Recently Read: Failure to launch – I planned a service for students. None came.

greenbeltby Mark Yaconelli

The advertisement in our church news­letter was simple and straightforward. “We need someone to direct the college prayer service.” I’d spent two years as a parishioner of the 250-member church and was looking for a way to serve. As a veteran youth worker, a retreat leader, and author of four books on prayer and ministry, I felt like the ad was directed at me.

I met with the pastor, and she informed me that the church had received a grant to develop a service that would attract students from Southern Oregon University, a school with over 5,000 students, conveniently located just across the street. I told the pastor about my experience in developing prayer services for youth and adults. I showed her my books, told her about the research I’d done in spiritual formation, prayer, and ministry. She was impressed and gave me the volunteer position. I was ecstatic.

Over the next month I bought hundreds of candles, built and painted a six-foot cross, collected baskets of river stones, and designed and printed song sheets. I recruited and trained a trio of local musicians (violin, piano, and guitar) in various chants from Taizé, Iona, and other contemplative communities. I found three elderly church members to prepare a simple supper to serve the students after the service. I designed a logo, gave the service a religiously ambiguous title (“Thirst”), and put ads in the college newspaper. I then met with the college chaplain and various faculty members and asked them to help spread the word about the new service. Finally, I met with student groups, mailed letters to students who had identified themselves as interested in Christianity, and ate lunch each day on campus. In all my publicity I emphasized the service would provide free dinner and comfort for stressed-out students.

The night before the service I couldn’t sleep. I had visions of undergraduates, weary and lost, showing up for the service. I thought about the conversations I would initiate once the ser­vice ended. I began to dream about a campus Bible study or maybe a theological reflection group. I imagined taking a core group of students on a service trip to Mexico during the spring recess. The possibilities were endless. I was excited to see what God would do.

I showed up three hours before our first service. I helped prepare soup and then set up the chapel. I removed the front pews, placed the large wooden cross on the floor, filled metal trays with sand and primitive clay bowls with water and floating candles, set out fresh flowers, and placed warm-colored icons at the perimeter. I then sat in the chapel and prayed. I’d been praying for the service all along, but tonight I wanted extra time to pray. I sat by the cross, lit a candle, and in silence I asked God to bless the service. I prayed for the students, prayed that all my work would bear fruit in the lives of the students. My heart filled with a quiet joy as I sat in the chapel, grateful for the work that God was doing, grateful that I had been called to serve such a beautiful vision.

Fifteen minutes before the service began I lit the candles around the chapel, opened the front doors of the church, picked up a handful of the service bulletins, and stood at the church entrance. Immediately, I saw a group of 15 students walk across the street from the university. I smiled with warmth and gratitude as the students stepped onto the sidewalk in front of the church. They looked at me, a young woman waved, and then they turned and walked to the nearby grocery store. I stood and watched as various students passed by on the sidewalk, some glancing at me with curiosity, most oblivious to me and the publicized prayer service. At five minutes past the designated hour, I walked inside. There were the three musicians at the back of the room, the pastor, the three elderly women who fixed the evening meal, and me. That was it. Two months of work and prayer and preparation, and not one student.

Read the rest on Christian Century.

This essay is excerpted from The Gift of Hard Things. © 2016 by Mark Yaconelli.

Unknown-7

 

Mark Yaconelli is a writer, speaker, retreat leader, spiritual director, community activist, youth worker, storyteller, disco dancer, husband, and father.  Check out his web site.

Recently Read

Recently Read

Recently Read posts are stories the editors of The United Methodist Reporter have found interesting from other sites and wanted to share with our readers. The editors do not necessarily endorse the opinions shared in these stories, and referral here should not imply endorsement of that content.

8
Leave a Reply

applications-education-miscellaneous.png
The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
avatar
4 Comment threads
4 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
5 Comment authors
Richard F HicksCharles HarrisonPaul W.jimmie shelbyCurtiss Floyd Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Richard F Hicks
Guest
Richard F Hicks

Mark, you fell into idolatry – self idolatry – and the idolatry of the real estate. I know – intimately know – a person who was the new campus minister in Denton, Texas. She had a really big kick-off event ready for the first day of classes in January of her first year as the campus minister. She did all the promotion that one could do just like you did Mark. The pizza and prayer event was to begin at 6pm. At that same moment, CNN launched its new program live from the Persian Gulf – Desert Storm. The entire… Read more »

Paul W.
Guest
Paul W.

I’m sure the author’s unorthodox progressive theology and, ahem, “interesting” approach to prayer (e.g., Taize and Iona prayer chants) had absolutely nothing to do with why no students showed up. Seriously, read the linked article and google to see for yourself what he was promoting. In the main article, he gives an example of one of the repetitive “Taize prayer chants” he used and also recounts how, after 9 months of attending his “prayer” services, the non-Christian pianist he hired for the services asked to become a Christian even though (after 9 full months!) she had no understanding of what… Read more »

Charles Harrison
Admin

Paul, we are of the opinion that if you don’t have something nice to say you should say nothing at all. Attacking forms of Christian prayer and spirituality is a very poor Christian Witness. Please refrain from such poor behavior in the future. Mark has spent a great deal of time working with UMC Youthworkers and is well known in that circle as was his father Mike. They led Sabbath Retreats in conjunction with the Upper Room for several years. Therefore at UMR we were thinking he was relevant to a larger community of folks struggling with similar issues. And… Read more »

Paul W.
Guest
Paul W.

It’s your forum and I will respect your wishes. I do think UMR provides a good mix of insights from across the theological spectrum. I am confused though that you would desire less comments at this point in time when the UMC appears to be rushing headlong into schism. Since the underlying cause is primarily theological, particularly requiring an answer to the question, “Where are the boundaries within Wesleyan Christianity?”, I would think that UMR would welcome insight and background on the theological views of the various authors. My comments reflect my theologically conservative Wesleyan perspective. If I had provided… Read more »

Charles Harrison
Admin

Paul, let me be clear, we welcome diverse comments from a variety of folks expressing their opinions related to articles and commentary. You specifically post too often in our opinion. While everybody has an opinion more or less on everything we post, please notice that others do not feel the need to comment their opinions as frequently as you do. And it is always over the line to attack forms of Christian prayer and spirituality whether it is sarcasm or not and that is simply not a conservative nor a Wesleyan perspective to do so. Sarcasm is simply repressed anger… Read more »

jimmie shelby
Guest
jimmie shelby

I am disappointed you have censored and discounted my post. The article gave me much hope.

Charles Harrison
Admin

Jimmie, I do not know what you are talking about. Help me out please? We have not censored or discounted your post.

Curtiss Floyd
Guest

It has to start at home. You went the extra mile. Their parents and prior church experience, if any, didn’t.

Google+
%d bloggers like this: