Vanderbilt University Faculty Dinner

The Problem

At Vanderbilt, we had been experiencing a lack of faculty involvement with our graduate students and with each other. We perceived the dominant attitude to be ‘survival,’ a heads down, eyes closed, ‘Let’s just make it through’ kind of mentality. While we have had good relationships with the faculty, their interaction with our ministry has often baffled us: Why don’t they join? Why don’t they participate? That was the conundrum we found ourselves in the Fall of 2006.

The Seeds

But, that semester, we started talking intentionally with professors about their involvement. Two interactions stood out to us.

At the first, one of our staff met a professor at Panera Bread for coffee. She knew of a Christian faculty group years before who had met weekly and had good community. The problem was that the professors who had run the group had long since retired or moved away. As we talked, we discussed the two presenting problems to Christian faculty community at Vanderbilt: the faculty members are too busy, and they don’t know one another. The busyness and the lack of social relationships would make forming such a community difficult, indeed! One possible solution arose: a faculty dinner. Most faculty members are very busy, but the dinner was only a couple of hours on a Saturday night. Even though the faculty did not know one another, we set the stage in a neutral, off-campus environment.

The second professor worked on the other side of campus. We met at Starbucks and talked about faculty and their needs. The question arose…do we want a speaker at an event like this? What kind of formal programming do we need? He reasoned that if we’re trying to help professors get to know one another, we needed to keep it low-key—a social dinner is all that was needed. He, for one, felt the time was ripe for Christian professors to find themselves and one other in a Christian community.

The Preparation

When we decided to go forward with the dinner, we first reached out to a faculty couple who have a wonderful home for entertaining larger groups. We met with them for lunch to talk about our vision for the night, decided a caterer would be best for the food, and the preparation was underway!

We searched our databases looking for names and addresses of faculty we knew were believing Christians. The breaking down of walls among professors was evident when we shared the list with our hosts. Many times they exclaimed, “I had no idea Professor Brown was a Christian; but that sure makes sense!”

We sent out paper invitations via snail mail to our list of over 50 faculty, and the RSVPs came in. We received a surprisingly high number, and those who said they could not come registered their excitement with the idea and disappointment at not being able to attend.

The Results

We were surprised when over thirty people came to the event! Not only that, but the professors relaxed around one another, even enjoying an ice breaker game of “Find Someone Who.” After the event, we experienced an outpouring of appreciation. Here is what one professor wrote us the next day:

I want you to know how much I enjoyed last night’s Christian faculty dinner. It was so amazing to be in the room with other Christian faculty and to talk — at a faculty dinner of all places — about our churches, our walks with God, our classrooms as a mission field. I felt so uplifted, encouraged and supported by the whole evening. The Holy Spirit was really in the room.

Thank you so much for the time and energy you and those with whom you work invested in creating such an affirming evening. It was wonderful and I look forward to the next one!

Additional Resource: The Faculty Scavenger Hunt Game

Image courtesy of Corey Seeman on flickr.


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