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    A View from the Pew
    Sunday
    Sep252011

    What ss Your Opinion? Serving in the Vineyard of College Campus Ministry

    What Is Your Opinion? Serving in the Vineyard of College Campus Ministry

    I love it when Jesus asks for our opinion. He offers us an opportunity to ask ourselves how our faith informs our decision, what motivates our behavior and how we identify our individual gifts within faith that serves the people of the world to build the reign of God.  I found today’s Gospel particularly interesting in lieu of my location on a college campus on the Fenway in Boston, where I where I agreed to serve as the pastoral musician for music while the college continues their ongoing search for a campus minister of music. After the morning Mass ended, I left Boston and returned to New Bedford so I could attend the wake of a dear friend who died this week. I returned to Boston after the wake to accompany some of the students who serve as the temporary choir at the college’s 8PM liturgy. I will continue to assist this college until it finds a permanent pastoral musician for the job. So far, the college cannot seem to find a pastoral musician that wants to accommodate the job description. The college knows that good music will draw students into the chapel if the pastoral musician is vibrant, competent, hard working and pastoral. To date, the position remains available after a lengthy search.

    The same scenario seems to be the trend in colleges searching for campus ministers of music and liturgy. In my conversations with directors of college campus ministry departments and in my conversations with pastoral musicians, common themes continue to emerge. So far, the following areas appear to be the major obstacles.  

    Salary. Costs of living continue to climb. Gas prices inflate so travel becomes pretty expensive. Rent, mortgages, fuel and electricity bills, food and other expenses require a living wage. For the most part, campus ministers, with a few exceptions, live off campus and drive to work. Many support families, pay mortgages on homes, own several vehicles so two people can commute to work. Can the salary that a college offers, even if that salary appears to be sufficient, sustain a minimal standard living for a pastoral musician of music and liturgy? Even if a single person accepts the position, will that person earn enough income so that they can pay their bills? That will take a bit of work on the part of colleges to prioritize people and accommodate their pastoral musicians with just and worthy wages.

    Personality. Archbishop Timothy Dolan said it best: “Happiness attracts.” In my opinion, a successful campus minister of music needs to be a person of joy and willing to allocate that interior elation, that ‘bling’ that draws young people because they simply want to be in that campus minister’s company. Let’s face it, folks: no one wants to be a part of something gloomy or stressful. Joy breeds joy. How do you think Jesus drew crowds? He was ‘lit up’ with God’s enthusiasm, a creative energy that transmitted to the people he encountered. That energy requires a deep relational spirituality with the living God, which translates into pastoral enthusiasm when you work with young people. College students need pastoral musicians who will walk the mile not just in how they generate great music but how the campus minister will meet them where can relate to them in their lives. Pastoral music on a college campus means getting to know your population – the students – to know better what they need in their lives because you’re in their lives. That takes a lot of time and effort.

    Authenticity. No one can spot a fraud faster than a young person. If you’re not keeping up with pop culture in movies, books, technology, music, politics, culture and you’re not on your game at what’s going on within the specific cultural shifts of youth and religion, you’ve lost the game even before you begin to play. An authentic interest in young people is required of the pastoral musician who wants a music program to grow. Authenticity entails involvement, reading, listening and just being there, even when you really want to be somewhere else. Authenticity is a labor of love in the vineyard.

    Musicianship. When you think about college students, what will you use for repertoire? Do your skill levels meet their demands of knowing how to work with whoever shows up at the last minute holding a flute or a violin? How about a young singer with no prior experience and simply needs to join the choir because they seek community? Good choirs become second families and college student choirs are no different. Are you musically able to accommodate those needs and still meet the expectations of the college who now pays you a healthy living wage and eagerly anticipates great music from a very eclectic mix of a diverse population with different backgrounds, experience (or lack thereof) and needs?  That takes work to stay on top of your game. No small task and a ton of work, practice, composition for particular ensembles, flexibility. I can speak from experience. 

    Long hours. Campus ministers of music cover weekend liturgies that begin in the morning and end late at night. The morning Mass usually generates a combination of some college students and a population that draws from a local community. Sometimes parents come to visit their daughter or son and seize the opportunity to celebrate with the Sunday morning worship crowd, either in the morning or at the evening liturgy. When college music ministers commute to work from a distance, they work throughout Sunday beginning at 8:00 AM, to travel, prepare and rehearse, work through the day in their office or on campus at some event and end the day at 11:00 PM and beyond, when liturgies end and students just want to hang out and talk after Mass. Sundays on campus make rigorous bodily demands on college pastoral musicians, especially if the music program includes choir and ensemble and the work includes liturgical duties. The work can be very rewarding but extremely demanding.

    So what’s the common theme in all this? College campus music ministry takes work. If ‘work’ becomes the operative word and locates it within a theological context, what does the word ‘work’ mean? Jesus asks for opinions, so I offer mine here. The word ‘work’ translates to ‘labor’ within the Christian context. Does the labor of college campus ministry frighten away pastoral musicians, good ones, because of its rigorous hours, its demands of self service, the counter cultural message of love without cost? Who will love and do this work? I wonder at the future of this beautiful ministry within the rich blessing of working with young people. A good pastoral musician within college campus ministry contains the potential to unlock the closed doors of young hearts and allow the imaginative Spirit of God to transform not only a college campus but the music minister who serves it.

    What is your opinion, Jesus asks? “Go and work in the vineyard.” Some say no but after a change of heart, decides to go and serve, offer the gifts given that can build up the reign of God. So say, “Yes, I’ll go work in the vineyard,” but change their minds after they decide that they might be entitled to a bit more than what the work offers, that it may even require that they empty themselves and take the ‘form of a slave’, and that may be just a bit more than they signed up for when they heard the summons of Christ in the call of ministry.

    What is your opinion? Do we do what we believe and act out of that belief? How do we allow the Spirit of God to activate our gifts and put ourselves at the disposal of the people we serve, including college students? What will the future of pastoral college music ministry look like if we put our creature comforts first rather than the labor of love that ministry requires? Will our colleges be empty of pastoral musicians because of the current culture of entitlement? Do we accept personal responsibility for living an obedient faith? How will we teach this to college students unless they see it physically embodied within their own campus ministers? Does the work of ministry scare us away from full immersion into the call of Christ to serve in the vineyar of college students?

    What is your opinion?