Annual Report to the Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry, July 2013-June 2014
I. GOALS FOR THE 2013-2014 ACADEMIC YEAR
This was our twelfth year as a full-time United Methodist campus ministry at American University. In this year, we hoped to increase connectional engagement, offer more service opportunities, create a culture of engagement in faith, use sermon series to attract seekers, and diversify expression in worship, particularly through the arts. We succeeded on some of these goals and did not meet expectations on others.
II. FAITHFUL CELEBRATION
Our worship life is the cornerstone of our life as a community. It is the main gathering for the community, the place in which we are reminded of the values of our common life together, and an important place of celebration and consolation. Our worship continues to be vibrant and heavily driven by lay involvement.
A. Sunday Night Worship
Regular weekly worship services are held in the Kay Spiritual Life Center chapel every Sunday evening during the semester at 7:00 p.m. It is the only regular mainline Protestant worship service offered on campus. The other major Christian services on campus are Roman Catholic and Chi Alpha (Assemblies of God).
1. Attendance and Stability
In the 2013-2014 Academic Year, our Sunday attendance started somewhat below recent expectations and remained that way throughout the year. We ended the year with an average of 34, a 13.8% decrease from 2012-2013, and a 25% decrease from 2011-2012. It was the lowest average attendance in eight years. In addition, our total numbers for the year were below expectation for both the Sunday services (1,133) and the healing service (390) representing -13.8% and -31.1% decreases respectively over the previous year.
Total Annual Sunday Worship by Year with Cumulative Average
For reasons we have not been able to identify, for the second year in a row we were not as successful in engaging the freshman class this year and the initial surge we usually get in August and September never materialized. Since that surge usually defines the levels of engagement for the year, starting off with lower numbers off the bat meant lower attendance throughout the year as the masses usually relied on to replace the previous year’s graduates never quite materialized in the same way.
Overall, our trend is leveling off after about eight years of increased growth. This was the first year to come in below our running 12-year average of 1,152 worshipers a year. More troubling, is the suggestion that last year’s numbers were not an anomaly, but the beginning of a trend.
Attendance at Lenten and Holy Week events was solid, though numbers followed the broader attendance trend and we set no attendance records this year. Attendance for Lenten and Holy Week events for the 2013-2014 AY: Ash Wednesday (13 at the Law school, 36 on main campus); Palm Sunday (30); Maundy Thursday (22); Good Friday (20); Easter Vigil (13); Easter Sunrise (24); and Easter Sunday worship (67). For the first time, we included our Holy Week services in the Lenten sermon series (see, below). Our numbers lagged this year, in spite of a major outreach that we initiated using flyering, electronic billboard advertising, and signs on the quad listing all our Holy Week services and a Lenten sermon series designed to draw interest (see below). This is the first year in four years that our Easter attendance has not topped 80 in worship.
Considering that not every member of the community attends every week, raw worship attendance numbers are not always the most accurate reflector of the total size of the worshiping community. I would estimate that while our average worship attendance is 34, the likely size of our total worshiping community is around 50.
2. Worship Committee
A worship committee has been in existence since fall 2004. The worship committee is entirely student led in consultation with the chaplain. The committee bases its work on the sermon outlines that I have prepared and the themes for the day. In consultation with the musicians, the committee determines the hymns; it picks the prayers—in many cases writing the prayers—and other worship elements. Average attendance at worship committee meetings: 3-4.
3. Sermon Series
In the fall semester, I offered a sermon series entitled “What Christians Have to Learn…” exploring sources of insight that Christians can learn from. The topics included: …Rock and Roll, …Sports, …Other Christians, …Other Religions, … Atheists, and … Science Fiction and Fantasy. Attendance was stable (average 37.6/week) throughout this series.
