Shepherding Hope

This past weekend, our campus ministry community was the inaugural recipient of the “Shepherd of Hope” Award from Methodist Students, Seminarians, and Young Adults for an All Inclusive Church (MOSAIC), the young adult extension ministry of the Reconciling Ministries Network. The Shepherd of Hope is given to an individual or organization who supports and resources young adults to live out more fully the mission of MOSAIC.  The award itself is a beautiful piece of stained glass (pictured at right).  The full text of the MOSAIC statement upon awarding our campus ministry community the Shepherd of Hope is as follows:

Methodist Students, Seminarians and Young Adults for an All Inclusive Church (or MOSAIC) is the Young Adult extension ministry of RMN. This year we are inaugurating two awards for individuals and groups committed to the mission of MOSAIC: to advocate for the full participation of persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities within the life and leadership of the United Methodist Church. The Shepherd of Hope award is given to an individual or organization who supports and resources young adults to live out more fully the mission of MOSAIC. The recipient of this year’s award is a campus ministry that has been a leader in the Reconciling movement for years. With the help of their campus minister, this UM Student Association has been a vocal advocate for LGBTQ rights, frequently supporting Annual Conference delegates and witnesses, encouraging students to work for change in Conference Reconciling teams, and producing leaders for MOSAIC and RMN. This year, when Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church visited the University hatefully demonstrating their homophobia, this campus ministry organized groups of students to minister in love and hospitality to the demonstrators, offering them water and hot chocolate. We are proud to present this Shepherd of Hope award to the UM Student Association of the American University in Washington, DC and their Campus Minister, Rev. Mark Schaefer.

It is, of course, a great honor to be recognized as a community in this way.  We work hard on our campus and in our community to be an inclusive community where all are welcomed.  We help to equip leaders by giving them the resources and the knowledge to be more effective advocates in their home churches and Annual Conferences.  And so it’s nice to be recognized for that kind of effort.  But on some level I can’t help but think about Chris Rock’s routine where he scolds people for taking credit for things they’re supposed to do.  I am reminded that the goal of what we are seeking is a church where such awards are no longer necessary, because we as a church will have finally lived into what is our mission, what we’re supposed to be doing.

The very name of the award itself is a reminder of that: Shepherd of Hope.  For Christ is our Shepherd of Hope and we as the body of Christ are supposed to live in a way that reflects the hope he brings.  We are supposed to incarnate who Jesus was and live that out in the world.  And Jesus’ example is ever before us: welcoming the stranger and the outcast, sharing love with all, embracing those whom society had rejected.  And so, as a community we might wonder, how can we not welcome all people regardless of race, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or anything else?  How can we not extend the radical solidarity that Christ shared with us with all people?

I’m going to take a moment of personal privilege here and brag about my students of whom I am so immensely proud, so bear with me.  If they have demonstrated themselves as equipped, resourced, and trained to advocate for inclusion and to combat homophobia and prejudice, it is only because they have been living out that vision in community already.  The passion that they bring to speaking out for LGBTQ people is not an academic interest, it is because they have seen how powerfully the Spirit moves in a community where hospitality for all is lived out.  It is because they are so committed to living the Gospel that they have demonstrated leadership in the church at large.  It is because they have imitated their Shepherd so well.

We are grateful for this award and the smiles on the faces of our community members when they heard the news were wide and demonstrated the satisfaction of a community whose joy has been found by others.  But we know that we haven’t done anything but what we’re supposed to do and we look forward to the day when radical hospitality is unremarkable.  As Peter Rollins says, “Perhaps the mission of the church is not to make saints, but to make a world where saints are no longer necessary.”  We won’t always get it right, or do it perfectly, but we’ll continue to live out Christ’s love and radical hospitality as best we can.  In so doing, perhaps we ourselves will be shepherded closer to the hope that all will be able to share in the love of God.

Rev. Mark Schaefer
United Methodist Chaplain