It’s that time of the year for retrospection.
After posting my Top Ten Songs of 2021, Top Ten Books of 2021, and Top Ten Hikes of 2021, I thought that I would turn my attention to things that might be considered more substantial, if perhaps not as tangible. Specifically: ministry and family life. The very nature of ministry, in particular, makes it hard to summarize and hard to point out “finished products.” Especially in the second year of a global pandemic! It’s also challenging to represent ministry highlights with a single image (if indeed there are images at all) or a single paragraph, like the other categories I’ve considered. Still, I appreciate the way that a retrospective exercise like this helps to heighten my awareness and appreciation of everything God has been doing. So I’m giving it a try, even if the results might be imperfect…
So anyway — without further ado, here are my Top Ten Ministry Moments of 2021, in ranked order:
- December Baptism Celebration on the Esplanade
- Spiritual Conversations on the Descent from Mount LeConte
- H2O ManMaker Weekend
- Increased Diversity in the Centennial Life Group Region
- Charting a Course to a New Church Plant at Youngstown State University
- Walking with People through the Losses of COVID-19
- The H2O Lunch Club
- Local Spring Break Experience
- Leading the H2O Internship Program Together with Jason
- Welcome Week, August 2021
And again, for any who might appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:
#10 – Welcome Week, August 2021
It felt so good to have the campus of Kent State University feel busy again! The 2020-21 school year was a faint echo of what the campus usually feels like — and its version of Welcome Week was especially weak. This year, though, the vibe was back to maybe eighty or ninety percent of a typical year. When we were outside, we didn’t even have to think too much about masks or other protocol. We just got to make human connections. Especially with first-year students. I’d estimate that we had at least some level of connection with maybe 2500 students. And by the end of the week, we had almost 600 interest surveys filled out.
#9 – Leading the H2O Internship Program Together with Jason
My co-pastors and I have been taking turns with leading the H2O Internship Program for the last eight years. It’s been a highly successful ministry initiative for us, and there’s been something beautiful and beneficial about the variety of leaders leaving their marks. It’s also been practical to have one pastor lead at a time, opening up bandwidth for the others to assume responsibility for other areas of ministry. At the same time, leadership of the Internship Program has become such a life-giving space where nobody wants to be left out. So in the Fall of 2021, Jason Slack and I decided to lead the H2O Internship Program together. And it’s been fantastic. We complement each other well, and we’ve gotten to develop another great class of interns. I hope we can keep this up for years to come.
#8 – Local Spring Break Experience
When Kent State University’s Spring Break rolled around in April, the pandemic situation was still precarious enough that we didn’t feel comfortable leading short-term missions trips to our usual, far-off destinations. Transportation and accommodations were particularly challenging. But one of our newest staff members had the idea to organize a “Local Spring Break Experience” where people could provide their own transportation and lodging — but we could still coordinate our schedules to learn and grow together. I helped Clay to develop and execute his idea. So that week, we talked about spiritual disciplines and global missions. We played games and volunteered together to clean up some public trails in Akron. And I’m proud to say that we found a way to redeem this week that has been such a special part of our ministry calendar.
#7 – The H2O Lunch Club
It used to be really normal for people to go get lunch together after the H2O worship gathering on campus. We’d finish at Bowman Hall sometime between 12:30 and 1:00 PM, and then we’d all walk down to the Hub in the Student Center. Sometimes as many as 30 or 40 people would be doing lunch together, and it felt like such a strong element of community for our church. But the University has been making a lot of changes to its dining services over the last few years. And lately, the Hub just hasn’t had to hours or the options to allow this H2O tradition to continue. So it just kind of died out… until this year! With the help of a few committed people from the Centennial Life Group, we’re reviving “Lunch Club” by rotating through a few of the fast food places on East Main Street, within walking distance of Bowman. It’s been really fun to build this culture again. I hope it can continue in 2022.
#6 – Walking with People through the Losses of COVID-19
It’s been a hard year for a lot of people. A few people in our church have had multiple family members recently die from COVID-19. A few others have been forced to grapple with their own mortality, through sickness. And almost every student has lost opportunities or experiences that they had hoped to include in their college years. So we’ve had to learn to lament and grieve over the last year. There’s been a lot of deep soul-searching and conversation and prayer through all of this. And even though it feels kind of weird to include this as a “Top Ministry Moment” for the year, I have to admit that it feels sacred, holy, to walk with people through this process of grieving. I can think of meals and walks and text threads that all provided unparalleled opportunities for growth and spiritual development through all of the challenges. I’m not thankful for COVID. But I am thankful for God’s faithfulness through COVID.
#5 – Charting a Course to a New Church Plant at Youngstown State University
We’ve been wondering about YSU since 2016. We’ve made many visits… talked to other ministry leaders… made connections on campus… talked as a church leadership team… and prayed to God for his guidance. Youngstown State University is such a unique campus, just 45 minutes away from Kent. It includes 11,000 students whose spiritual need is just as great as the students at Kent State University — but their opportunities for on-campus engagement are significantly less. So, after a long and careful process of trying to follow God’s leading, it was a thrill this summer when we finally decided that we’d attempt to start a new church on campus at YSU in the Fall of 2022. I’m very excited about the team that we’re sending out, and I’m curious to see what God will do in the coming months (and years)!
#4 – Increased Diversity in the Centennial Life Group Region
The Life Group that I coach is a quirky one. We don’t get the mobs of underclassmen clumped together that some of the other H2O Life Groups have. But there are some really unique and lovely things about our group. I’ve been especially appreciative this year of our Life Group’s diversity and connection to so many different communities on campus. We have a pretty significant contingent of graduate students (which has been rare for H2O in years past). There are connections to the Student-Athlete community… the Greek Life Community… the International Student Community… the Gay Community… the Disabled Community… and also the “church kids” that we typically excel at engaging. When I think about these people and the opportunities that lie ahead for us, I get more and more excited about the rest of this school year.
#3 – H2O ManMaker Weekend
This retreat in March felt like a “Coming out of COVID” party. Or at least a big gulp of fresh air in an otherwise suffocating season. We did almost everything outdoors (and the weather happened to cooperate beautifully), so it felt like we could relax a little bit. And the outdoor element added some extra fun to the established repertoire of teaching, worship, workshops, and free time. Particularly with building fires and hiking around the grounds of Camp Stony Glen. My favorite part of the weekend was a workshop I got to lead, provocatively titled “How to Start a Fire, Drink a Beer, and Please a Woman in Bed.” In some ways, I wish ManMaker could be like this every year!
#2 – Spiritual Conversations on the Descent from Mount LeConte
I love hiking. I love ministry. So you better believe that I love any opportunity I get to combine the two! On the way up the mountain, I got to talk with some of our newer Staff about church-planting and with some of the younger students about spiritual disciplines. On the way down, though, the conversation was especially rich as I talked with one young man through the process of realigning his life with the Good News of Jesus and proclaiming his faith through baptism. I also got to talk with another student about the possibility for going on staff. And it just felt like a very meaningful time of community, faith, and recreation.
#1 – December Baptism Celebration on the Esplanade
I wrote more extensively about this experience at the time that it happened, but my memory of the experience has grown even fonder over time. Seven stories of God’s grace… Back between Bowman Hall and the Esplanade (emblematic of our whole semester of getting to operate more freely on campus)… And some particularly special individuals taking this step of faith. It was a great way to close out the calendar year of ministry. God has been faithful through it all!