Striving to be a safer space

As a ministry we desire to create spaces where young adults and others connected to the university feel welcome. We especially want to be a safer space to those who might feel less welcome in more traditional church or Christian spaces, such as those who ask uncomfortable questions or who have experienced trauma or other negative experiences related to church.

As part of that desire to be a safer space, we’re working on providing descriptions on our website for what people can expect if they attend gatherings, the opportunity to meet with a chaplain ahead of time, and through having and ensuring we follow our safe campus policy. In our conversations, we encourage and welcome a diverse range of opinions and we also are intentional about (graciously) challenging people to pay attention to how their language might comes across as racist or ableist, as being dismissive of the complexity of the Bible and Christianity, and/or as being exclusive of or causing distress to others.

We do this recognizing

  1. That creating safer spaces where people are held accountable is part of proclaiming the gospel, where all people and their experiences are valued. Melissa Kuipers, a Christian Reformed campus minister at Mohawk College in Hamilton, explains this well: Your Inconvenient Safe Church Policy Helps Spread the Gospel.
  2. That healing from trauma is a hard and often long journey. As Amanda Benckhuysen addresses why we can’t just get over trauma: “I think a large part of the answer is that we weren’t made for this. We weren’t made for a world in which we are violated and harmed. We weren’t made for a world of brokenness and sin. As such, we should never hope to get good at getting over oppression and violence and abuse and injustice. To simply “get over” the wrongs done to us is to acclimate to the brokenness and evil of the world and lull ourselves into believing this is OK. The hurt we feel when we are violated or mistreated, then, is not an indication of what’s wrong with us, but an indication of what’s wrong with the world. And this realization should inspire in all of us a deeper longing for Christ and Christ’s kingdom.” (The Journey to Healing After Abuse)

It is our hope that we might learn from the wisdom of people like Benckhuysen and Kuipers and so be safer spaces where people are able to lament injustice as well as imagine and long for God’s kingdom.

Glimpsing Hope

It’s that time of year again when we tell the stories of how God is working in and through the ministry. We share stories of hope, as a way of encouraging ourselves and others about how God uses our efforts and our presence on campus and in people’s lives. We also try to acknowledge what has been hard and where we are still waiting. At a recent gathering of regional Christian Reformed campus ministers, people’s sharing about the challenges of this season were especially encouraging. It is helpful to hear that we are not the only group that is discerning how best to reach out to a student population that is exhausted and overwhelmed, looking for community and struggling to connect and commit. It is good, in the middle of those struggles, to both hear and tell of glimpses of hope found in good conversations where there has been a sense of God’s presence: conversations that sometimes happen only once but sometimes continue over time, conversations where learn more of God’s grace and open themselves more fully to the Spirit.

The following story from Richard Mouw is one of those stories that resonated with me as a campus minister: it is a story of being God’s presence to those around us and a story of hope, even as the story feels unfinished, or at least without the clear ‘happy’ ending many of us long for.

Mouw describes a letter he once received from a recent graduate of Fuller:

[She had lost her faith] in her senior year at the evangelical college she attended. It wasn’t the fault of anyone at that school. She had received a good education there and had made many friends. And now also at Fuller—she had learned much, but with the same result—still no recovering of faith.

She had not shared her loss of faith with any family or friends, and she was now thinking about how best to do that. Writing to me was for her a first step. During her senior year of college, having realized that she no longer believed, she decided “to give Fuller a chance” at helping to restore her faith. Nor did she regret that decision. While her faith had not returned, she wrote, “Fuller gave it a good shot!” And then she said something that brought a gasp from me, followed by many tears. She wanted to thank me especially, she said, because, in a philosophy class that I taught, she came close to believing again. “It was in a lecture on Nietzsche. You laid out the issue of a living God versus a dead God, and for a moment—a moment!—I felt like I could believe again. But the feeling went away. But thank you for giving it a try!”

I still shed tears over her words to me. I often pray for her. I think much about what I, or the school that I served as president, should have done differently.”

Mouw continues by reflecting on what it might look like to make space for people asking questions and for people to be honest about how and what they believe. I pray that campus ministries and the wider church might provide that kind of space.

How do people find us?

The following anecdote from early on in the semester, a variation of which was sent via email to some supporters, helps address the question of how people find the Graduate Christian Fellowship:

  • One person I had met the previous week when I was tabling at the Graduate Student Orientation for the campus chaplains association. They had asked about whether I knew of any Christian groups for graduate students, and so I invited them to come and check us out, to see if we’d be a good fit (and if not, I’d help them find something else). They came slightly nervous and discovered a community that enjoyed being with each other and thinking through things together.
  • Another came to us because they’d been connected to a CRC campus ministry at a different university as an undergrad. They reached out to us, met with a staff member, and then came last night. Hopefully the connection started will lead to their participating in the ministry, whether through attending GCF or knowing that we’re available to them for pastoral care and/or conversations as they continue to explore Christian ethics related to their field. 
  • Another came to us last night because they had heard of GCF from someone who attended a few years ago and had found this a meaningful community.
  • Another came to us (along with a friend who is attending a local seminary) because they’d googled us and was delighted to hear that there was a Christian grad group on campus. They didn’t say much, but appreciated that we had gluten-free options for dinner (we also make sure there’s vegetarian options!). 
  • Another came to us because they’d heard good things about us from the folks at Knox Presbyterian Church, where they’ve begun to feel at home. They had been looking for spiritual direction and encouragement, so that will hopefully lead to further conversation. 

The list helps show all the ways that God brings people to us. Our prayer is that we might help all those who are looking to find a community that cares about them and where they might come to know God more deeply.

Brenda Kronemeijer-Heyink

Spring Update: God working in and through the ministry

As we wrap up our 54th year of encouraging students to engage with their faith on campus, we are thankful to once again share how God has been working in people’s lives and at the university. Through the pastoral work we do and the programs we offer, we challenge, mentor, and enable students to think, work, and live as Christian disciples in the academy and in their professions. Through wrestling with Scripture and difficult topics, we invite people into radical Christian discipleship, inviting them to rest in the hope of Christ and to participate in God’s work of bringing justice. 

The following is an example of one way that we’ve been blessed to see God work: 

During the pandemic, one of the grad students now participating in our ministry experienced a time when she was deeply overwhelmed. One evening she called out to Jesus and felt God’s presence in response. After this encounter with God, a friend encouraged her to connect with the ministry as a means of growing in faith. She started attending Wine Before Breakfast and soon became part of Graduate Christian Fellowship. Through her participation in the ministry and pastoral conversations with the campus ministers, she grew in her understanding of how God was inviting her into radical Christian discipleship in all of her life.   

This spring she was baptized at a local church during their Easter Vigil. What makes her baptism even more special is that her baptism class was led by Andrew, who has himself been significantly shaped by Wine Before Breakfast. 


To read an update about the ministry and more stories of how God is working in and through the ministry, read our spring newsletter.

The retirement celebration for Brian was another reminder of how God works in and through the ministry to touch the lives of many people. In case you missed the service, you can watch it here. The service starts at 11:50, speeches in honour of Brian start at 2:09:28.