Looking Backward & Forward
On the first Monday after Fall graduation, I inadvertently started a new December custom of intentionally looking back through every picture taken on my phone during the previous year—a year, in this case, which began with the birth of our first child, Jack … so you can bet that there are a whole lot of pictures! One series captured my attention more than the others, as I reflected on all that has taken place in these 12 months. Christin, Jack and I are having a picnic on the side lawn of a winery in Lodi, California, where we would occasionally go to enjoy the fruits of California’s soil without the crowds (or prices) of Napa Valley. There was nothing particularly special about the wine or the scenery, but as we preachers are prone to pointing out, it is the context—the background information—that made those particular images so meaningful. Sitting outside of that little winery, I received a phone call from Kathy Little, informing me that the Board of Directors had agreed on the terms of calling me to serve as the next campus minister at the Presbyterian Student Center at UGA. She asked what I thought, and I replied, “I think we’re moving to Athens!”
It was the initiation of a flurry of activity: putting our house on the market, booking a moving company, informing our congregations (Christin is also a Presbyterian Minister) that we would be leaving for another call, looking for a house in Athens (which we bought without Christin ever having set foot inside—she loves it, by the way!). Of the top three stress-inducing experiences for families, in 2018, the Normans can check every box.
Having a baby— Check.
Moving cross-country— Check.
Changing jobs— Check.
That last one is the catalyst for this post. I was warned by my predecessor, Rev. Andy Cooke, that starting a campus ministry gig fresh on August 1 would be tough.
And it has been. Little things have caught me off guard here and there (I didn’t know anything about the Homecoming Dinner until about a week ahead of time). On the first night of worship, we really didn’t know what to expect in terms of numbers. I remember sitting in my office with our Student Minister for worship, Dray Criswell, and asking him to just give me an estimate. He responded, “Well, based on where we ended last semester, I expect we’ll have fewer than 10 students tonight.”
And don’t get me wrong, 10 students would have been great … but in my mind I’m thinking ‘We’ve got a fairly large building, and chapel capacity of about 60-70 … 10 students is going to feel pretty empty.’
We didn’t see a full house that night, but we did have about 25 in worship (more than twice what was expected), with a handful of new freshmen and graduate students mixed in with our returning students from last year. And across the semester that number remained relatively constant (allowing exceptions for exam weeks). If you received a support letter from us this December, it included some other numbers that I want to recount here, not because numbers are the sign of healthy ministry, but because they are a tangible, easy-to-communicate measurement within a field in which those are hard to come by.
This semester, the PSC saw 40 students participate in at least one weekly program, and 34 of those returned to participate more often. Of those students who participated regularly in the ministry this year, 17 are new to the PSC. We took 12 students to our Fall Retreat in Ellijay, GA, and will have 19 students with us at the Montreat College Conference next week. All that is to say, this first semester of a new season of ministry at the PSC has been a semester of growth. Students are finding the PSC to be what we endeavor to be — a Spiritual Home Away from Home … A Community of Belonging …
Through all of the predictable (and not-so-predictable) challenges of a transition year, and by the gracious and abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, Fall Semester 2018 has been a great success, and God-willing, a harbinger of good things yet to come for the PSC@UGA.
Here’s what you can look for in the coming year:
‘80 Years of Belonging’ Campaign
Bridge to Campus Initiative
Coffee & Queeries Interfaith Ministry