“The public university is a place where God's grace and transforming power is making itself known.” That thought, from campus chaplain Ethan van der Leek, is what fuels Christian Reformed campus ministers in their work across more than 35 campuses in Canada and the U.S. They recently gathered in Vancouver, B.C., collectively considering ‘What are the unique challenges for campus ministry today?.’
With a background of James K. A Smith’s book How (Not) to be Secular (an accessible summary of A Secular Age by Charles Taylor), participants met over three days having conversations, attending panel discussions, and being hosted by three local CRC congregations.
Craig Gay, professor of interdisciplinary studies at Regent College in Vancouver, led the keynote address, focusing on how leaders might cultivate and be attentive to the experience of God in the often closed and skeptical settings in which they minister.
Bernadette Arthur, of the CRC’s Office of Race Relations, and other Canadian ministry staff hosted sessions on intercultural competency and how to make space for minority voices. Todd Statham, chaplain at the University of British Columbia - Okanagan, led a multi-faith panel discussing how we engage the secular world from within each faith tradition in the spirit of Christ-like hospitality.
Van der Leek, who ministers on the campus of Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, B.C., was one of the event’s organizers. “Campus ministry is difficult challenging work…often surrounded by many people who do not share our faith and are either hostile to it or, perhaps more likely, disinterested. So as we each foster and lead Christian community on our different campus, we are always in need of prayer and encouragement so that we can be attentive to how the Holy Spirit is acting in our hearts and on our campuses,“ he said. And so space and time were created for encouraging and praying for each other.
Fleetwood CRC in Surrey and First CRC and The Tapestry in Vancouver stepped up to host evening meals for the gathering. Sessions and meetings were held at Carey Theological College. First CRC also hosted an evening of stories including reflections from Brock University retiring CRC campus minister, Andre Basson, and a concert given by Van der Leek’s own folk band, The Translators.
Van der Leek reflected on the enduring blessing of the conference, which welcomed about 40 participants. “The sense of comradery in the joys and struggles is a powerful motivator, as we return to our own contexts scattered across long distances.”
Editor's note: This online story originally misnamed the session delivered by Bernadette Arthur. It was updated on June 5 to correctly name the sessions facilitated or co-facilitated by Arthur and to add that Todd Statham led the multi-faith panel.