Building trust through personal sacrifice

The Kingdom of Heaven arrives on earth when people are willing to sacrifice for each other, act as servants to each other and trust each other.

The diocesan campus ministers had a problem. New and old ministries had submitted grant requests totaling $62,000. We only had $43,000 to give away. When we came together in June to allocate grants, we knew that we’d have to make sacrifices and hard choices. We’d been working for three years to build an authentic community, a community of mentorship and trust. To me, this felt like our first real test.

In some ways campus ministry is research and development for the church as a whole. Because our communities change every year as students matriculate and graduate, we have a great deal of freedom to experiment and try to find answers to the questions that are important to all Christians as we move into a new age for the church, a time of disruption and growth of new traditions that Diana Butler Bass has called a “new reformation.” But because we’re experimenting, some experiments won’t work at all, or will fail in the places where we try to implement them.

When the campus ministers first came together in 2012 and began to create a grant-making process, we decided that absolute honesty about our successes and our failures was paramount. If we were to learn from and mentor each other, we needed to learn from each other’s mistakes as much as from each other’s successes. And we realized that a failed experiment in one context might work extremely well in another. We wanted to borrow ideas from each other, and get into the nitty-gritty of those ideas so that we could finesse them.

We made two other key decisions at the birth of this process. The first was to use grant money as a way of building our nascent community. We realized that the foremost barrier to community formation was finding the time to participate. People who were leading very active ministries might put collaboration with other campuses very low on their to-do list. But if we wanted to build a mentorship community, we had to find a way to incentivize them to prioritize collaboration. So we decided that ministries that received grant monies would be expected to participate in at least one of two Campus Ministry summits during the year. If they failed to participate, they wouldn’t receive grant money the following year.

The second key decision was to acknowledge that we knew more about campus ministry than people who weren’t engaged on campus. In some dioceses, grant-making committees are entirely made-up of those who aren’t involved in the ministries that they’re funding. There are benefits to this, such as impartiality, but we thought that the drawbacks outweighed the benefits by a large margin. People who aren’t involved in a particular type of ministry probably won’t understand it enough to be able to make good decisions about funding it. A grant-making committee full of people who had been chaplains a decade ago, or who were part of ministries when they were students, might tend to favor what they knew and allocate monies to those ministries that looked and acted like the campus ministries of the past. To truly have leeway to experiment, we needed experimenters to allocate the grants, as well as people with deep knowledge of current conditions on campus. So we decided to risk trusting each other, and created a system wherein all of the ministries that had received grants in the past year could have a voice in allocating grants for the next year. To try to preserve some of the benefits of impartiality, we decided to invite three non-stakeholders to join us every year, with the thought that they would ask the kind of outsider questions that any healthy community needs to keep it honest.

This emphasis on openness, mentorship and community building has led to the growth of campus ministries throughout the diocese. When we first met to form our collaborative network in the autumn of 2012, only the three campus ministries linked to the parishes that Bishop Hobson built were represented: St. Stephen’s, on the campus of Ohio State University; Good Shepherd, across the street from Ohio University; and Holy Trinity, a few blocks from Miami University. Having benefited from the stability of these parishes, the campus ministers who gathered at that autumn meeting wondered how we could expand beyond those campuses and help foster strong ministries in other places, while bringing other existing ministries into our network. Within a few months, we were in contact with Calvary, Clifton, which was doing stellar work at the University of Cincinnati. We discovered a historic diocesan relationship with the Downtowners Campus Ministry in Columbus, which serves five campuses in the downtown area. We asked the Edge House, the Lutheran campus ministry at UC, to come into our network, and they obliged. We partnered with St. Matthew’s in Westerville and the Church of the Good Samaritan in Amelia to launch experiments in new campus ministry forms at Otterbein and UC Clermont. By the autumn of 2014 we were able to collaborate together on planning a retreat for all of our students.

While it was clear that we each benefited from our participation in this community, I didn’t know how much we’d be willing to sacrifice for each other. A $19,000 deficit in grant money required large sacrifices, and everyone would have to give up something. When we met this June, we followed our usual practice of going through the grant requests and saying what we liked and found inspiring about each, and what we questioned and found problematic about each. This is a way of learning from each other’s dreams and activities, providing some constructive criticism and building trust. So when we got to the hard part and had to actually start allocating the money, we had a good sense of what the community found most exciting and pertinent in our ministries. We began to make cuts, trimming pieces away from each grant, but only rejecting one request outright (from a ministry that hadn’t been to any summit meetings during the course of the year). Again and again, people found places where they could take money out of their requests, even if this meant that a particular piece of their vision would go unfunded or have to seek funding from other sources.

At the end of this winnowing process, we remained a community. More than that, I came away from the meeting with a real sense of blessing, and the feeling that a key theological idea had been affirmed by our work together. The Kingdom of Heaven arrives on earth when people are willing to sacrifice for each other, act as servants to each other and trust each other.

Karl Stevens serves as campus missioner in the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Contact him at