Thursday, February 01, 2007

It's been quite the year...

Last night while lying in bed, waiting to fall asleep, I had one of those nighttime revelations:

A year ago today was the first day that I was no longer officially employed by the Lutheran Student Center.

It's been a year. Man, how time both flies and stands perfectly still all at once.

I miss campus ministry...a lot. Don't get me wrong--I'm very happy where I am and with what I'm doing, but there's just something about campus ministry that can't be replicated in a "normal" congregation. Maybe it's the academic setting, maybe it's just that college students are at that time in their lives when they're struggling to define who they are and questioning what they believe, maybe it's because for the first time in many of their lives they are grasping hold of their faith and making it their own (which is what confirmation is supposed to be about, except we confirm kids when they're entirely too young...but that's a subject for a different post). It's probably a combination of a number of factors, but it doesn't get much cooler than a campus ministry setting.

So today I'm feeling a little melancholy. And a little hurt, I think. The way my leaving came about last year...it wasn't supposed to happen the way it did. My salary was draining LSC's budget, I had spent so much time and energy trying to keep LSC's ministries afloat for the University of Nebraska's students that the ministries at Wesleyan and Southeast Community College were basically starting from scratch, and I had come to the painful realization that sooner or later, something drastic was going to need to change. I had every intent of staying at least through the end of the school year, but once word got out over Christmas break that I wasn't planning on staying, it was decided that it would be best if I were to leave right away.

I hope the students didn't get the impression that I bailed on them, because I didn't. I feel really bad about the way that happened. They had left for Christmas break, I had told them I'd see them when they got back, and the Monday they returned I was gone. I was able to be a part of Sunday worship the day before classes started, but that was only because I insisted that I should at least be given the opportunity to say goodbye in person. I really would have preferred doing it the following week, because there were a lot of students still not back yet. But the decision wasn't mine to make.

Others who have left have had a reception, or a party, or some sort of acknowledgement that they made a positive impact. Looking back, I now realize I was thanked very nicely and quietly shown the door.

It's not about me, it really isn't. It's about the way everything looked. It looked as though I was sneaking out shamefully, as if I had done something wrong or underhanded. It looked as though I was waiting for the students to leave for break so I could pack up my office and get outta town. It looked, by my hasty and quiet departure, as though I had been caught doing something I shouldn't have. People leaving under good circumstances get a party. Those who have done wrong do not. I knew I was leaving with my head held high, I'm just afraid others may have seen what happened and wondered.

Bottom line is that my program hadn't yet run out of money, but the writing was on the wall, and I felt it would have been bad stewardship to go try to raise enough funds to prop things up for a couple extra months. I wanted to stay and help longer than I did, but I was unfortunately not given that option.

And I'm proud...very proud...of the work God was able to do through me during my time at LSC. I was there during one of the most difficult periods in its history, and worked my butt off, even though I didn't know what the hell I was doing half the time. I know I made plenty of mistakes, and I know there's plenty I could have done better, but I will ALWAYS look back on those 2 1/2 years with great love for the center and the students and with pride in the work I did.

I found my resignation letter...here's what I wrote:

Dear LSC Board and students,

It is with mixed emotions that I write this letter to resign my position as the Lutheran Student Center’s Director of Campus Ministry for Southeast Community College and Nebraska Wesleyan University, effective February 1, 2006.

It’s been a pretty incredible road God has led us down these past two years. Nobody, myself included, could have imagined everything that has happened. Though stretches of this road have been extremely difficult, God has done some amazing things through it all.

This is not a decision I have made lightly. I’ve loved my time at LSC, I’ve enjoyed the challenges of outreach ministry, and I’ve made some relationships that I will treasure for a long time. It has been unfortunate that the challenges LSC has faced recently have come at a time when a fledgling ministry was trying to take shape, both programmatically and financially. Recently, it’s been increasingly obvious that the SCC/NWU ministry has become a financial drain on LSC, at a time when LSC’s own budget faces uncertainty.

For the sake of LSC’s core program, the SCC/NWU ministry needs to be able to stand on its own. Due to a number of factors outside anybody’s control, we’re not at a point where that will be able to happen anytime soon. Out of fairness to everybody, a decision needed to be made relatively quickly as to what should be done—either fight on and try to raise a large amount of financial support while at the same time rebuilding two programs still in their infancy that have taken a big hit this past year, or to let it go. After examination of all the factors, some long talks with my family and much prayer, I believe the best decision for LSC and its future, as well as my and my family’s future, is to let it go.

I was at a text study the other week, and one of the texts was 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16. In it, King David decides that since he lives in a house, but the Lord (the Ark of the Covenant) only lives in a tent, that he should build the Lord a permanent temple. He asks the prophet Nathan what he thinks. Nathan at first says it’s a good idea, but after the Lord speaks to him, goes back to King David and says that God said not to do it. One of the pastors at the text study said the theme he took away from this passage is, “when I’ve made big plans and have everything in place ready to serve God, how do I react when God says ‘No, not right now’?”

For one reason or another, God seems to be saying “no, not right now” to the SCC/NWU ministry. LSC is at a delicate point in its history. We’ve recently lost a beloved long-time pastor, we’ve gone over a year now without full-time pastoral support, we’re searching for a new pastor and seem to be on the cusp of some big but exciting changes. I’m thankful to have been here through this time, and hope that I have been some help. I leave with many questions about my future, but with no ill feelings about the way things have gone. I hope the same is true for each of you in regards to me and the SCC/NWU ministry.

I wish for you all God’s blessings in your lives and in the individual ministries to which God has called you. Thank you for the dedication you have shown LSC through a difficult time, and thank you for all you have done for me personally as well.


In Christ,

LH

3 comments:

Rev Scott said...

Not having been on staff at the time, I can't speak for anyone official, but I'm certain no one ever thought you were sneaking out of your place. Anyone with half a brain and a quarter of a heart would know how much you loved the ministry you were doing and how painful it was to say goodbye.

I think I respect you even more for being able to see the writing on the wall and taking the painful steps you did for the sake of the overall ministry on all campuses in Lincoln. Many people, including myself, could learn something from such discernment and wisdom.

Don't give up on campus ministry - I have a feeling you're not done on campus just yet.

Brian said...

I would tend to agree with Scott. Anyone who knows you well knows that you wouldn't have tried to sneak out. You always seem to have the knack for doing the right thing. That decision must have been extremely difficult for you to make, but we all know looking back it was the right one for you and the LSC.

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

Having been in campus ministry myself, having served on campus ministry boards of all sorts... the more 'corporate' the church becomes sometimes - the less centered on Christ we are. Unfortunately your experience echoes that of others - who meant to be honest, & cared a great deal for the ministry & students & who essentially was told not to come back for 2nd semester. It grieves me when the church fails good servants. (It's like expecting a great latte... and then tasting it you know the milk is w-a-y past it's due date.)

Don't let one bad taste discourage you. Trust your gifts. Trust Christ. Even when the church fails us... be faithful to Jesus & he'll show you the way.