It was my honor to attend the Campus Making ministry conference, May 7-9 in Guelph, Canada. There were many facets of the three-day retreat that will leave a lasting impression on me, not the least of which was the fact it fell on my first consecutive days above 70 degrees Fahrenheit in 2013! The purpose of the retreat was for people invested in campus ministries from campuses across Canada and the United States to gather and experience God in community. This included worshiping together, attending workshops tackling controversial topics, eating meals together, swapping stories around a campfire and several keynote addresses by the author, Andy Crouch. For me, the conference proved to be a much-needed break from my regular schedule as a graduate student in addition to a spiritual renewal for my dedication to the Campus Edge ministry at Michigan State University.
The specific location of the conference was the Crieff Hills Conference Center, where their tagline is, “A place apart.” I was struck by how easily the center lived up to this promise, primarily by having miles (or kilometers perhaps, we were in Canada after all) of trails to roam, and extremely limited Internet access. Technology in general is often demonized for constructing barriers between people in this world of personalized entertainment and the constant barrage of e-mails that demand our attention over the people sitting in the same room as us. Having those links intentionally severed was very liberating. And having the opportunity to run over some trails through the forest combined with freedom from my electronic leash did much to clear my head.
Given a wonderful setting to encounter the glory of God’s creation, the only other ingredient for a conference is filling the space with awesome people. And the people that gathered with us at Crieff Hills fit that bill to a ‘T’. It was a mix of graduate students, undergraduates, campus ministers, retired ministers, spouses, old, young, Pentecostal, Christian Reformed, the list goes on and on. I was really blown away by the variety of people in attendance. It was thoroughly refreshing to spend time with people outside of my typical departmental and even institutional bubble. In fact, Americans were in the minority at this conference, and I can’t remember the last time I attended a meeting where that was the case! The real value of that diversity, for me, came in conversations with people from so many miles away, both geographically and spiritually in terms of faith journeys. To hear all of us discuss the same topics and be able to offer guidance to one another was a very satisfying experience. I know it will also be a source of courage the next time we face a challenge at MSU, knowing full well that so many brothers and sisters on campuses across North America are facing the same struggles with us.
The actual title for the conference was “Campus Making: Playing with Power.” Our unifying theme was that we all felt called to share the gospel with those around us on our respective campuses, a powerful mandate indeed. To that end, there were keynote addresses by the author, Andy Crouch, and many workshops focusing on issues that are highly relevant to a body of believers reaching out to the campus community structure. Both of these activities gave me abundant food for thought, and while I did not agree with everything that was said, I took my discomfort as an indicator that I was plugged in and actively participating in what was going on around me. And for anyone that knows me and my potent sweet-tooth, the candy the organizers provided at each keynote was quite literally the icing on the cake for those times we gathered together to engage with what Andy had to say.
In the end, the conference boiled down to just a few key components for me. It was a time for me to experience community with other individuals who, like me, desire to grow campus ministry. It was also a time for me to worship with, and get to know better, the people that lead my campus ministry with me. As we participate in different worship bodies back at MSU, I enjoyed having time together with my comrades at Campus Edge and simply praising God. I am very thankful for the opportunity I had to set aside a few days to focus solely on our creator and how he can use us in his good works. And ultimately, as a result of the conference, I am more eagerly than ever anticipating another year of ministering to graduate students at Michigan State University.