Thursday, October 30, 2014

View from the Plaza Prayer Station: Slowing Down

After several 80 degree days, storms passed through last night bringing cooler temperatures.  It's definitely fall now, leaves are changing colors and falling off the trees, and today I had to chase the sun with the prayer station because it was too chilly to sit in the shade.  For Homecoming I had purchased a CNU sweatshirt, and I was grateful for its warmth as the breeze whipped across the Plaza today and clouds blocked the sun at times.  I really do need to come up with my winter plan because one of these Thursdays will be rainy and/or much colder.  I'm hesitant to head inside, however, because I will instantly become much less visible. 

It was slow today at the prayer station, but I have made my peace with that.  Visitors seem to come in waves that correspond to the waves of papers and tests.  I actually had some time for quiet prayer for CNU and the community here. Fewer people brought their lunches into the Plaza today, and the tables and chairs had been shifted into sun spots.  One of the skateboard dudes, turned biker dude for today, stopped by to say he had too much writing to do so he couldn't stay and chat, but he said he would look forward to hanging out next week.  Today I brought candy, in honor of Halloween, and a couple of students who have chatted with me before said hello and picked up a treat.

I've struggled a bit with the public privacy of the prayer station and how much to share here in the public space of an Internet blog.  The station is in a public space, and anyone passing by can see me say prayers with people.  But the prayer requests themselves are private, and so I don't post them here, even in a way that can't be traced back to the person making the request.  I want the prayer station to be a safe space, and I don't want anyone to discover their private stories posted on the web.  Today one of my walk-by students who had popped over for a prayer previously stopped by to follow up.  I was glad for my sunglasses because my eyes filled with tears as this student shared some good news and then threw her arms around me in a big hug.  I hadn't expected to see her again or to know what had happened, but I had kept her request in my prayers and hoped for the best.  What a blessing to have her reappear and give me the update.  I'm so grateful that God put me in the right place at the right time to be present to her need.

Students also continue to ask me about the Episcopal Church and what makes it different from other churches.  Most of the students I talk to come from evangelical and/or non-denominational traditions.  They are curious, interested, and I hope that some of them will take me up on my invitation to come to Eucharist on Thursday afternoons.  So far no one has, but I have hope that as they grow more comfortable with me they may find the courage to try something new.  I remember in seminary theology class being asked to come up with an "elevator pitch" for the Episcopal Church that we could give in 2 minutes or less.  Seems like I need to perfect that for this setting. 

People continue to walk by the station and smile.  Some furrow their brows as they read the sign, and some move on quickly as if scared I might force a prayer on them.  Some have gotten used to me and greet me as they would anyone else they know on campus.  I'm starting to feel like I belong, and I try to stay open to whatever will come on a given day. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

View from the Tailgate: Try New Things

Canterbury and St. Stephen's tailgated on Saturday for CNU's Homecoming game.  It was my first time to tailgate.  Last year I had gotten together a Canterbury Support Team from St. Stephen's to help me brainstorm ways the parish could be more involved in ministry to the students, and one of the ideas that came up was tailgating.  It sounded cool, but I had no clue what to do.  Fortunately the person who had suggested it did know and was willing to help.  As it was too late in the year last year, we decided to do it this fall, and Saturday was the only football game we both had free.  It probably would have been better to try it out on a regular game day - Homecoming was a zoo!  We ended up in the overflow tailgating lot because we came arrived later in the day, but it worked out perfectly.  There was a band in our area, and we got to park under the trees on the grass.  It was much less crowded than the main area.  It probably decreased our visibility, but it was a comfortable spot.

We had a few parishioners from St. Stephen's come hang out with us as well as members of the Canterbury Club.  Everyone had a good time eating, chatting, and enjoying the day. A few of us even went to the football game and watched all the Homecoming activities, including fireworks!  Watching the Homecoming Court walk out onto the field at halftime reminded me of my shining moment of glory at Sewanee.  It's still hard for me to believe that actually happened.

