52 Weeks of Chaplaincy

Today marks my one-year anniversary as the Chaplain at Ohio Northern University, and what a year it has been!  At this time last year, I was busy filling out employment paperwork, finding my way around campus, and figuring out how being a college chaplain is different from being the pastor of a church.  Boy, is it different!  I’ve learned a lot of things over the last 52 weeks, but I thought I’d share 52 of my favorite lessons from my first year as a chaplain.  Here they are, in no particular order:

  1.  There is never a dull moment in campus ministry.
  2. You can get more done over one cup of coffee than in three hours of meetings.
  3. Don’t be afraid to try new things, or do old things in new ways.
  4. You are not an authority.  On anything.  (Get used to it.)
  5. The people in Student Affairs are your best friends.  Get to know them.
  6. Word spreads fast on a small university campus.
  7. Meetings sometimes start late.  Like, really late.  Sometimes 9 or 10 at night late.
  8. Freshmen look scared, but what they sometimes don’t realize is that inside, they are braver than they think.
  9.   Seniors (and P5s/P6s) look like they have everything under control, but sometimes on the inside they are more scared than the freshmen.
  10.   Faculty members are not the enemy.  In fact, they can be the chaplain’s biggest ally.
  11.   Never put your robe on too early before an academic ceremony—it can get hot!
  12.   Being part of a “platform party” is not as fun as it sounds.
  13.   The leadership potential of emerging adults is tremendous.
  14.   Part of the chaplain’s job is to encourage and draw out leadership potential in students who seem least likely to possess it.
  15.   People of different faiths and belief systems can get along if they are authentic in expressing who they are and what they believe.
  16.   Prayers don’t have to end “In Jesus’ name…” to be in Jesus’ name.
  17.    If you’re not sure about your theology, you soon will be.
  18.   Plan.
  19.   Do a review after every event.
  20.   Utilize the talents and gifts of others.
  21.   Take time off.
  22.   Be prepared for times of great busyness and activity, followed by periods of quiet and solitude.
  23.   Make good use of school breaks.
  24.   Find out where things are on campus.  Take frequent walks.  If you’re wearing school colors/logo, someone will stop and ask you for directions.
  25.   Meet students where they are, but don’t leave them there.
  26.   A college campus is like an ecosystem—everything works best when there is a balance.
  27.   If you tell someone that you are not very busy, they will find something for you to do.
  28.   Having an “elevator speech” about your project/program is essential.
  29.   The chaplain’s “congregation” leaves town at Christmas and Easter—this can lead to a lot of extra adrenaline over the holidays.
  30.   Strive to maintain your personal spiritual disciplines.
  31.   Build a good relationship with your building custodian/housekeeper.
  32.   (Almost) everything they taught you in seminary about being a good pastor applies to being a good chaplain.
  33.   The things that don’t apply are crucial, and should be respected.
  34.   You don’t have to preach for 30 minutes to get your message across.
  35.   Most of the time, you don’t have to preach at all.
  36.   The message isn’t yours, anyway.  It’s God’s.
  37.   A good administrative assistant is worth his/her weight in gold.
  38.   When a student comes into your office and says, “Can we talk?” get ready for some serious listening!
  39.   Always show up at a campus event ready to pray, if asked.
  40.   Get to know the academic deans and their staff members.
  41.   The same applies to the people in financial affairs, admissions, security, athletics—you name it.
  42.   Never neglect time with your family.
  43.   Clergy and parachurch organization colleagues are precious resources.
  44.   Reach out to local churches—be a “fill-in” preacher.
  45.   Be a part of a small group where you aren’t seen as ‘the chaplain’ for one hour a week.
  46.   Network with other chaplains and campus ministers.
  47.   Learn how to use social media.
  48.   Build up your student leaders.  Train and encourage them.
  49.   Show up at student events.
  50.   Campus ministry is not “Youth Ministry 2.0”
  51.   Campus ministry does not exist in a vacuum separate from the Church.
  52.   Campus ministry is the hardest, but most rewarding, work I have ever done.

