A riddle for your reading:
Question: What does a discussion about the role of religion in the current political campaign have in common with one about a Zombie apocalypse?
Answer: Why the Campus Protestant Ministry Tuesday night discussion group, Dinner and Discussion around Diversity (or DDD) of course!
A Culture of Respect
Every Tuesday night during the academic year at Union College, a group of eager college students gather in the large living room at a Minerva house, Union’s social intellectual residential spaces. The question to be discussed is identified by the student leader and is posted on Facebook at Union College – Dinner and Discussion around Diversity (DDD), emailed to the 60 or so “members” and printed on student designed flyers the previous weekend. As participants enter the dining area, there is a shift from their classroom demeanor. This is not a place where points are made at the expense of personhood or for the sake of integrating what they have learned to attain a better grade point average. It is a culture of respect for different perspectives and an expectation that we won’t all agree. Each week the facilitator is asking a question that he or she genuinely wants to ‘vet’ on peers. After serving themselves tacos, chicken or some other source of sustenance, students settle in on oversized sofas. The Campus Minister greets everyone and invites all present to tell the gathering their name and response to that week’s ‘silly question’ (along the lines of what is your favorite tee shirt saying, the most unusual family nickname in your family etc.) After this weekly ritual, the student leader explains why they are asking the question set before the group and passes around a sheet containing quotes that answer their query from a variety of perspectives as they are found on the web.
An hour later, after exchanges that often include academic reading, personal experience and family values, the leader summarizes any learning that this peer exchange offered them (the second of the DDD rituals). The leader for the next week volunteers with a commitment to get the question to the publicity team before Sunday and the cycle of inquiry begins again.
A community of Christians who value a divergence of ideas and uphold the value of hospitality
The group often changes, attendance ebbs and flows, but there is a culture of respect and inquiry that remains a constant. At times DDD participants are the students that seek out the Campus Protestant Minister, Viki Brooks, for counsel about family problems or questions about the Bible. At times they are the ones sending friends to see Viki for the same or different reasons. At all times the subtext of our presence on campus is that there is a community of Christians in the form of the congregations and communities that support DDD, who value a divergence of ideas and uphold the value of hospitality. Many of the voices of Christianity that students find in social media are antithetical to acceptance and even to hospitality. The support of area Christian congregations in their endeavor to ask the questions that preoccupy their 20-something reality matters to them. Our Christian witness to students speaks loudly of our concern for diversity: even diversity that extends beyond our particular doctrines. Their experience at DDD offers them skills and experience in navigating the pluralistic world that awaits them beyond Union’s grounds.
The Rev. Dr. Viki Brooks has been a member of the Albany Presbytery for over 25 years and currently serves area congregations and governing bodies as the part-time Campus Protestant Minister at Union College. Viki’s serves community service includes membership on the founding board and task forces of the Capital Region Theological Center, past Board Membership at Planned Parenthood and member of the Board of Trustees of Albany Presbytery. She and her husband, John, live in Scotia where kayaking, gardening, cooking and entertaining keep them actively engaged in the outdoors and the practice of hospitality. You can reach Viki via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.