Permeable Boundaries: Stepping Across New Thresholds

By the Rev. Dr. Lucy Forster-Smith

Student ministry at Harvard University occurs in multiple settings across the campus. It occurs in Morning Prayers Senior Talks, where students bring an emblematic distillation of the impact of their college years. It occurs in the shimmering joy of the Harvard University Choir that swells in our Sunday Services. Student ministry also occurs in the gathering in the Pusey Room each morning, where the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s graduate student prayer group meets to begin their day in holy communion with God and one another. And it occurs in the evening during meals with the Memorial Church Student Advisory Board where conversations range from God’s calling in the life of being a student, to the challenges of finding a centered presence when there are many things that beg for attention and energy. Indeed, student ministry extends from Memorial Church to campus. But it does not stop there.

This year I have had the privilege of working with two programs offered by the Freshman Dean’s Office. These programs have led my feet across the threshold of a freshman dorm as well as into a classroom. The first of the programs occurred the first week that the Class of 2019 was on campus. Community Conversations is a program that gives first year students the opportunity to read a series of articles or in this instance, a book, designed to lift up questions, provide insight, and orient students to the range of diverse perspectives college life will open for new students. I had the privilege of leading one of the Community Conversation groups with Katie Woo ’17. In a circle of 20 or so first year students we shared insights, connections, wondering, and a worry that arose from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s autobiography, My Beloved World. Her struggles and accomplishments as a first-generation student at Princeton, her remarkable reflection on the role of mentors in her life, and her serendipitous joy at being nominated and appointed as a Supreme Court Justice gave students in the room an opportunity to name some of their own worry, wondering, excitement, and joy as they launched their voyage into the vast seas of Harvard College. Sitting in that circle and marveling at the diverse perspectives and curiosity of these students was deeply gratifying!

Another opportunity to spend time with first-year students off the Memorial Church grid came in February when an invitation came from the Freshman Dean’s Office to lead a three-week series entitled, “Reflecting on Your Life.” Begun some years back by faculty in the School of Education and the Freshman Dean’s Office, this program might be termed as a “speed bump” that slows down the racing pace of student life. For three Wednesdays we gathered in the Grays Common Room for pasta or pizza or subs, and with our dinner on our lap opened up the text of our lives with one another. Questions such as: Who has been an important influence in your life? What are the core values that shape who are you today? If you could make one change for planetary good, what would that be and how might you do it? What is the most important characteristic of being a friend and having a friend?

Taking time to step out of the pace of college life and gather in a circle of support is a practice many of us could carry into our post-baccalaureate life! But also contributing the practices of ministry — an ability to listen with compassion, laugh with abandon, love the light that arises from insight (inward seeing), and joining students on their journey — is a deep honor and privilege.

Poet Raymond Carver sums up this work in his poem, Late Fragment.

And did you get what
you wanted from this life even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.