Well, that’s it–52 things I’ve learned over the past year as a chaplain.  There have been many, many more things I’ve learned, but these are my favorite.  It’s been a steep learning curve, but I’ve really felt blessed this year to have the opportunity to work with such wonderful students, faculty and staff, and I look forward to many years more.



Surprised by God

So, I arrived at the chapel Monday morning, and this is the view that greeted me:

ImageI was quite surprised, actually, to see this tree in full bloom–even though I walked past it on the way into church on Sunday morning.  I guess that I was preoccupied at the time (not practicing mindfulness, I suppose), because it wasn’t until Monday that I noticed these beautiful blossoms!  Life is like that sometimes.  We walk past the beauty of God’s creation, and we don’t notice a thing–our minds all occupied with our own business (and busyness), so that we even walk past our fellow human beings without noticing them.  It reminds me of the line from The Color Purple, where Alice Walker wrote, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”  I once found a prayer (yes, a prayer!) that included that line, and I included it in a worship service that I was leading in England.  Let’s just say it had a shocking effect on the congregation!

Sometimes, God shocks us–surprises us–with joy and moments of wonder, especially when we least expect it.  When I looked out my window and saw those beautiful blossoms on the trees, I was surprised–so much so that I audibly gasped–and then got up and took a picture!

When was the last time that God surprised you?  When was the last time you gasped at the beauty around you?  When have you suddenly noticed something that you’re sure wasn’t there before, and it stopped you in your tracks just enough that you had to say a small “thank you” to God for the moment?

Thank you, God, for the little surprises of life.  They keep me in awestruck wonder at your grace and mercy every day.




An Order for Prayer for Final Exam Week

As this is exam week, it means that things are pretty quiet around the Chapel here at ONU.  So, I’ve offered myself as a personal “prayer warrior” to our students and faculty.  I’ve already had a few take me up on my offer to pray for them during specific exam times, and I hope more will do so as the week progresses.

I’m a liturgical “nerd,” so I like making things like prayer services.  It provides a bit of structure for my oft-wandering mind.  So, here’s an order of prayer for those praying during exam week (either for yourself, or others).  Enjoy!



An Order of Prayer During Final Exams

O Lord, open our minds.
And our pens shall show forth knowledge and praise.

The Collect (In unison)
Almighty God, giver of all Knowledge and Wisdom,
we have come to a place where our knowledge must be tested
to prove that we have learned all we can.
Grant us the strength to endure long essay questions,
the clear thinking to tackle tough problems and formulae,
and the wisdom to rest between periods of intense activity.
As you led the people of Israel through the desert, show us a way
through this time of academic intensity,
that we may emerge on the other side, singing and dancing
your praises, all the days of our lives.
Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Psalm 34
I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
   let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
   and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
   and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
   happy are those who take refuge in him.
O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
for those who fear him have no want.
The young lions suffer want and hunger,
   but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Which of you desires life,
   and covets many days to enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
   seek peace, and pursue it.
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their cry.
The face of the Lord is against evildoers,
   to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears,
and rescues them from all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the broken-hearted,
   and saves the crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord rescues them from them all.
He keeps all their bones;
   not one of them will be broken.
Evil brings death to the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
   none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

The Song of Zechariah
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 4:1-13 (Jesus is Tested by Satan)

The Word of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God.


Together, let us pray:
For those who have exams in subjects they love, related to their major…
For those who have exams in subjects they loathe, unrelated to their interests..
For unfinished or poorly finished work…
For the grace to accept when we have completed our tasks…
For the strength to carry on and do what needs to be done…
For professors and instructors, who must grade our exams and papers…
For our families and friends, and stresses they may be going through…
For those who are not privileged enough to have the opportunity to attend college or university…
For the Church and the World…

Lord’s Prayer

Go now in peace, and as you learn more and more, may you be blessed to know that you understand less and less, and be comfortable knowing that God is in it all.  And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you now and always.  Amen.

Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

“The Line”

Join us for a special viewing of a new film, “The Line,” sponsored by the Chaplain’s Office and the ONU Chapter of Habitat for Humanity!