In the spring semester, I offered a Lenten sermon series entitled Lent and Easter with Game of Thrones, using motifs and sayings from the popular HBO series and related books. The sermons were built around the Lectionary readings for Lent and Holy Week. Among the sermons were “Winter is Coming” (Ash Wednesday), “You Know Nothing, Jon Snow“, “We Do Not Sow“, “I Have a Tender Spot for Cripples and Bastards and Broken Things“, “What Is Dead May Never Die“, “Valar Morghulis; Valar Dohaeris—All Men Must Die; All Men Must Serve” (Passion/Palm Sunday), “Night Gathers—And Now My Watch Begins” (Maundy Thursday), “The Man Who Passes the Sentence Should Swing the Sword” (Good Friday), “For the Night Is Dark and Full of Terrors” (Easter Vigil), “There Is Only One Thing We Say to Death: Not Today” (Easter Sunday) . Average attendance: 36/week.
B. Thursday Night Healing Service
We have continued with our mid-week worship opportunity: a communion, prayer, and healing service held every Thursday night at 11:00 p.m. in the Kay Chapel. In 2013-2014 the average attendance was 13, a 28% decrease from 2012-2013 and a 39% decrease from two years ago.
C. Other/Special Services
- In November 2013, students reprised the Veterans Day “Remembrance Day” Vigil, placing 600+ grave markers on the quad in remembrance of the U.S. servicemen and –women who have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
- We offered a baccalaureate service for the tenth year in a row. We were again able to have our event listed in the university’s official commencement publication. Attendance was a record high: 165.
III. FAITHFUL RELATIONSHIPS
A sense of community is vital to a healthy campus ministry and the community thrives when the relationships that make it up are nourished and supported. Weekly fellowship opportunities (and weekly leadership opportunities that help to provide fellowship, such as the UMSA meeting) help to build a solid foundation for these vital relationships to thrive.
A. Weekly Meetings of the United Methodist Student Association
The United Methodist Student Association (UMSA) has a weekly leadership meeting. This meeting is a key component of the community’s leadership development in that it develops leadership skills, teaches collaboration, and helps students to think productively and constructively. Students involved in UMSA leadership number approximately 13, representing well over a third (38.2%) of those regularly attending worship.
B. Weekly Fellowship
Every week, we have a time of fellowship after Sunday services in the Kay Lounge, with refreshments and an opportunity to connect with one another. Average attendance: 30.
1. Fellowship Dinners
Following on the practice established in 2006-2007, we continued occasional fellowship dinners following worship. We have had a number of fellowship dinners this semester, at times prepared by the students, at times prepared by local churches. We have had twelve (12) dinners this academic year. Average attendance, 37. The fellowship dinners have also provided an important way of connecting with the local congregations.
2. Tuesdays in the Tavern
An informal gathering weekly for lunch in the Tavern. Students drop by between 11:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. During the spring semester, this program was moved to Wednesdays. Average attendance: 8.
3. Free Food Fridays
Free pizza lunch offered by Metropolitan Memorial UMC from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in the AU Lounge.. Average attendance: 7.
C. Welcome Week
We began the 2013-2014 Academic Year with an active welcome week program consisting of a game night and ice cream social (co-sponsored with Chi Alpha) (20), participating in distributing cupcakes at a Kay event (400), “Wesleyan Wiffleball” on the quad (8), a movie night (42, 11), s’mores (150), and a walking tour of the monuments (6). Tied into this promotion were events during September such as a hike in the Rock Creek Park (11).
D. Monthly Methodist Movie Night
The first Tuesday of the month is movie night. The UMSA and the Chaplaincy sponsor a free showing with free pizza and snacks. In the past year we showed 42, Zero Dark Thirty, Star Trek Into Darkness, Much Ado About Nothing, A Christmas Triple Feature, The Butler, Dallas Buyers Club, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Viewing of the film is always followed by an optional discussion in which we talk about the theological or philosophical issues addressed by each movie. The movie nights often see attendees who would not otherwise participate in campus ministry related events. As with all our programming, attendance was down significantly this year, averaging 20. One hopeful sign was in the screening of The Butler, which 45 people attended and was co-sponsored by the Black Student Alliance. Co-sponsorships may prove to be a strategy to boost attendance at some of our events.
E. Fall and Spring Retreats
Our fall retreat was held on the weekend of September 13-14 at the Shenandoah cabin of University Chaplain Joe Eldridge. Twenty-three (23) students attended, although only a small number of freshmen attended. In the spring of 2014, 12 students attended a leadership and visioning retreat at Camp Manidokan.
