Friday, August 28, 2009

A Prayer for Southwestern

Gracious God,

As we enter another school year, we lift these prayers to you:

Bless our students, God, as they study and learn in their classes, but also bless them as they discover more about who they are. May they be people who seek excellence and ways to serve others around them. Give them wisdom in their decision-making and peace in their challenges. And may they do all of this for your glory.

Bless our faculty, staff and administrators, God, as we invest our lives in our students. May we be diligent, wise and compassionate as we interact with students and continue to grow as a learner ourselves.

May this place, Southwestern College, be a place that sends forth people who understand the challenges of the world and seeks to meet those challenge. And may we do that with wisdom and grace.

Lord, bless us, guide us, protect us, and use us to accomplish your purposes here on earth. We humbly ask this in your name, Amen.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Called by God

I went to Southwestern College expecting to get a good education in a Christian environment. I did not expect to be called to ministry. I started college as a Biology major, planning on being a physical therapist. Southwestern had a great program and wasn’t terribly far from my hometown. On the first Sunday that we were in town for college, despite the fact that my twin sister and I had grown up American Baptist, we decided to attend one of the local United Methodist churches with some our new friends. The second Sunday we were in town, we planned to go to the American Baptist church right next door to the UM church we had attended, but unfortunately discovered that they started at 10:40. Since it was 10:43 and we didn’t want to walk in late, we just went to the UM church again, this time by ourselves. It was Youth Sunday and I was hooked! I was impressed by what I saw from the youth of the church and decided that it was a place where I could call my church home.

During my freshmen and sophomore years, I volunteered with the youth ministry at this UM church. The summer after my sophomore year, I even agreed to be the full-time summer intern. Our senior pastor retired from ministry during that summer and though he didn’t know me very well, said to me as I walked out of church on his last Sunday, “Ashlee, keep your ears open for the call of the Holy Spirit to ministry.” I was baffled! Why would he say something like that? He barely knew me! And, I was a woman! Despite the background of the American Baptist tradition, I had not seen role models of women in leadership positions in ministry in my local church. And, I had been exposed to some very narrow teaching of some of the “hard passages” found in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians about women in ministry and had been left thinking my role was a “supportive” role in the home or church. My summer as a youth intern radically opened up my eyes to the fact that I might actually have some gifts that God could use in a way that brought glory to him! The youth pastor, Bill, encouraged me and said that if I ever wanted to be a youth pastor, he would recommend me to a church. I politely laughed it off and didn’t think much more about it.

The fall of my junior year of college brought an opportunity for me to serve in a leadership capacity with Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) on my campus. The ministry really began to boom during that time! After one night of having nearly 80 people at an FCA game night, the Director of Student Life, Martin asked me, “So…when are you going to go on staff with FCA?” I was floored and said, “Well, that would be awesome, but that will never happen. I’m going to be a physical therapist.” He smiled and said, “We’ll see.” That semester I also had signed up for a New Testament class “for fun” taught by the Campus Minister/Religious Studies professor. After I did an exegetical presentation, the professor kept me after class and asked if I had ever thought about seminary. I laughed at him and said, “Baptist girls don’t go to seminary!” He smiled and said, “Well, maybe you’re not Baptist.” Within a couple of weeks I was given an opportunity to attend Exploration ’96, an event held for young people exploring ministry in the United Methodist Church which was held in Dallas that year. The only problem was that it was the same weekend as the big “grudge match” against our biggest football rival and I was an Athletic Trainer for the school. Even though I really didn’t want to miss the game, ultimately, I felt a sense of purpose and expectation about Exploration. Honestly, I don’t remember specific things that people said during that weekend, but I do remember that at the end, if we felt a call to ministry, we were asked to come forward and pick up a piece of fabric at the altar. I carried mine in my bible for years! I went to the weekend with a sense of uncertainty about whether or not I was called to ministry. I went home from the weekend still with a sense of uncertainty about ministry, but I did know one thing for certain: God had indeed been calling me to ministry and though the details were hazy, I could trust that in the right time, God would show me what to do. For me, saying yes to the opportunity for ministry meant saying no to something else that I wanted. In this instance, that was working at a football game, but it represented much more. It really meant laying down some of my plans and previous desires and being open to…well, I didn’t really know what I was being asked to be open to. I knew that I could trust God’s heart and that God would use me in the world, but I wasn’t exactly sure what all that would entail.

