In the midst of ministry joys and discouragements, God’s budding faithfulness is often found buried in the heart of our daily toils. Charles Barker, a West Coast staff member for Faculty Ministry, was once a pastor of a Californian church, but nowadays finds himself ministering deeply in the lives of faculty as he walks and prays in the halls of the Claremont Colleges and California State University of Los Angeles (CSULA).
After serving as an ordained pastor for many years, Charles felt a strong God-given desire to minister among what he calls the “church on Mondays”. His love for both God’s people and the academic life flourished in the summer of 2009 when he attended GFM’s yearly West Coast faculty conference as a guest. It was here that he met with two faculty members in particular who described the isolation, pressure, and professional anxiety they often faced as Christians at their universities and as faculty members in their churches. Charles soon found his way to the Claremont Colleges and Graduate Universities and to CSULA as a campus minister among faculty. These two campuses could not be more different.
When Charles first walked onto the Claremont campus, a few things were quickly evident. The campus already had an established faculty group of about 10-12 people and the faculty involved were flourishing in their weekly discussions and fellowship. Additionally, he found that Claremont faculty and students often lived close to campus, the schools themselves had a smaller population than many other universities, and a majority of the population was Caucasian. Charles continued to work with the faculty group on campus and weekly meets new faculty who are thrilled to be welcomed into a meaningful faculty fellowship for shared ministry on their campus.
Two years after he began working at Claremont, Charles found his way to California State University of Los Angeles, a public university without a Christian faculty group on site. God’s calling was clear and Charles began to pray as he gently walked the halls of this campus. On his walks, he noticed the flow of people walking to and from two large parking garages, the train, and the bus line next to campus, an indication that this was primarily a commuter school. He noticed that the population included mostly minorities and that, because the school was not an R1 university, the funding varied much between this campus and the Claremont campus. After meeting faculty who felt isolated and expressed a desire to meet with other Christian faculty on campus, the planting work with them began. However, unlike Claremont, getting a group together proved harder than expected. Faculty live as far as two hours away from campus, carry extra heavy teaching loads, are over-involved with university administrative commitments due to budget cuts, and faculty schedules rarely overlapped. Getting just two faculty members together in the same room was difficult and establishing a weekly gathering seemed near impossible.
Traveling and transitioning back and forth between these two very different campuses proved challenging. But Charles continued to faithfully pray, sow seeds at both universities, and follow God’s calling in both spaces, which Charles names as sacred ground belonging to God. But beyond Charles’ faithfulness is God’s faithfulness. Through his daily toils, God continually works in the lives of faithful faculty in both Claremont and CSULA. The weekly Claremont faculty group has grown to 25-30 people from its original 10-12. And remember how difficult it was to get just two faculty in the same place at the same time at CSULA? Well Charles is now meeting with a few groups on campus, each consisting of at least two faculty members. Through these interactions, faculty are more open on campus about their faith, the special challenges they face in their department and specializations, and are finding that being a Christian and a faculty member does not need to be an isolating experience.
And for those of you who are working and toiling daily while waiting on God to bring renewal to your campus, Charles gives this word of encouragement: ”Friends, keep showing up, keep praying, keep experimenting, and keep watching for signs of God’s kingdom on your campus. It’s about faithfulness, not numbers, and about a special work that God will unfold in your unique university context. The fruitfulness will come.”