I knew tailgating was a good idea, but I was very nervous because I didn't know how to do it, and I couldn't do it by myself.  I had to rely on other people - who did a splendid job!  And how much easier it was to share the load.  I didn't know it would be so hard to park and that there would be so many people and that parking at the church really was kind of far away while lugging heavy things and not knowing exactly where I was going.  But somehow through texts and FaceBook and everyone bringing something to share, it turned out to be a great event.  We didn't get the visibility that I had hoped for, but we learned a lot and had fun doing it, and now we're poised for next year.  We took the Plaza Prayer Station Sign with us so that we would be identifiable.  We were present.  We tried something new.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

View from the Plaza Prayer Station: Minds Fixed on God

O God, you will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are 
fixed on you; for in returning and rest we shall be saved; in 
quietness and trust shall be our strength.    Isaiah 26:3; 30:15
I arrived at the Prayer Station in a terrible mood.  Events of the morning, which do not need to be detailed here, had caused both sadness and disappointment as well as some pretty intense anger.  As I hauled my sign out to the Plaza, I was not feeling the love.  I won't say that steam was literally coming out of my ears, but I felt as if it should be.  As I sat down I knew I had to do something to get centered and come present to where I was.  It didn't seem like offering prayers in anger would be my best course of action.  I texted a friend and asked her to pray that I might find some love in my heart.

This past weekend at St. Stephen's Oktoberfestival, a parishioner's sister had given me a beautiful Anglican rosary with a fairy stone cross and green beads.  I took it out and hung onto it like a safety blanket, using the stones to ground me (pun intended.)  Starting with the Lord's Prayer, I began to pray and realized my mind was not settling down.  So I pulled out my trusty BCP (Book of Common Prayer) and turned to the noonday devotions for individuals and families.  The words of the opening Psalm started to calm me down, but it was the short passage from Isaiah that moved me to a place of serenity:  "O God, you will keep in perfect peace those whose minds arefixed on you; for in returning and rest we shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be our strength."  I breathed deeply as I recognized the words from the Prayer for Quiet Confidence, one of my favorite collects in the BCP.  Keep my mind fixed on God.  That's where I'll find peace.

Before I could finish reading the rest of the short devotion, a student came up and asked if I was the person who worked at St. Stephen's.  He said he was interested in coming to a service on Sunday but didn't have any experience of the Episcopal Church.  So we sat down and chatted about the structure of the service and what he could expect if he came.  It was one of the quickest answers to prayer I have ever experienced.  It never ceases to amaze me how I can pray and pray and pray about one thing and not seem to get an answer but then in a moment of need in a different situation, an answer comes almost before I can finish saying, "Help me, help me, help me."  As I turned my attention to the skateboard dudes and others who came over to chat, I was able to let go a bit of my frustration and anger.  Isaiah's reminder to keep my mind fixed on God was timely.  I know I've read this devotion at other times, but I had forgotten that was the scripture reading in it.  My job isn't to worry about other people's business; my job is to keep my mind fixed on God, and if I do, I will find peace.  Also, asking God to smite people probably isn't the best way to keep my mind fixed on God!

It's Homecoming week at CNU.  The Plaza was lined with signs that campus organizations had made in honor of the week.  On Saturday Episcopal Campus Ministries will be tailgating for the first time.  One of the skateboard dudes said he'd come by to visit us.  He also asked me to tell him the next time I'll be preaching at St. Stephen's because he wants to come listen.  It was a good day at the Plaza, and I'm grateful that I didn't let what had happened earlier ruin it for me.  I'm glad I had the sense to open my Prayer Book when I needed some help.  I'm delighted that the students continue to hang out with me and share their lives.  Mostly I'm grateful that God brought that promised peace and reminded me that my best choice is always to fix my mind on my Creator.

Friday, October 17, 2014

View from the Plaza Prayer Station: Time Takes Time

New Prayer Station Location  - nice flowers!
In recovery circles we have a saying, "Time takes time."  It seems like a "duh" saying.  But whenever I hear it, I sigh with a deep recognition - right, time does take time, and it doesn't matter how much I want things to move faster, they take the time that they need to take.  Anyone who has tried to build a relationship knows this.  Part of the reason I moved out into the Plaza was to start building relationships.  I have some good relationships with the students who come to the Canterbury meetings and Eucharist - we've had time to spend together and get to know each other.  So why would it be a surprise that the relationships in the Plaza also need time to grow?

