Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Calgary Bound part 1

Note, I have some nifty pictures I took with my trusty digital camera. However, I did not bring along my firewire so I could incorporate them into this blog. I will put the words up for all to see before I include the visual aids. So, by all means, read on but revisit the site in a few days…

I trundled off to Calgary to connect with our chaplain at the University of Calgary, Kelly Johnson, as well as our new chaplain at Mount Royal University (nee College), Glen Ryland. Between them they offer a vibrant model of campus chaplaincy that provides a cornerstone of our multi-faceted approach to campus ministry. Again the reason I blog is because I want to provide a window into what Mission Canada Campus Ministries are up to across the national landscape. As a result, I want to comment on both the campuses themselves as well as how ministries have been developed in response to their needs along with God’s leading.

The University of Calgary. 

Having taken my first year of undergrad at the U of C, I was interested in revisiting it in my present role. To say it has been transformed in the century since I wandered its august halls is an understatement. It is amazing what a few decades, along with bundles of Olympic and corporate cash can bring about. Even the familiar fixtures like MacEwan Student Centre have metamorphosisized. While it admittedly is modeled after a food court in a mall, it still provides a natural convergence point for students. Mac Hall as it is called is one happening place. There are thousands of students who converge there at some point during the day for various reasons.

Kelly’s office is found one floor above overlooking all of the action.  The Multi-faith chaplaincy centre is connected to the Wellness Centre, which in turn provides an interdisciplinary approach to personal wholeness ( medical, psychological and spiritual ). The fact that the chaplaincy is an integral part of this program is due in large part to the personal efforts and credibility of Kelly over the past fourteen years.

Universities have changed over the years. Many of the older universities were founded and funded by churches. Eventually, that gave away to government funding. Since the one who pays the piper calls the tune, the church lost its influence in academia. In the past few decades government funding has proven to be increasingly inadequate so the universities have sought corporate funding. This comes at a certain price. Corporations , however altruistic they may be, are looking for a certain outcome or product that ultimately furthers their bottom line. The concern of many of us who thought about this phenomenon was that it would lead to a prevailing pragmatism that would seek to produce ‘functionaries’ that would become cogs in a corporate wheel rather than well rounded citizens with a view of the bigger picture.

The University of Calgary, from its inception as a branch of the University of Alberta and as a separate university (1966) took a certain pride in its secular origins. This, combined with its blatant partnership with big business would have led me to believe that it would have been an unlikely candidate for becoming an institution with a progressive vision for personal integration and wholeness that would embrace spirituality, let alone religion, as part of its framework. Again, I lay the much of the responsibility for this anomaly at the feet of our own Kelly Johnson.

As part of my visit, Kelly and I met with ‘his boss’, who directed the Wellness Centre. It was refreshing to hear a senior level administrator discussing chaplaincy ministry. Actually, I could hardly believe my ears. She was suggesting that the interdisciplinary approach towards wellness should actually be viewed through the lense of chaplaincy, rather than having chaplaincy being an afterthought. She marveled at health professionals who refused to allow for the contribution of chaplains in patient care. Further, her respect for Kelly was readily apparent.

Kelly has bought and paid for a vast amount of institutional goodwill. This is the result of hundreds of thoughtful acts over the years, both large and small . He has done this with a genuine desire to bless the institution rather than merely seeing it as a platform for ministry. His contributions have made it a better and more human place. However ,this is not to be taken for granted. There are periodic admin turnovers so new administrators come in that do not know or appreciate the value of the chaplaincy contribution.

I am banging this drum because it shows what can happen through prayer and persistence. While this is not the only example of this type of institutional ministry in Mission Canada Campus Ministries, it is a brilliant one. It would take much more room to describe the breadth and depth of Kelly's influence. However, I want to ensure that it is noticed and a part of our larger campus ministry conversation as Mission Canada forges out its future.

Stay tune for part 2 where I discuss ministry  at the U of C further.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On playing our part....

One thing I would like to make clear. When it comes to campus ministry, we are not IT. However, we are part of IT. Further, we are in a process in which we are discovering what part of IT we actually are, and might possibly become.

What is clear from the stats is that the job is not being done. Not by any of us. Nor, for that matter, by all of us. If I were to extrapolate from my number counts on a number of Canada's major universities, I would be more than safe in saying that well over 97% of the student population is unengaged in any form of meaningful Christian community on campus. That means that that out of the 1.5 million university and college students in Canada in any given year ( StatsCan), 1,455,000 are yet to be reached. I am not playing around with numbers, here. It reflects "the state of the nation".

Further, if we were to look at the numbers regarding the loss of the college age generation to the church, it would indicate that it is not a case of these students being involved in a faith community off campus. The reader may want to obtain the book, by Mission Canada's own David Sawler entitled "Goodbye Generation", in which he both laments the hemorrhaging of our young people out of our churches and provides hopeful ( and helpful )advice for those who care.

