On Presbyterian (USA) Campus Ministry and Gorillas

So, I tried to harness Patch Adams today. Don’t know if you’ve seen that movie, but there’s this one scene in particular that I really like. Patch is all about making connections in crazy ways, whether he’s putting a clown nose on or throwing a lady in a pool of noodles. But there’s this one point in the film where he’s talking about treating “the person” and not “the disease.” And he’s looking for creative ways to start relationships with people… or, in this case, just to make people smile. Here’s the clip (sorry the clip is kind of grainy, but it’s doable):

Well, there we were at Get On Board Day today. Our table was right in the middle of one campus ministry booth after the other. You name it, they were probably there. And I kept thinking, “If I were a student, I’d be pretty overwhelmed by God right now… and not necessarily in a good way.” I’m telling you, it was just one pamphlet or postcard or coozie after the other.

So, I wanted to break it up a bit, and the only natural thing to do was to get the monkey mask out of my car’s trunk (yes, I have a monkey suit in my car at ALL times… why? Wrong question. The right thing to ask would be ‘why not’). You know, shake things up a little. Pull a Patch Adams and see what people’s response might be.

Caleb's monkeying around... sorry, couldn't resist

Caleb's monkeying around... sorry, couldn't resist

(Side note: I think it would have been more interesting if we had the whole monkey suit on and we were chasing people around and then asking them if they knew Jesus, but it was too dang hot… aaaaand that would have freaked people out. But it would have been memorable.)

Needless to say, the responses were interesting. Most of my students were like, “Why do you want to scare people off?” I was like, “You’re missing the point!” Some people just looked and smiled. Others laughed. Still others just walked by like there was nothing to see. One guy even asked why we had a prop from Planet of the Apes at our table. I couldn’t come up with anything witty. I’m still mad at myself about that.

But it was interesting today watching as people filed by, through this gauntlet of God. Some people were genuinely interested. Some just wanted a free cup and coozie. But a vast majority of people avoided eye contact altogether.

And I found myself asking the question (which is what I do, obviously), “How does one make genuine, authentic, memorable connection with somebody?” And I also started wondering about what we, as a denomination, can do to avoid just being another table in the line, another face in the crowd, another institution (I hate that word… maybe b/c it’s frightening to think of myself as “institutional”) to pass by because people question our importance and relevance.

I really do believe the PC(USA) is doing some good things now with campus ministry. I think we still have a lot of ground to make up because, from what I can tell (which ain’t much, mind you), we’ve done kind of a crap job (for the most part, but not completely) in the last 10-20 years of reaching out to students. But there are some hopeful signs.

All of which is to say that we may have to think outside of the box on this one. Making connection ain’t easy. Trust me… even wearing just a gorilla mask in August grows pretty uncomfortable. But, if that’s what it takes…

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~ by presbytide on August 26, 2009.

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