Thirteen (13) students participated in a fall outing to Homestead Farm in Poolesville, MD.
G. Murder Mystery Party
A long-time community tradition, the party is organized by students and was held at Metropolitan Memorial UMC. This year, saw two parties, one near Halloween and the other in the spring. Attendance: 20, 20.
H. Other Fellowship Opportunities
- Welcome Week programming, August 18-24, 2013
- Fellowship Cookout following Worship, September 1, 2013 (25)
- Fellowship Dinner following Worship provided by MMUMC, September 8, 2013 (35)
- UMW “High-heeled Cupcake” baking event, September 28, 2013 (8)
- Fall Break Avengers Movie Marathon Lock-In, October 11, 2013 (15)
- Fall Outing to Homestead Farms, October 19, 2013 (13)
- Fellowship Dinner following Homecoming Service, October 20, 2013 (45)
- Fellowship Dinner following Worship provided by MMUMC, November 3, 2013 (30)
- Outing to see “Catching Fire”, November 7, 2013 (5)
- UMW “High Tea”, November 23, 2013, (10)
- Thanksgiving Dinner, provided by our Lutheran Chaplain (34)
- Fellowship Dinner provided by MMUMC, December 8, 2013 (50)
- UMSA Christmas Dinner at UM Chaplain’s house, December 7, 2013 (17)
- “Hypothetical” Christmas Party, December 10, 2013 (27)
- Fellowship dinner following worship provided by MMUMC, January 26, 2014 (30)
- Superbowl Party following worship, February 2, 2014 (12)
- Fellowship dinner following worship provided by MMUMC, February 23, 2014. (30)
- Spring Leadership Retreat at Camp Manidokan, March 1, 2014 (13)
- Fellowship Dinner following worship provided by MMUMC, March 23, 2014 (30)
- Outing to Arlington Cemetery, April 12, 2014 (5)
- Easter Dinner, prepared by students, April 20, 2014 (55*)
- Baseball Outing to Nationals Park, April 25, 2014 (18)
- Eat at Joe’s (at Mark’s) April 27, 2014 (19)
- Senior Farewell Cookout, May 4, 2013 (40)
- Senior dinner: I took the graduating seniors to dinner at Maggiano’s, May 5, 2013, (15)
IV. FAITH DEVELOPMENT
The ability to wrestle with deep questions of faith and to explore the biblical and theological traditions of the church is a great gift of campus ministry. There is a deep hunger among young adults to explore in meaningful ways the tradition that would have them participate in it. And so, Bible studies, membership classes, discussion groups, book studies, and others are an essential part of our ministry on campus.
A. Practical Christianity
Practical Christianity returned this year after a year-long hiatus as an occasional program, rather than a weekly one. This year, Practical Christianity programs included “Women in the Early Church” and “Christian Privilege” and an outing to the National Cathedral Average attendance: 8.
B. Bible Studies
In the fall semester, I led a 9-week Bible study that explored the Biblical Book of Job:
2. The Afterlife
In October 2013, I participated in a panel discussion through the College of Arts and Sciences on the understandings of the Creation narrative in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. (65*) Organized by Dr. Martyn Oliver of the Philosophy and Religion department, this is becoming an annual event.
3. Summer Bible Study
In the summer of 2014, following on the success of the previous summers, there was a sizeable number of students remaining in town over the summer and an expressed desire for fellowship and study. A weekly Bible study and dinner would run throughout June and July. Average attendance (as of June 2014): 9.
David Hosey, our pastoral intern led a Bible study on the Psalms. Average attendance: 5.
C. United Methodist Women/United Methodist Men
Our community is blessed with two student-led groups that seek to provide a safe space for reflection and fellowship.
Our United Methodist Women’s group meets weekly and has sponsored a variety of programming for all female-identifying students who wish to attend. The UMW meets weekly and averages 8-10 people a week.
The United Methodist Men’s group meets somewhat irregularly, but will have occasional gatherings for fellowship. Average attendance: 6.