That lesson has served me well as I did end up going on staff with FCA, then on to seminary, and now ending up in campus ministry at the very campus where I was called! God has shown me that when we do keep our ear open to the call of the Holy Spirit to ministry, God is going to use us in ways that are beyond our imagination. I love Frederick Buechner’s quote about vocation: “Vocation is where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” I’m sure happy that God cares about my gladness! It has truly been a joy to serve God by serving youth and college students over these last 13 years! For me, the world’s deep need is that young people are often sent mixed messages from their peers, their family, or the world, about who they are. My gladness has been building relationships with young people and helping them see who God is calling them to be. God placed people in my life who gave me a word from God in the right moment to make me keenly aware to those ways that God was at work. The questions asked by people who cared about me were revealing the things that God was saying to me internally, if not through words, through desires and thoughts. I’ve seen God confirm my obedience after I step out in faith. I may not always know where I am going to end up, but I definitely trust the God who has called me there.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"I'll be praying"

“We should have lunch sometime!” “I owe you one.” “I’ll be praying for you.” These well-intended phrases often flippantly roll from our tongue without much thought. I remember when a good friend taught me about the power of phrases like this.

“We should have lunch sometime!” I said casually.

“When?” she
asked specifically.

Well, truth be told, I didn’t really have a day in mind. I was just being polite, expressing that I’d had a good time hanging out with her and her friends and I hoped they invited me to hang out again. But her request reminded me not to throw around comments like that, devoid of intention. Such it is with the phrase: “I’ll be praying for you.” When? What will you pray? For how long?

Today is Day 1 of an intentional, shared, and specific prayer campaign set aside to support United Methodist campus ministry in prayer. My friend, Creighton Alexander, and I, along with 38 other people who care about campus ministry, have written prayers that provide an answer to some of those questions.

  • When should we pray for campus ministry? Starting today.
  • What will you pray? A prayer written by someone who cares about campus ministry.
  • For how long? 40 days.

Each day the prayer will be made available here. If you are on Twitter, follow us at: and we will send you a link to the prayers daily. Finally, if you would like to download the entire collection of prayers, you can download it here.

We ask you to join us in these prayers, lifting up in general the ministries for college aged young people around the UMC connection. We also ask you to specifically pray for the ministries or young people with whom you are acquainted. Let them know that you’re praying for them. And if through your prayer time, you feel inclined to do something, do it in the knowledge that you are being sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit. We don’t have a hidden agenda for these prayers. We simply want God to bless the ministers and students of our college campuses around the world. And we think that it is important enough to involve others in this season of specific prayer. Won’t you join us?

Monday, August 03, 2009

School's Starting--Let Us Pray

When I was in high school, I took up running. It was mostly in rebellion to the volleyball coach, as I quit the team my senior year and said that I was going to run cross country, but in this act with less than noble intentions, I learned a valuable lesson. I learned what it means to have a daily commitment to a formative practice in my life. While running is of some value, spiritual training has value for this age and the age to come.

Prayer is one of those formative practices. But it is often something that we take for granted as a Christian practice. It is just something that we “do.” We learn prayers when we’re young, we stand in a circle holding hands and offer our thanks or share a request, and we add prayers to the prayer chain. But I, for one, have felt a sense of inadequacy in my prayers from time to time. When I was in seminary, I was a part of a prayer group that started each week with the questions, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Since that time 7 years ago, I have learned a few things about prayer. I have learned many things about prayer since that time, but want to briefly identify three.

  1. I have learned to appreciate the prayers of others.

  2. I have found consolation in the rhythm of prayer at different times throughout the day.

  3. I have enjoyed a sense of praying (even if not physically) with others the same prayer.

I am excited to now be a part of a prayer initiative that unites all three of these particular lessons.

I’ve written about this project before, but as we approach the launch of 40 Days of Prayer for Campus Ministry, I want to once again invite people to participate in sustaining the collegiate ministries in the United Methodist Church in prayer during the first 6 weeks of the fall semester. The prayers are written by pastors, campus ministers, administrators, professors, general board officials, and even a couple of bishops. They are honest and passionate pleas to God on behalf of the 17 million students who will head to college in just a couple of weeks. Since I’m helping to compile the prayers, I’ve had a sneak peek at them and am thrilled at the way that they show a glimpse into God’s heart for college students (and the church, too, by the way).

The prayers are going to be posted daily, starting August 17, at and will last until September 25. After August 10, we’ll have the entire prayer book available for download at the same website and we would like to encourage people to share the prayers with their congregation, board of directors, district superintendent, students, or local pastors. Those lessons that I learned in running—daily, ongoing, sacrificing actions—are applicable to prayer. I do hope that you’ll join me in prayer.