Yesterday I was blessed again by a steady stream of visitors, including President Trible who saw the station for the first time.  He thanked me and said, "Please pray for me and for CNU" over his shoulder as he walked into lunch.  I do.  Every week.  In between student visits, during my "campus prayer time," I usually start with him and the administration and then faculty, staff, and students, before heading on to other intercessory prayers.  But I'm finding I have less time for quiet prayer. 

I had a few more "drive by" prayer requests yesterday, students who make a beeline for me, stay standing, and usually ask for prayer for a loved one who is sick or suffering.  These students are often in a hurry, on their way to class or a meeting, but their loved one is heavy on their hearts and so they ask for a prayer.  I don't know them before they come over, and I don't know if I'll ever encounter them again.  We pray for them and their loved ones during the Prayers of the People at Eucharist later in the day, too. Last year Becca Stevens, who is the chaplain at Vanderbilt, told me that I should never feel bad about a ministry of presence.  She said, "They'll find you when they need you."  It seems like they are.  Even when I feel invisible, they are taking notice. 

I also had a continual flow of "chair chatters," people who plop right down in the chair beside me and start to share.  Sometimes they make casual conversation, and other times they start pouring out whatever is troubling them at the moment.  Sometimes they ask me questions; they're so curious about my college experience and what I think about what's going on in their lives.  We talk about vocational discernment, relationships, plans for the future, academic stress, leadership of small groups, and campus events.  Most of them asked me about my fall break and what I had done.

One young woman hadn't come by in a few weeks and said she realized that today was Thursday and she would get to see me.  "I don't know you very well, but I just want to hang out with you."  High praise, in my mind.  I had been wondering where she had been as I had missed seeing her on previous days.  She was living her life.  It takes time to build relationships, and these students have so much on their plates. Today we got to "hang out" and get to know each other a little better. 

Time takes time.  It takes time to find the best spot for this ministry - a spot that's visible but not in the way, with the appropriate amount of shade or sun.  Soon it will start to get cold, and I'll need to relocate again.  It will probably take time for the students to re-find me when I do.  It takes time to build trust, to learn enough information that I don't repeatedly ask what someone's major is or where they're from.  It takes time to establish presence - that I'm not a creepy stalker priest or an "in your face" religious person, that I'm safe and supportive and willing to listen.  It takes time to know and be known.  What a blessing to have this time.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

View from the Plaza Prayer Station: Twinkies, Seed Planting, and Fall Break

Activities in the Plaza
I haven't had a chance to blog about last week's time at the Plaza Prayer Station because I left immediately afterward to begin my journey to Georgia for my mother's 70th birthday party.  But it was another amazing day with beautiful weather and a fairly constant stream of students.  It felt a little like a festival in the Plaza - three groups had set up before I arrived.  The sorority Pinktober lemonade stand was back on the opposite side of the Plaza, and on the side I usually sit on were the Student Assembly and a fraternity raising money for the Special Olympics.  Many more people were hanging out and passing through.  I learned that mid-terms were over for many students though some still had one or two to take.  But there was a lightness that hadn't been there the week before that I think had to do with the closeness of fall break.  I set up in a new location, much closer to the door of the DSU (David Student Union).

Leftover Twinkies
At one point in the afternoon, I noticed a large group had gathered around the fraternity tent.  Music played loudly, and it looked like the crowd was watching something.  I wondered if it was some kind of dancing or flash mob type thing.  Though I couldn't see what was going on,  I later learned that it had been a twinkie-eating contest.  I think that the winner ate 9 twinkies in 1 minute.  Someone came over with the leftover twinkies and said, "Would you like a twinkie, ma'am?"  (It's still hard for me to be comfortable being a "ma'am.")  I took one and, of course, was sorry that I had when I bit into it.  They have not gotten better since the last one I tried!

Skateboard dudes hung out with me as well as some students I hadn't met previously.  It was a blend of students asking for prayers and students who settled in to my extra chair for a chat.  I felt deeply honored by the conversations that I had with some of the students.  One talked to me about the challenges of planting seeds - how one never knows what, if anything, will grow.  He asked me if I'd ever planted any seeds in my life that had born fruit 20 or 30 years later.  (I'm not sure how old he thinks I am!)  I was able to share with him stories of my time in the theatre and how so many people there were "refugees from religion" and how I preached the gospel to them without words but just by living my life as best I could, going to church and sharing my experiences.  Since leaving theatre I have received several emails and letters from people who told me that my example had led them back to church.  I had no idea I was having that impact at the time.  Certainly wasn't what I was trying to do, and yet I'm so grateful to hear those stories.  Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth (1 Cor. 3:6).  It is a blessing when we get to see that growth.
Canterburian Megan with sign