D. Interfaith Dialogue
The UMSA and The UM Chaplaincy were founding presences in the Kay Interfaith Council, an interfaith body designed to promote communication and discussion among the various tenants of the Kay Spiritual Life Center. The campus ministry maintains a strong connection with the Interfaith Council and a number of students serve in leadership of the Council.
- Interfaith Discussion: Taboo, Judgment, and Expectation, October 27, 2014 (26)
E. Conference Participants
Students also participated in a number of connectional ministries. A number of our students continued leadership in various United Methodist student groups, including UMSM, RMN, and MoSAIC. One student, Rachel Ternes (’15) and an alum, Rebekah Smith (’13), attended the UMW quadrennial meeting as well as a session of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.
As United Methodist chaplain, I have offered counseling services to the university and have counseled a number of students from within and without the community. The UM community has developed a reputation as an open and affirming community, and that has translated into students coming for counseling who are from outside the community.
In the spring of 2104, I reprised a support group for graduating seniors. We met on a regular basis beginning at the beginning of the semester through the end of the semester. Average attendance: 7.
G. Discussions & Panels
- “What Sucks About Christianity”: Students tabled in front of Mary Graydon with a large board on which people could write their frustrations and complaints about Christians and the Church. The event was successful, but not without controversy as some did not understand that a Christian group was sponsoring the event.
- Discussion about the “What Sucks about Christianity” event, September 9, 2013 (10)
- Discussion: LGBT Inclusiveness, September 10, 2013 (7)
- Performance “Talk Back”: I participated in a panel discussion on science and religion following a campus presentation of the play Inherit the Wind. (50)
H. Academic Instruction
Since the fall of 2006, I have been an adjunct professor in the Philosophy and Religion department, teaching a course entitled “Religious Heritage of the West”. It is a general education course of about 40 students a semester. This has offered me the opportunity to make connections in the classroom as well as in the chapel. I have also continued to serve as instructor of New Testament for Wesley Seminary’s Course of Study.
V. FAITHFUL SERVICE
Social justice and service remain key entry points into the community as students are attracted to our commitment to engage with the world and seek to know more about what it is that motivates us to do so. The young adults in our community are intensely passionate about an active faith and a desire to transform the world. Our commitment to justice and service is one of the cornerstones of our community identity and of our identity on the broader AU campus.
A. The Other Six Days
The most significant development in our social justice ministry was the creation of an ongoing ministry called “The Other Six Days” in the 2004-2005 Academic Year. The aim of this program is to connect particular Sunday worship with opportunities for education and service. Monthly themes for 2013-2014 included LGBT inclusion, malaria prevention, prisoner reintegration into society, Christians of the Middle East, and Typhoon Haiyan relief among others.
B. Social Justice Intern
Since spring 2004, we have had a social justice coordinator. Originally an intern for one semester from the Washington Center, this position has been staffed by a student peer minister since the fall of 2004. The Social Justice Coordinator organizes meetings of the social justice committee and plans the events for our “The Other Six Days” program. Our social justice coordinators for 2013-2014 were Andreas Wiede (’14) and Lindsay Wylie (’16).
C. Social Justice Committee
Students met weekly to discuss issues of social justice and our community response thereto. Average attendance: 8.
D. Service Projects and Events
- November 2013, students placed our memorial vigil to the fallen soldiers of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on the quad. (12)
- Social Justice Discussion: “The Way Back: Challenges faced by prisoners reentering society”, October 3, 2013 (15)
- Social Justice Discussion: “Tent of Nations: A Conversation with Palestinian Christian Daoud Nassar”, November 6, 2013 (15)
- Social Justice Discussion: “Creation Care” with Rev. Richard Cizik, November 6, 2013 (15)
- Over the weekend of November 15-17, students arranged and participated in a mission trip to New Jersey to clean up Hurricane Sandy damaged homes. (8)
- Monthly Outings to Emmanuel UMC Food Bank, Greenbelt, MD (5)
- In conjunction ongoing anti-malaria efforts, throughout the year, students sold free-trade chocolate as a fundraiser for malaria nets and were able to provide $300 (amounting to 30 nets) to Nets for Life.