So, when I celebrate what Mission Canada's campus ministries are doing across the country, I don't believe it is in a triumphalistic spirit. However, I am doing it in the awareness that there are works of brilliance across the country  hat need to be cultivated and celebrated. We need to have a good look at what our strengths and weaknesses are so that we understand what it is we bring to the table of campus ministry. For example, our friends in the  Christian Reformed Church have a good handle on their strengths, without an  overwheening sense of exclusivity. This awareness has come through ongoing discussion and prayer, both within and without their ranks,  and it has led to their  being able to contribute to the larger campus ministry community in a manner out of proportion to their actual numbers.

Let me say this. It is past time  for the PAOC, as the largest evangelical  denomination in Canada, to awaken to the challenge and the promise of the university. Our campus ministries reflect both the strengths and weaknesses of our great Fellowship. They have, with few exceptions, arisen from the ground up. They have not been centrally administrated, but rather have been spawned as spiritual entrepreneurs have forged out new ground with courageous, creative  faith. I love that! However, there is a sense of disconnectedness  we need to overcome so  that a genuine synergy can emerge. It is that task  I find urgent and compelling.

This connects to our vision. I can see a group of ministries across the country able to provide support for each other and to share their collective strengths. I can see the development of high quality leadership and of innovative, flexible ministry models that are able to respond to the complexities of Canadian campuses. I  see this, and more....

blog, ministry, robb powell, blog ministry Robb Powell

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Rock and that darned flu...

Early  in my term ( I have been at this since August ) I booked  my passage to St. John's to visit David Neuman and see what he was up to at Memorial University NewfoundlandChi Alpha at MUN is a unique campus ministry which may be the longest standing one in our extended fellowship. While the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland is a stand alone organization ( for reasons best known to them), they have a solid working relationship with those of us in the rest of the Dominion of Canada, at the PAOC.  Anyway, I digress. There is a lot going on out there.

David is the Pentecostal chaplain on campus. He is also the campus pastor of Mosaic, along with the director of the student ministry , Chi Alpha. Newfoundland once had a distinct pentecostal school board  which has  given the PAON longstanding credibility and a seat at the proverbial institutional table. David enjoys privileges as a chaplain which many of his coworkers at other universities do not.  Being that as it may, the important thing is what he does with them. It appears from this distance that God has placed the right guy for the job.

I was supposed to be on The Rock this past weekend, but as it turns out that infernal H1N1  flu has laid David's  family low, along with a whole bunch of his students. Given that, I cancelled the WestJet plane ticket and will  make plans to visit at a later date.

Check them out on their Facebook. It's all going on at MUN and I am looking forward to finally getting out there.

The ONE @ The Soo - The Truth Project

O well. I was all geared up to visit "The One" campus ministry in Sault Ste Marie. We had a plan. I was going to drive up on Sunday in time to take in the student leaders meeting and  then the evening service. Unfortunately campus pastor Paul Quesnele informed me that he was diagnosed with the H1N1  virus and that it would make more sense if I were to delay my trip. So, it looks like I may be doing the seven hour drive in the beginning of December (DV).

For those who might be interested, here is some preliminary information. Check out their website at .  Further, you can connect with the site of The Summit Community Church , founded and led by Jeremy Murdoch ( , which is an intergenerational church that actually grew out of the campus ministry ( there's a recurrent theme here I will pick up at another time ). For the sake of clarity, they had to distinguish the ministries and  rename the campus expression, which had previously used The Summit title. They just relaunched the campus ministry under their new banner this September.

Those of you who follow campus ministry might be interested in their curriculum for the year. They are using The Truth Project , which is a multi-media presentation of the Focus On The Family's groundbreaking worldview conferences. The Focus On The Family label may be a bit misleading. They put on outstanding events for young adults, that would cost serious money in tuition, travel and lodging to take in. They have distilled the event in a user friendly, DVD format that is excellent for learning, discussion and growth.  If I have got it right, I think they are using it every other week. I will give better feedback in a few weeks.

check it out at  or else ( Canadian ).

Trevor Gingerich, our Mission Canada missionary to Humber College, mentioned that his  student leadershop was divided on The Truth Project  for small groups. Some of them felt it was too intense. Others were really pumped about it. So, there  is fair  warning. It is not for everybody, but it is worth knowing about. It addresses foundational issues that students desperately need to engage. It may provide a great option if you have a multiple choice small group ministry. 

