Campus Ministry Report for the Episcopal Chaplaincy to UC Berkeley

Submitted by: Tom Poynor – Episcopal Chaplain to UC Berkeley

Submitted to: the 174th Diocesan Convention, 25 September 2023

The 2022-2023 School year began with all the excitement of things finally seeming to almost, possibly be “back to normal.” However, “back to normal” remains an elusive destination. As I continue to work with students on how we navigate the constantly changing waters of life these days and the challenges of being a student at a high-pressure campus, the biggest question is how we create that definitive Christian trait of community.

The complexities of schedules means that a great deal of the chaplaincy is one on one meetings with students over coffee or meals. Despite the challenges of classes and lab schedules running increasingly later into the night, there were still many times throughout the year that the student group came together for community, food, friendship, and spiritual growth. Our fall included numerous brunches on Sunday mornings following church (I didn’t ask questions about whether they had gone…the table was always open).We marked the Season of Creation with a series of discussions on various works of art that reflect the spiritual and theological dimension of nature. This concluded with a “stations of St. Francis” in which we meditated on the life of Francis and his call to see all creation as holy. Close to Halloween we repeated our All Hallow’s Eve/Simpsons service in which we paired the readings for the All Hallow’s Eve liturgy with various short episodes from the many years of Simpsons Halloween episodes. The Fall semester was also marked by the grad student strikes. Several of our students were active in this important action and one of our recent alumni from the law school was instrumental in the negotiations.

The Fall semester concluded with an action of reconciliation when we shared a holiday train ride shared with the campus ministry at Stanford. We also held a festive Advent dinner. Finally, we co-hosted a study hall for students during Reading and Finals Weeks. This ministry was shared with St. Mark’s and First Presbyterian in Berkeley. The Spring semester began with a welcome back dinner themed as a “Burn’s Night Remix.” We took the idea of a Robert Burns dinner but, as a means of bringing each other back together, students were invited to bring their own songs or poems to read as we feasted on leek soup, vegan haggis, and ice cream and shortbread. Naturally we did sing “Auld Lang Syne.” This was followed the next week by our annual celebration of Candlemas with blessing of candles, music, and a special presentation.

We also discovered we could collaborate more with Stanford as we held a shared retreat at the Mercy Center in Burlingame. In this time we talked about listening, music, and created mini-meditation gardens and icon coloring sheets. During Lent we had a hybrid reading group focused on The
Voyage of the Dawn Treader and had appropriately sombre Sunday brunches. Spring semester concluded with a second round of study hall hosting. We concluded the academic year with a special service that recognized our graduates (always a bittersweet reality of campus ministry) and included spring time carols and a litany for care of Creation to send us forth into the verdure of summer.

As this fall races on towards All Saints and Advent, we are building on new partnerships while we rebuild our community. We are bringing our community together as Episcopalians while also expanding our partnership with First Presbyterian in which we are exploring ancient spiritual practices and progressive theological discussions. When you read this next year, you will hopefully see words that discuss the coming events such as: our repeat of All Hallows and the Simpsons, creative musical liturgies, a shared pilgrimage to Grace Cathedral, and another trip on the holiday train of lights!

The realities of being a student have always come with the challenges of figuring out who you are, what you believe, why your life matters, and how to do all that and pass your exams. These challenges feel ever and increasingly pressing now. The beauty of being in a sacramental church that is part of a diocesan family means that we have constant opportunities to Incarnate the Risen Christ in our midst and to be the hands of Jesus reaching out to welcome pilgrims on the way. I thank you for your financial and prayerful support of our campus ministries. We, literally, could not do this without our beautiful diocesan family supporting us as we create home away from home for students.

Submitted by Tom Poynor – Episcopal Chaplain to UC Berkeley