The previous week I had felt a bit discouraged by the lack of student visitors, and I thought maybe my seeds weren't going to to grow after all, but last Thursday, the station was overflowing.  Some of the students who came for a chat ended by asking for a prayer about what we had discussed.  Everyone who stopped by seemed to leave feeling blessed.  What they may not know is how blessed I feel that they take time out of their day to come up to a "ma'am" and share their lives and concerns and anxieties and joys with me.  I don't fix anything for them, I just listen and sometimes ask questions and every now and then I intentionally plant a seed.  It's up to God, of course, to give the growth, but I try to keep planting faithfully, praying that I'll get to continue seeing the growth each week and also knowing that there are times when the seeds are buried deep in the ground and need more time to sprout. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

View from the Plaza Prayer Station: Walk Humbly with Your God

On Thursday I headed out into the Plaza with high hopes.  I'd received so much publicity and positive feedback about the prayer station in the past week.  It might have gone to my head just a bit.  Not to worry.  There are always new opportunities for humility.

When I got to the Plaza I noticed that I would be sharing the space with one of the campus sororities.  They were giving away pink lemonade as one of their "Pinktober" events to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research. "My" spot was available, so I set up my sign and chairs, ate my granola bar and eagerly awaited my first visitors.  I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  It seemed like there weren't as many people in the Plaza.  No skateboard dudes.  Not as many students eating their lunch outside.  Well, mid-terms are next week, I thought.  Maybe everyone is studying. 

The longer I sat without visitors, the more I had to remind myself that my primary purpose in sitting there is to pray.  And I can do that whether individuals come up to me or not.  So I did pray, for all the students I know and the concerns that have been brought to me in past weeks, for faculty, administration and staff, for other campus ministries, for seminaries, especially General, and for any other concerns that came to my mind.  I prayed with my rosary.  I prayed noonday prayer and the noonday family devotions.  I tried to radiate a sense of peace and calm for those who might be anxious or taking tests.  I imagined a wave of love emanating from the Plaza and extending throughout the campus.  At one point I got up and went over to the "Drink Pink" booth for a cup of pink lemonade.  I made a donation in honor of my mom who is a two-time survivor and whose 70th birthday is this week. 

Posing with President Trible
I tried not to be disappointed. I also tried not to over-analyze whether my spot is in the best locationor whether I need to move.  It seemed like the women of Zeta Tau Alpha were having similar issues, though more people wanted free lemonade than prayers. I watched as they tried to figure out how to get more visitors to their booth.  They were very excited when President Trible came over and posed for a picture with them.  I heard them wondering whether a different entrance to the Student Union might have more traffic.  When one of them started to walk away, I heard another say, "Don't leave," and I smiled.  It's a little scary out there in the Plaza on your own.  Best not to do it alone!

As I sat there I remembered that I wasn't alone either.  So many people were praying for me and for the ministry.  And of course, God is there too.  At our Canterbury meetings we've been talking about where we've encountered God during the week.  I've noticed that most of us tend to share moments of happiness or answered prayers.  We tend to associate God's presence with times of joy and positive outcomes.  But is God any less present when a chaplain sits and prays for a campus by herself than when students flock up to her?  Do we only thank God when we get what we want or when it goes better than expected?  As I've reflected on this week's time at the prayer station, I've come to realize that God may have been present in a very different way, but in the midst of all my expectations, it was hard to see.

It had been an exciting but exhausting week for me at both my ministry sites.  Lots of publicity, pictures with the governor, long nights of working on an essay for a contest, and a bit of an intestinal thingy that wasn't serious but left me feeling a little weak and not able to eat much.  I was longing for rest and renewal.  And isn't that what I received as I sat in a comfortable chair on a beautiful day watching the clouds drift and praying for the well-being of others?  A gift of rest.  A gift of time just to be.  It didn't feed my ego.  But it did feed my soul.  So my prayer this week for those at CNU and any others who need it is that you will also receive the gift of some "still time," time for being, time for waiting, time for walking humbly with God.  May you be open to the gift of that time, and may it nourish and restore you.