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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.

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.

Posted in: Silos or Team?

Shiao Chong on March 2, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hi Ken,

Thanks for the reply! Yes - social media can be a way to build better networks between the various ministries/silos! The potential is there but we aren't doing it yet. Just this CRC network alone - we are still having silos here - youth ministry forums, disability forums, leadership forums, church planting forums, campus ministry forums, etc. I hope I am proven wrong, but I think there's still silos even in the virtual world! People are still mainly talking within their own ranks. It happens all over the internet.

I totally agree with you that youth needs to be given leadership roles in church - a sign of whether someone actually belongs or is accepted into community is when they are allowed to lead/serve in some capacity, and not only being served or ministered to. This goes across the board - to youth, to seniors, to people with disabilities, to women, to ethnic minorities, etc. When these people are allowed to serve the community with their gifts and not only receiving ministry from the community, that is a true sign that they are an authentic part of the community, and not merely "customers" or marginal to the community.

God bless you too Ken.

Thanks Mark for these resources! The Barnhill book sounds very interesting.

As a parent of a child with Down Syndrome, I can definitely agree with you about the challenges of raising a special needs child. My daughter just turned four today, but it already seems that she has required more attention and energy from us than from any of our other daughters. And it's in surprising ways too, for which we are thankful to God for, as she is a bundle of energy and activity.

Concerning estate planning, well, here's a resource for financial planning for parents of special needs kids in the province of Ontario in Canada:

It does mention some Federal Tax issues though. Maybe someone else may know of similar resources for other parts of Canada.

Thanks Mark for asking this question. Indeed, our culture has reduced diversity to ethnic diversity. It is largely, as you say, caused by the media.

Another reason is possibly the advocacy of social movements or causes - the momentum or power of a lobby or movement. The ethnic diversity cause can be traced back to the civil rights movement in the 60s, spearheaded by such powerful and charismatic leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. Their movement is widespread and has captured people's imaginations over the years, and entrenched in folklore, and cultural memory. We don't have anything similar, not that I know of anyways, in regards to disability diversity.

There are famous people with disabilities in our culture but if I am not mistaken they tend NOT to advocate for people with disabilities to be included, but advocating for cures. Two that I can think of is Terry Fox in Canada, who is entrenched in Canada's cultural memory but Terry Fox was running for a cure for cancer. And the other one is Christopher Reeves (a.k.a. Superman) as a quadriplegic (sorry if I misspelled here) advocating for medical research. So, our culture collectively lacks the imagination to think of diversity as including disabilities because their collective imaginations and collective memories have not been shaped that way.

Posted in: Mom's Dementia

Thanks Mark for posting this touching post. I'm sorry for you and your family about your mom's condition, and I said a prayer for you. But thanks again for sharing this. I believe it is through moments like these that sometimes God shapes us profoundly. Henri Nouwen's image of the Wounded Healer always sticks with me at times like these. We can heal others through our own personal wounds. Blessings.

Thanks Mark for sharing this. I can only imagine what it must be like to have our deaf brothers and sisters sing alongside us in a regular worship service! Come to think of it, why don't we have more deaf pastors around? It's probably just as easy for a signing translator to translate his signs into words for the rest of us!

The passion they have is heartwarming. Since this is the first time for most of them to discuss these issues, I can see why the passion is there.

Thomas E. Reynolds in his book, Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality, has a chapter devoted to the discussion of the image of God and disabilities. I highly recommend his book.

To add to this discussion, here is Reynolds' definition of the image of God: "the image of God is an elusive category loosely signifying that we are fashioned bodily to be creative, relational, and available agents in God's world." (p. 176)

It's part of a deeper and bigger theological argument but one of the implications is that people with impairments or disabilities, even as individuals, are creative, relational and available (open to receiving love and to loving others) in an infinite variety of ways, albeit maybe not in ways prescribed by the "cult of normalcy". People with disabilties, therefore, are also individually image-bearers of God, as much as anybody else, not only in the collective sense as described so nicely in this post.

Reynolds' emphasis is this: "the heart of the creative and relational fabric of the imago Dei: human beings reflect God's free love as an availability displayed by solicitude toward what is other. Created in God's image, we are beings with the capacity to respect, be faithful to, and show compassionate regard for others." (p. 185)

Some of the implications of that statement are clear: respecting, being faithful to and showing compassion to people who are different than ourselves, to those who are "other", is part and parcel of imaging God.

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