is an Inter-Faith Council that is the collection of all the religious groups on campus which is very bureacratic, etc. When I first came to campus, I got involved in it - every group sends a representative - and the initial attitude/policy was that they would rather deal with students. It was supposed to be a student-run/led council and it was student clubs that student services were interested in, etc. blah, blah. But I hung in there. There already was a Catholic priest on campus and his lay assistants. His assistant was the one who attended the Inter-Faith Council meetings.

But as I said, I hung in there, contributed positively whenever I can/allowed, always be a helpful resource and servant to the group and to student services. Over time, more and more clergy like me or staffs (IVCF and Campus Crusade) started attending these meetings. Also, over time, student services started seeing the value or benefits of clergy like me in helping organizing multi-faith events, etc. I always try to bend over backwards whenever Student Services or any university department asks me for a favor or help. For instance, Virginia Tech Memorial Service - I volunteered to help out. Haiti earthquake Prayer virgil - again I volunteered to organize it. These were calls from Student Services and the student federation, not from religious groups, but calls to religious groups for help. And almost always, it is the clergy, not the students, who answer these calls not because we care more but because we are more available than busy students, and we are also better equipped to do this than untrained students. 

Does your RAA have Student Services representatives on board? Our Inter-Faith Council is supervised by student services, so there's always at least one student service staff there. That's also how I build relationships and connections with them. Once in a while, where appropriate, I even have lunch with them and just chat as friends. 

In fact, tonight, as another example of relationship building - after I sign off here - I will compose a letter of support for a grant application to build/renovate wheelchair access at the religious chapel at York. This morning, the Student Services staff in charge of the Inter-Faith Council and the newly formed Multi-Faith Advisory Council found me at my table and asked a favor - he just found out that the grant application requires letters of support from groups using/connected to the space and they need it by tomorrow! Of course, I said, No problem! He will get the letter of support in his inbox tomorrow morning so that the grant will go through and hopefully, the chapel will have better wheelchair access! But notice that he came to me in person, because he knew I was tabling today and where I was, and he asked me first for a favor with tight deadline. I'm not bragging, but I'm saying, when relationships are built - there's trust and people believe they can count on you and believe me, they will return favors to you as well when you need one from them.

So, this is all a long comment to encourage you Kory. Keep at it! God's kingdom is like a mustard seed. It grows slowly.

Our Halifax/Dalhousie University context is different and maybe unique.  Since it's beginning our CRC chaplain has been an official  "Dalhousie chaplain" sharing space in the University building --- university provided office space, some admin assistance, phone, copier, internet, etc.  It has changed from the University's Chaplaincy Office to a Multi-faith centre.  So, it does give us a presence on campus. Brad participates in semester-beginning student service events.  There are still challenges of being recognized in more informal and important ways and boundaries to our engagement of the campus (e.g., a brochure in the Multifaith Centre alerts students to "aggressive" religious groups). 

The annual fall lecture series has been important in connecting with various departments, depending on the substantive area of the lecture series.  And, the ties to All Nations Church for fellowship has been important to both the church and the campus ministry.  We look forward to sharing with you the dynamics of this campus ministry model at the annual cma conference in Halifax this Spring.

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