This is a guest post by Jonathan Schott, Assistant Director of Campus Ministry at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY.
We are in a unique position at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY. A new, state of the art chapel is nearing completion, a wholly new staff is nearly in place, and our school is set to welcome its largest class of incoming Freshmen ever in our nearly 70 year history of our institution. Added to this is the almost humorous reality that both myself, as the Assistant Director of Campus Ministry, and our incoming Chaplain/Director of Campus Ministry, while having years of experience in ministerial work at the parish, Catholic school, and diocesan levels—have never had any experience in Catholic Campus Ministry. We very much, as one of our mutual priest friends eloquently put it: "have no idea what we're doing."
This is a really good thing. Our ministry at St. John Fisher College has undergone massive transitions in the past 2 years. Always staffed by the Congregation of St. Basil, the order who founded Fisher, the previous Director died suddenly in early 2016. The previous Director of Worship and Music elected to retire. The Office Manager elected to retire. The appointment process and selection process with the Basilian Fathers for the new Director took months, and the search, hiring, and onboarding of yours truly took months as well and took up work at the College this previous semester.
I was charged, simply, with "get some life happening." As a result of the death of the previous director and retirements, the Campus Ministry was effectively in “hibernation”. This reality wasn’t reaching the vast majority of our nearly 4,000 students—who are ever connected and thrive on active engagement. Mass attendance dwindled. We are grateful for a very small, faithful, and vocal group of students who limped things along until Spring 2017, when I arrived.
The most visible image of this interim period was that the doors to the Campus Ministry Center—large, heavy, oak (the center used to be a daily Mass Chapel) remained closed. When there literally was no staff for almost two semesters, those doors were locked and students, faculty and staff that utilized the center now had nothing. The ministry, for a few months, was reflective of the mourning the campus felt after the loss of the beloved Fr. Joe—darkened and shuttered.
The beauty of having no idea what I'm doing means that there is nothing you can't try and nothing you can do wrong. So, when I arrived on day one, those doors were opened wide, the lights on as bright as can be, and we set out on our way renewing and reviving our ministry. Immediately new faces began to stop in, to ask questions, to learn more, and to inquire about getting involved. After a few short months, because of this open, welcoming, energetic approach—coupled with executing some intentional programming designed to cultivate a culture of discipleship—we've developed a student advisory board and interviewed and selected 5 Peer Ministers to work alongside us in this upcoming first full year of a renewed ministry. On July 1st our new Director officially began work and the staff is almost fully complete. Myself, the Director and staff, as well as these student leaders now get the great opportunity to renew the vision and witness to Christ on Campus in a fresh way with new ardor and vigor.
At my end of semester meeting and review with the Vice President of Student Affairs, he remarked: the best thing you did all semester was to open those doors. Practical Campus Ministry Lesson #1: Open the Door. Let them in. Meet your audience where they’re at. Let them explore, let them question, and let them self-cultivate into the leaders we want them to become. I suppose it
sounds rather silly and basic. Yet through a simple openness and welcoming "Hi, I'm Jon", you begin the development of ministerial relationship with those around you.
What's Step Two? I have no idea. Stay tuned to find out.
(Some photos of our ministry location below)