<edit> This post was started about a week ago, and has been sitting on my hard drive. With things being as busy as they have been I haven’t been able to update my Xanga as often as I’d like. </edit>
While I was away at my “weekend at Dave’s”, it seemed that the world did, in fact, turn while I was away. Not just turned, but spun, and I don’t think anything spun as fast as the latest University Ministry Advisory Council (or UMAC) drama that took place.
So much has happened, I’m really even really sure where to go begin. It all surrounds a meeting that took place last Thursday, where a small group of students, faculty & parishioners, raised some questions about a memo written by the “student representative” on our building committee. I quoted “student representative” because while the author of the memo claims as such, he has not been a student for 2-3 years. While I personally did not agree with the motive, content, or message in the memo, the group raised some valid concerns about the credibility and legitimacy of the memo. Specifically, we were concerned because the student claimed in the memo that a survey of 100 students had taken place, in which they stated the reason they are not involved with our student group or attend our church is due to the fact that our worship space is unattractive and needs to be renovated.
After a lengthy discussion, the members of the council agreed that we would send the building committee a memo that would highlight some of our concerns addressed, not stating any official stance regarding the issues in question. Because we did not have all members present (and to be fair, no members of the campus ministry staff present), we decided that this would not be an official position statement, but rather highlight issues by some of the memos. Additionally, the chairperson and author of the response asked to email his message to all UMAC members for comments before sending it on to the building committee.
Our chairperson drafted a very nice, straight forward and detailed response, one which I had felt was fair. Unfortunately these sentiments were not shared with the University Ministry staff, and resulting in a scathing letter from one of the University Ministry letters. I want to respect the privacy and opinions of all members of the council and therefore will not post any messages but my own on here, but if you’re interested in reading it, perhaps it will give you a sense of what’s going on with this issue, and where I’m coming from on it.
· Read My Email
Since then, numerous emails have gone out, fires have been blazing. The UMAC Chairperson sent out his own response to the message, one which I thought was fairly well-written. Some other responses went out, and finally a lengthy and detailed email from the University Minister.
Since then the issue has tapered, but it looks like UMAC is starting off on another interesting year. At this stage it’s pointless to break down the semantics of this specific issue, but I think these are symptoms of bigger problems:
Issue #1: A statement from the University Minister’s letter states: “In the meantime, I believe [the chairperson’s] statement about UMAC meetings applies to University Ministry as well: members of the council wishing to participate in the advising of University Ministry are encouraged to participate in its events and trust the decisions and programming made by the University Ministry staff.”
I think this is one of the central issues, UMAC in general doesn’t trust the University Ministry staff and the decisions & programming. Frankly, by going through the issues UMAC had (the debate to bring FOCUS to campus, the University Minister Search Process, Director of Campus Ministry search botched and canceled), we’ve been given good reason not to trust the leadership and the decisions and programming made by which. That, combined with the staff’s relative inexperienced (when compared to the previous staff), we’re more apt to second-guess decisions that are made.
I’m not really sure how to rectify this issue. I think that trust needs to be earned, but at the same time, I’m personally guilty in not being giving with my trust in this particular situation. There is blame on both sides, but I think this is an issue that we as a collective council need to work through.
Issue #2: One last excerpt from the UM letter: “Thank you for your hard work in the parish throughout the years and your continued patience and support for University Ministry.”
Someone who is very wise pointed out this statement and posed the question: Do these words describe a healthy, vibrant, collaborative ministry?
I don’t think so. I think that the potential is there – it exists because we’ve experienced this type of ministry in the past. I think we’re on the path back to this model, but I’m not sure how fast we’ve moving in this direction. The passion is there, along with the desire, but I don’t think the experience and wisdom is in place to bring this program back to the prominence that it enjoyed.
That being said, I think UMAC is blessed with those two virtues and has the potential to gift the University Ministry staff with what it needs to successfully move forward. The real issue is – what is the purpose of this council?
My personal vision would be that this group could offer the most accurate representation of University/Campus Ministry to our faith community – internally this can be done by gifting the Staff & Leadership with experience and advice to help run an effective University Ministry program. The staff can take comfort that they are receiving the highest quality advice because the group is made up of students, faculty, and invested parishioners that are well-versed in University Ministry.
At the same time, because of the group’s diversity (with the above said, combined with the UM Staff & Leadership) this group would be the definitive source to offer an accurate “pulse” of Campus Ministry in our parish. Various leadership groups (like the building committee) can come to UMAC and leave knowing they received a well-rounded opinion of how their initiatives will impact all the components of University Ministry.
In relation to the staff, UMAC could offer objective, constructively-critical feedback regarding University Ministry programming, as well as offer support and advice on any issues or situations. The staff should not feel forced to take UMAC’s advice, but rather they feel comfortable in following what is advised, knowing that everyone has the success of University Ministry in their best interests.
However, my fear is that the staff looks to UMAC more like a support group, people who are seated around the table to provide assistance in whatever way they can (through affirmation, financial contribution, prayer, and volunteer efforts). This group’s role is to implement the decisions of the Staff & Leadership have made. The group offers feedback on current initiatives, but this the group does not have any visionary power, nor do they have the ability to speak for University Ministry without the guidance of the Staff & Leadership.
Their vision is not a bad vision. While I disagree with their intentions (or more accurately my perception of their intentions), I think our greatest issue is the role and purpose of UMAC is not defined, or communicated amongst the various individuals within the group. My hope is that in the coming meetings we’ll have an opportunity to ask “Why are we here”, and that we’re all on the same page with our answers. At the same time, if the conclusion of the drawn and (my perception of) their wishes becomes a reality, I think the quality of the minds and hearts of the people sitting around that table will be wasted, and I think many members will leave UMAC, myself included. This committee offers a treasure trove in wisdom and experience; please don’t toss this overboard simply because it’s too heavy of a weight on the staff.