- Social Justice Film and Discussion: “With God on Our Side” on Christian Zionism, February 20, 2014 (40)
- Speaker: Rev. Frank Schaefer spoke about his experiences and on his efforts for LGBT inclusion in the United Methodist Church
- In April 2014, students formed a team and participated in the Relay for Life to raise money for cancer research. (8)
- In April 2014, students prepared a home-cooked meal and transported it to the residents of Metropolitan Memorial UMC’s shelter “Metro House”. (5)
- One April 10, 2014, the Social Justice Committee teamed up with Eco Sense and the Philippine American Coalition to screen a documentary and have a panel discussion to raise money for Typhoon Haiyan relief.
E. Alternative Spring Break
In 2014, for our tenth time, we took a group of 4 to Cherokee, North Carolina for a week of service, reflection, and learning. As before, we were guests of the Cherokee United Methodist Church. This was a smallest showing and the trip would likely not have occurred had the three students signed up not been regular participants in the community. It was still a productive and spiritually renewing trip, and one of the participants, Rachel Ternes (’15) has committed to ensuring greater turnout in the coming year.
F. Participation with other Groups (Points of Contact)
- The UMSA participated in a number of events with other groups, including AU Hillel, AU Interfaith Council, AU Chi Alpha, the GLBTA Resource Center, EcoSense, the Arab Student Association, and a number of social justice groups on campus.
VI. FAITH SHARING
The campus ministry community is committed to making its presence on the university campus known and making its mission clear to all. Our mission statement is simply: “Love God. Serve Others. Welcome All.” This mission statement summarizes well the key focuses of the community: faithful commitment to God, service and justice toward others, and a community of radical hospitality for everyone. Understanding our mission guides the ways in which the community seeks to be known and seeks to have the gospel message known on the AU campus.
The Chaplaincy has a website that it maintains at http://www.aumethodists.org. The site contains information about the ministry, upcoming worship times, the weekly lectionary readings, and copies of past sermons. Sermons are posted on our website at .
Students can also use the website to update their directory information, sign up for the Weekly E-pistle, indicate interest in various leadership positions, and participate in community polls.
We have made arrangements through the General Council on Finance and Administration approved Vanco Services to receive online donations through the website.
B. Methodist Heritage Week
September 9-15, 2013, we reprised our week-long program of events and discussions about United Methodism. Discussions included a discussion on Methodist history, and other learning opportunities.
1. Feed the Quad
We sponsored our annual free picnic and cookout for the AU Campus on September 12, 2013. Approximately 300 people were served, receiving AU UMC cups with our web address.
2. Demonstration of Wesley’s Preaching
Our chaplain dressed up as John Wesley and delivered the sermon “Catholic Spirit”. This year, I gave the sermon not from our tent, but from an ad-hoc speaker’s podium along the main quad. A discussion followed. (10)
3. Game Day/T-Shirt Tie-Dye
On successive days, the UM community tented on the quad offering hospitality, games, crafts and other information about the community. (50). Students also made tie-dyed t-shirts on the quad using fabric markers to add their own designs. (100*)
We had a regular presence at summer orientation 2013 and added about 19 names and e-mail addresses to our mailing list. As with the previous year, this was a drastically lower number than usual, which is normally around 40. Once again, it seems reasonable to conclude that the lower number of students signed up correlates in some way to the lower numbers of freshmen involved at the beginning of the year.
D. Club Fair and Tabling
The United Methodist Student Association had a table at the Campus Club Fair at which we distributed materials about the ministry, along with t-shirts, cups, lanyards and other materials. The UMSA also tabled in the campus center and offered hot chocolate on the quad during the winter.
In addition, during winter finals as with previous years, I tabled in the Mary Graydon Center, offering “Spiritual Therapy Through Chocolate” and giving out free chocolates and other snacks to stressed out college students during finals.
E. Christmas Caroling
Students went from University building to building caroling and singing songs of the season. (12)
F. Hospitality Ministry
- Hospitality Coordinator: responsible for tabling on campus, greeting newcomers.