Chris-Ann Lake, Chaplain and UCM director at VIU ( Vancouver Island University) has run  The Truth Project twice already, and is well into her third time through.  ( She writes:
The one thing that FOTF pushes is to run it in a home setting, yet in the videos Del teaches in a classroom setting... so really I don't think it matters how it's done. I have tried it in both (a classroom setting and home setting) and both have worked fine because for the most part students are used to open discussion in a classroom setting.

Also I have watched the videos numerous times on now and have found that creating a list of thoughtful discussion questions to lead with for the discussion time at the end has really helped.
The only time that a home setting would benefit if people are not really comfortable in having prayer times in the classroom, though I love praying in the classroom so that works for me :)

Elsewhere she wrote: I have been in a recent discussion with my board about introducing the Campus Alpha program in the fall term and then offering the Truth Project in the Spring term (for the Christians).


Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Green Bean Cafe @ The U of Windsor

I drove down south to meet with Ben and Michelle Davidson at the University of Windsor.

After exploring the campus, I dropped in to visit with them at their new enterprise, The Green Bean Cafe. check them out at . It  made  for an inspiring day.

Ben and Michelle had it in their hearts to reach out onto the U of W campus. Ben, who is the young adults/missions pastor at Parkwood Gospel Tabernacle, in Windsor,  had previously explored chaplaincy ministry. The UW chaplaincy, rooted in the oldline traditions inherent in the U of W's past ( it was previously a religious school, Assumption University, run by the Basilean Fathers ), did not seem like the right fit, at that particular time. He also investigated involvement with various campus groups. There are a large number of small, fragmented groups on campus and he did not feel prompted to either start another one or get involved in a presently existing one.  However, both he and Michelle did feel prompted to explore the idea of a café near the campus.

His search brought him to University Community Church, which was an aging Presbyterian congregation that refused to let either decreasing numbers or  increasing age dictate their vision. Ben and the new Presbyterian pastor, Mary Templer,hit it off immediately. They developed what could be described as a symbiotic, or mutually beneficial relationship. Parkwood released a number of families and young adults to attend the church to help create a critical mass so that it could get back on its feet. Several families have remained. UCC, for its part has been very supportive of all that God has placed on Ben and Michelle's  heart to do.

UCC secured a grant for renovation which was more than matched by volunteer labour. Many people worked long and hard renovating the lower floor of the church into a warm, inviting space where students, faculty and whomever can drop by and hang out. It is not just that the space is warm, the place has a soul. Namely, it has a caring couple who make it their business to make people feel at home and connect with them. They have been enthusiastically embraced by the surrounding community. They have been told repeatedly by various people that “ We are so glad that you are here”.

Ben tells a poignant recent story of a student who had gone home and had a horrific weekend. She said that at the time, she just wanted to be back at school, drinking coffee wit her room mate at the Green Bean.

They are next door to the School of Business, and they will soon be across the street from the new School of Engineering. The U will be growing up around them. In fact, a class of business students has made GB their class project. Not only will they prepare a marketing report for the GB, but they will execute it as well.

Before I visited them, I spent a few hours exploring the campus. Before I visited the GB cafe, I wanted to get a sense of the bigger picture. While U of W is not as sterile as some of the campuses I have visited, it became quickly apparent to me that there was nothing that filled the niche that the GB did. Let me show you a picture of "the competition".



Sandwiches ( including Panini ) and various designer coffees and teas. Tempting desserts. High counter with stone highlights, complete with a stonelike ceramic floor. They have hired staff, including someone they have trained as an assistant manager.

Let me borrow words from their website where they share their vision...

Michelle and Ben Davidson

Michelle is 24 years old and recently graduated with her BScN from University of Windsor. She has six years experience (five pretty lame, one really awesome) in the coffee shop business. When she’s not taking care of the sick (she’s a nurse), cooking or making things awesome her main responsibilities at Green Been will be: restaurant management, scheduling, training, and barista extraordinaire.

Ben is 28 years old and graduated with his BTh from Masters College and Seminary a few years ago. For the past three years, he has worked as a Pastor in Windsor. As a student, he worked two years in the restaurant business. When he is not Pastoring, running, or cycling his main responsibilities at Green Bean are: marketing, online presence, business planning, financial operations and being a willing-to-learn barista.

Why start a coffee shop?

Good question. We think the best answer for that question is that we want to make a living doing something that we think will make the community surrounding the University of Windsor a better place. We hope that’s not too lofty of a goal for a couple of kids who love fair trade, organic and local produce to pursue because that’s the kind of café we want to build.

We love the idea of students having a comfortable, affordable place to study, surf the web, hang with friends and occasionally listen to some great live music. We think local artists could use some more places to showcase their art. Simply put, we want Green Bean to be the kind of place that we wish we had when we were in school and the kind of place that anyone can come, grab something to drink and relax.

What I love about this is that they just went out and made it happen. It is not only a great story, but it is an exciting ministry. One that people should know about....