by Mark and Judy Malan and Gweneth Schwab
An Idea is Born
It all started in the summer as our team of three met to plan how to work with the local (Bradley University) faculty group. We were struggling to build a list of Christian faculty because we could get few referrals from professors who did not know of other Christians themselves. In fact, some of them rather wistfully suggested that they wish they knew who the other Christians were on the campus.
Therefore, a first need was for them to meet each other — often for the first time. The easiest and most efficient event to accomplish this appeared to be an afternoon coffee for Bradley Christian faculty and spouses. We did a little bit of “polling” by phone to assess any preference for Saturday or Sunday afternoon, with the result that Sunday was favored just slightly more than Saturday. A big challenge emerged as we tried to find a Sunday in that first semester that was not already committed to major campus events such as concerts and sports competitions and that might not be so late as to merge with end of semester busyness.
The Invitation: A Mix of Cardstock and Prayer
We prepared a one-third page invitation on card stock with the details and the following comment:
Several of you have expressed interest in getting together for an informal time of building friendships and enjoying conversations across the disciplines. To serve this interest, a casual coffee/tea is being hosted early next month.
In order to provide a comfortable familiarity within the invitation, we invited a retired faculty member to host with us and be named in the invitation. The Mechanical Engineering Professor Emeritus, who for several years had sponsored the InterVarsity chapter on campus, agreed to host with us. In addition to being part of the invitation, his wife helped with some of the food items, and they both welcomed people as they first arrived.
We invited three ways: by dropping by faculty offices at different times to catch them in and introduce ourselves and our work briefly while handing them one of the invitations; by sometimes leaving them under doors or mailing them; and by emailing them at that same time and again just before the event.
The Big Day
We began with name tags on the corner of the serving table so food and drink could be gathered as well. We also made introductions “in clusters” as people arrived. In our enthusiasm for this event and its possibilities, we rather overdid the food, but we have since arrived at a good balance of about 3-4 sweets and 3-4 savories.
After some time of conversation, eating and drinking, our professor host gathered people to be seated and expressed an “official” welcome, gave a bit of Bradley Christian faculty history, and told of the value that such meetings together in the past had been in his life. He had people introduce themselves, their departments, and their length of time at Bradley.
At our invitation, Dr. Terry Morrison, Director of the Faculty Ministry at the time, joined us from Madison, Wisconsin to give some information and stimulate discussion. The discussion included others telling of personal experiences meeting together and it began to answer some of our questions about what the faculty might need and want to happen for them in the future. Our faculty staff spoke about our function in this ministry, asked for ideas for what they might do in the future, and told about upcoming events.
Because we started with a decent size list (20-25 names), we had hopes for a reasonable number of people. We hoped that the twenty-five story view of the city from the condominium might be an attractive reason to come as well. It certainly provided a safe, interesting, and easy topic of conversation when people were there.
Upon leaving, and in some conversations afterward, many expressed appreciation for the occasion, often emphasizing the value to them of the opportunity to meet others and talk. The group extended across the generations of middle career faculty and senior faculty. In addition, one professor new to the university and community just that semester came with his wife. A big challenge is to find any occasion to which the non-tenured faculty perceive they can spare the time to attend. An attractive aspect of the coffees is the invitation to the spouses.
The Continuance of God's Blessings
We have hosted a coffee on a Saturday or Sunday each semester since then. Our attendance has varied between 15 and 23. With those four coffees, we have twice included Terry Morrison to speak briefly and spark discussion. For the more recent two coffees we have asked two faculty members ahead of time to talk specifically on what they are learning about integrating their faith and their disciplines. We give them suggested questions ahead of time. Those have been lovely discussions with the whole group asking questions and making comments.
If they do not converse much yet with one another, we do with them! After each coffee, staff sends an email briefly and publicly “enjoying” it and thanking the faculty presenters while announcing the next event, i.e. luncheon discussion group, prayer meetings, etc. Our invitations now mention that two faculty will address the group.
The questions we give them ahead of time to stimulate their thinking are as follows:
- How is your research and scholarship a way to love God?
- How have you learned/are you learning to see your academic work through the gospel?
- Are there philosophies or theories that contradict the Bible?
- Where are the idols within your discipline?
- How does one love one’s neighbor in academic research? How and what do you share? What is that “cup of cold water” in this context?
Since another faculty person has offered to help with the food, we believe we are on our way to have faculty share in the hosting as we move forward. We continue to get people coming for the first time to the coffee. We continue to hope the non-tenured folk would come and be encouraged and blessed.
Image courtesy of Katherine Lim on flickr.