- Formation of Hospitality Committee—a group of students who reflect on issues of hospitality and how our community can improve. Our hospitality coordinators helped to organize a gift bag distribution to new students during the beginning weeks of school and during finals. The committee met weekly. (3)Students provided free cups of hot chocolate to students on the quad (100)
G. Study Breaks
- Partnering with the Hillel Foundation and the University Chaplain’s office, the United Methodist Chaplaincy helped to establish a study lounge in the chapel for students to use during finals. It was stocked with snacks and other refreshments. (50+)
- Provision of free chocolate during finals to stressed out students (see “Spiritual Therapy Through Chocolate” above).
- On August 28, 2013 and February 5, 2014, Chaplaincy paid for everyone’s coffee for an hour at the Davenport Coffee Lounge on campus
H. Promotion and Marketing
- We have continued with the dynamic marketing campaign utilizing minimalist ads and humorous messages from 2008-2009 that continue to be extremely successful in branding the community, raising the profile of the ministry, and in reaching out to students.
- Placement of ads in electronic newsletters, chalking on quad, and flyers on university shuttle buses.
- The campus ministry maintains a presence on Facebook and other online media and is developing a following on Twitter, used primarily to keep followers up to date with programming and events.
I. Participation in Interfaith Events
- Participation in Interfaith Month and Interfaith Fortnight with open services designed to be accessible to visitors.
VII. LEADERSHIP & MENTORSHIP
All of the above ministries contribute to leadership development: training leaders in worship, service, justice, devotion, and evangelism. However, there are ministry areas specifically devoted to leadership development per se.
For the past four years, our campus ministry has had a program pairing incoming freshmen with an upperclassman who shares interests and background. These connections help to provide a sense of community and to make the freshman transitions to college life easier.
B. Vocational Discernment
I regularly met with students to discuss vocational discernment and to help them reflect on future plans. In the coming year, we hope to expand this to pairing students with members of the community at large who are already at work in the students’ chosen fields and who can give particular mentorship, especially as their vocations relate to their faith. A discernment study, led by two of our pastoral interns, was also helpful in this endeavor.
We have begun to take steps toward the creation of a Center for Religion and Civic Life at AU. The first stage, which was implemented in the fall of 2011, involves vocational mentoring and social justice engagement. (See www.aumethodists.org/crcl for more information).
A. Administrative Intern
With the permission of the Board and with the help of some funding from Foundry United Methodist Church, the Chaplaincy offered an administrative internship to a student during the Spring 2012 semester. The administrative intern performed administrative and office support activities for the campus ministry, including fielding telephone calls, word processing, basic bookkeeping, data entry, filing, and preparing mailings..
B. Programming Intern
Rebekah Smith (’13) began work as a part-time paid intern for programming. In her work, she helps the leadership of the UMSA to be more effective at planning, implementing, and learning from planned programs.
IX. GOALS AND PLANS FOR THE COMING YEAR
Hoping to build upon the accomplishments of the past year, as a community we have identified a number of goals for the year ahead.
A. Revitalize Student Engagement
We have noticed a decided shift in commitment and involvement over the years. We hope this year to revitalize our student involvement and investment in the community, particularly in taking ownership and exercising leadership.
B. Continue to Increase Service Opportunities
Our “hands on” service projects were very popular this year and we look to expand opportunities for such missional engagement.
C. Develop a Culture of Engagement in Faith
We hope to continue to assist American University in exploring the intersections of faith and public life. The pilot programs for the creation of a Center for Religion and Civil Life as a joint venture of the UMC and AU are already underway as is the undergraduate certificate in Religion and Civic Life.
D. Develop Sermon Series Designed to Appeal to Seekers and Skeptics
Following up on the examples provided by the fall sermon series of the last three years, we plan to have a number of sermon series in 2014-2015 that will attract non-religious or nominally religious students to come to our fellowship.
This year was a difficult year with much lower than expected involvement. We hope to revitalize our community and to grow our presence, outreach and the number of opportunities available to explore faith on the AU campus.
Mark A. Schaefer
United Methodist Campus Minister