by Northern Arizona Universty Campus Minister Rev. Kathleen Day
Blanketed in more than 3 feet of snow, we bring you greetings of peace, love and gratitude from United Christian Ministry at NAU! Last year we shared that we were setting aside some long standing and loved traditions to see what opportunities for reaching students and deepening faith and work in the world might come from letting go of some loved practices and traditions and freeing up some resources. We have moved from weekly dinners to “better than snacks but not quite dinner” for our weekly gathering, but sometimes it’s still a robust meal. Entwined in our Gospel practices is stewardship of our resources and stewardship of the earth. We have a modest community garden and are mindful about the ways in which we consume; avoiding as best we can food grown or raised in a way that defies the giftedness of the earth and our responsibility to be good stewards. Our prep time of washing, slicing and presenting healthy fruits, vegetables, soups, and simple meals; the grace and conversation has become a beautiful liturgy of deep communion. For students, it’s so refreshing to enjoy simple, fresh and healthy food around the table with friends. This also allowed more time in the evening for Bible studies and conversation, and this fall moved into a time we call Sanctuary. With community friends who are helping with music, we now host a Thursday eve (5:15-5:40) simple service with guitar, singing, prayers, Scripture, shared reflection, communion and blessing. Students are creating sacred space and helping with liturgy and although still of modest size, our gathering is intergenerational, drawing folks from campus and community. Afterwards, there is a student gathering, although the “old folks” seem to want to linger as well. Our hearts are so full, feeling blessed by the Spirit to be in community in this way, filled with God’s loving, redemptive and Calling grace. Sanctuary draws us closer to God in Christ, but it is also deepening our relationships among students and with students and community friends that are generous with their practices of faith, friendship, wisdom and compassion.
As our ministry continues to engage in issues related to just peace, we had the opportunity to partner with student life, a campus foundation and the Presbyterian Peacemakers to host two very special guests for our conversation dinners and a campus-wide screening of the documentary, Theo Who Lived, as part of this year’s Kayla Mueller Legacy Conversations: Peace in the Middle East. We hosted Areej Masoud, a young Christian woman and peace maker from Bethlehem, Palestine for a lunch and dinner conversations and to share her story at the adult education at Federated church. Areej shared what occupation meant to her as a Palestinian Christian living in Bethlehem, and the crisis of faith she encountered as she moved through her teen years and tried to reconcile a “good, just and loving God” with the violence, fear and injustice she witnessed and experienced. She spoke about coming to a deeper understanding of “loving your enemies” and understanding that as a commitment to nonviolence but also “speaking truth to power” because loving others is also calling them to be God’s people in “doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with their God.” As we waved good-bye to Areej at Sky Harbor we welcomed Theo Padnos, an independent journalist held hostage for 2 years in Syria by Al Qaueda and released in September 2014. We screened Theo’s documentary along with a “talk back” and a couple of dinner conversations and guest appearance in several classes. Although held hostage and tortured for two years, Theo advocates not for revenge but to build relationships, foster understanding and move toward ending the cycle of violence. Theo emphatically states that the US practice of torture led to the brutal torture he endured as hostage—often using the exact methods of torture that we imposed post-9/11 and which our Senator and former POW, John McCain has worked to end. Theo’s documentary is now available on Netflix, we highly recommend it as a way of understanding the violence of extremists through the eyes of one of their victims. We engaged with approximately 300 students, community members, faculty and church partners through these conversations and our understanding was deepened from the many different voices we heard. In addition, we raised $300.00 that was matched by a $700.00 donation from Kayla’s Hands Foundation for support of Yazidi women and children who have been rescued or escaped from ISIS. In August, our campus minister, Rev. Kathleen Day accompanied the Muellers to Germany to meet the Yazidi women held with Kayla Mueller to hear their story. We continue our friendship and partnership with these courageous survivors and their advocates. This summer we spent quite a bit of time with ABC World News to help tell Kayla’s story in their 20/20 segment: The Girl Left Behind. http://abcnews.go.com/International/fullpage/brian-ross-investigates-kayla-mueller-girl-left-41600838.
With the success of our fall programs, we are again partnering with a campus based Institute to host another campus guest for a dinner conversation, having become a respected sanctuary for these important but difficult conversations. We will be hosting Eric Fair, author of Consequence: A Memoir. Mr. Fair had plans of attending seminary and becoming a Presbyterian pastor or a career in law enforcement that would allow him to protect other people. Instead, he became an interrogator at Abu Ghraib—he describes his role as “a torturer” at Abu Ghraib. Our theme is The Cost of War-our tortured conscience and the cycle of violence that threatens our safety and our humanity. We will wrestle with conversation about contrition, forgiveness, Christianity and war; individual and collective guilt and how we might move forward to end the cycle of violence that war brings. Can he/we be forgiven? Can we/they forgive? We’ll discuss forgiveness beyond a sentimental understanding; forgiveness, grace and reconciliation through the lens of Christian theological reflection. Although still a Christian, Eric Fair does not believe he can be forgiven because he has too great of a debt to pay. My hope is that this special evening will help us better understand the moral consequence of torture, and that we can help Eric Fair better understand God’s redemptive love and grace in Christ.
You might think we go looking for trouble and despair, actually, it seems to come looking for us because places of sanctuary that can hold holy conversations are desperately needed, and the North District along with our church partners and conference and ecumenical partners make that happen at NAU and our campus ministry students gain these important skills and experiences that allow communities to move beyond tragedy, grief and despair to deepening understandings that can foster hope and healing. In addition to these conversations, we have been approached by Muslim human rights leaders in DC and California to speak about political prisoners and human rights and we are working on those details. Rev. Kathleen Day, our campus minister, has been guest speaker at two such events in Dallas and D.C. this year.
In addition to worship and engagement we are looking forward to a spring retreat. We have plans for hiking, cross country skiing and an overnight in a Yurt. We also have plans for our annual Fat Tuesday-pancake supper and jazz night. So we hope to gather in friendship and joy that grounded in worship we can continue to engage with the brokenness of the world with Christ’s hope, grace and love.
Spring always holds the difficult task of saying good-bye to our seniors and we feel that weight as the spring semester unfolds, and this year is as difficult as any has ever been. We have been blessed with the leadership, friendship and talents of Lydia Devereaux from the North District, a beautiful, talented and faithful soul that has touched many lives and as one of our student leaders and student intern. We will miss her but her impact on our ministry will continue.
For your prayers, your support, your friendship we continue to be grateful and strive to be faith-filled stewards of God’s grace and your support.