I took a long walk along the Buckeye Trail this morning. 11.1 miles. All the way from the Mantua Bog State Nature Preserve to the campus of Hiram College and back.
The route passed through some of the most beautiful sections of the Buckeye Trail I’ve experienced yet: a tunnel of shady trees hanging over an old, converted railway… a really pretty (though unassuming) waterfall… a winding segment of single-track through old forest… some boggy meadows… gorgeous fields of soy and corn around century farmhouses… and pretty little Hiram, too.
I’ve wondered about Hiram for quite awhile, ever since hearing about its connection to James Garfield and the Gilded Age of Ohio history. I pictured it as a pretty little college town, maybe kind of like Ashland, Ohio, or (the fictional) Westish, Wisconsin. But it was actually even littler than I imagined! It seems like three-quarters of the town is the College. When I stopped a student to ask about lunch options in town, he told me there was the Campus Dining Hall (guests must be escorted by a student), Gionino’s Pizzeria, and a Maggie’s Donut Shop (which happened to be closed).
It really was a charming campus — but it’s quite a bit different from Kent!
Following some prayer-walking prompts from EveryCampus.com, I observed that Hiram was a really diverse campus — significantly more so than Kent, to my surprise. The people around town seemed pretty friendly, but I didn’t see any obvious signs of spiritual life. I mean, there was clearly some historical connection to the Church, with several buildings suggesting that they were former places of worship. There was also at least one good-sized church building just across the street from campus (Hiram Christian Church). Still, the college website seems to indicate only one Christian student group registered on campus (The Net). There weren’t any posters or flyers, as far as I could see. And the one freshman I talked to (as I helped her to schlep a case of water across campus) said that she thinks there may be some Christians around Hiram, but she didn’t know any of them personally.
There weren’t any obvious obstacles to ministry at Hiram College, though my research has been pretty superficial up to this point. The small-town dynamics could be a real boon to vibrant campus ministry (especially with such a large percentage of students living on campus). But I could see how there might also be challenges with everyone living in such a “fishbowl.” I expect human hearts are hard in Hiram, much as they are in Kent and in any other college town. But there weren’t any clear show-stoppers that made it seem like campus ministry at Hiram College would be unrealistic.
After walking through Hiram for awhile, I wandered back along the Buckeye Trail towards the place where I had parked my car — and I ended up finding a grove of Aspen trees, not far from Hiram. I’ve been thinking about Aspens as an interesting word picture for exploring possibilities for new inroads to collegiate ministry throughout Northeast Ohio. So, the Aspen grove felt like a smile and a nod from God, motivating me to pray further for the idea of sending out runners from Kent to test out environmental conditions in places like Hiram to see what God might grow. I don’t feel possessive or pressured to make something happen. But I’m curious to see what God might eventually do at Hiram College.