When:  October 8, 2012 @ 8pm

Where:  English Chapel Sanctuary

“The Line” is a new film about poverty in America.  From the website:

“From Emmy Award-winning producer Linda Midgett, The Line is a groundbreaking documentary chronicling the new face of poverty in America. As Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis puts it, “more and more of our friends are in poverty — in the pews, in our workplaces — through no fault of their own, and they are slipping below the poverty level.”

For more information about the film, see the website at: http://www.thelinemovie.com

See you there!

Mid-Week Prayer

Join us this week as we celebrate the life and teaching of St. Hildegard of Bingen, who was only named a saint in May of 2012, even though her writings go back to the 12th century!  We will explore what it means to sing through our hearts into the heart of God.

Wednesday September 19, 2012

5:00-5:30 p.m.

English Chapel, Ohio Northern University

Why We Worship This Way…

This year in Chapel, we have decided to take a slightly different tack in worship than we have in years past.  To begin with, we are starting each hour of worship with lunch.  In the past, lunch was offered at the end of the hour, but people were very rushed to eat and get out before their noon classes started.  In starting with lunch, we can let people enjoy their food and fellowship, have announcement time, and start worship in a more relaxed atmosphere.

Another change that we’re adopting is that we have a very simplified format for worship.  At our spring and summer staff retreats, the Religious Life staff identified three “core values” for our worship together:  Quality Music, Communal Prayer, and Relevant Messages.

Quality Music

Music speaks to the current generation of young people in ways that are different from previous generations.  This is not to say that music hasn’t ever spoken to young people, but the current generation seems to put an especially high premium on music that “speaks.”  As technology consultant Derek Baird wrote on his blog in 2008, for Gen Y, “music is oxygen.” (http://tinyurl.com/62lj6w)  Many students that I have spoken to have indicated that they prefer music that lets them reflect on life, their relationship with God, and their many (and sometimes complicated) human relationships.  So, we’ve decided that we want to produce quality music that will “speak,” while maintaining integrity within the service (i.e., the music will go with the theme of the service, and we will not just repeat a song week after week because it happens to be popular).  We have revived the concept of a “chapel band,” which will provide consistent musical leadership, and we have incorporated times for congregational singing and for reflection times that have music as a key component.

Communal Prayer

Students have shared with us that they value the opportunity to pray together for one another’s joys and concerns, but that it can be difficult to share those prayer requests in a traditional “raise your hand and tell it out loud” kind of format.  So, we’ve decided to have as many ways to share prayer requests as possible.  In the chapel building, you’ll now see a bulletin board that is dedicated to prayer requests.  We also have “prayer pots”—flower pots that sit on the tables at lunch—which give people the opportunity to turn in prayer requests at worship.  Also planned this year are opportunities to “tweet in” prayer request via a Twitter feed, and e-mail prayer requests.  All of these opportunities will hopefully give people the chance to have their requests heard and prayed over by the community.

Relevant Messages

By “relevant,” we’re not suggesting that messages in chapel worship should have nothing to do with eternal truths and everything to do with what’s hip, popular, and current.  On the contrary, we envision worship messages that are biblically-based, but which apply the often-difficult to grasp messages of the Bible to the context of a modern American university.  By relevance, we also mean that messages will be consistent throughout a single worship service (meaning that there should be unity among scriptures, preaching, music and prayer), and throughout a defined series (three to four weeks that cover roughly the same theme, but utilizing a different preaching text each week).  Finally, relevance means that the messages we hope to convey in chapel this year will help participants go deep into the Christian faith, and drink from the wells of our tradition and scriptures in a way that will help them to grow in their personal faith.  We wish to counteract the popular notion that worship should be “a mile wide and an inch deep” by focusing our efforts on conveying messages that will have an impact on the ways we think and live.

So there you have it, a manifesto, if you will, on why we’ve chosen to worship the way we do.  By emphasizing quality music, communal prayer, and relevant messages, we hope to be able to better define the “brand” that is chapel worship at ONU.  If you haven’t already, give us a try on Thursdays at 11 a.m.!

God’s Peace to you,


Announcing “Mid-Week Prayer in the Liturgical Tradition”

Mid-Week Prayer in the Liturgical Tradition:
Drawing on Resources from Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopalian,
Lutheran, Methodist, Taize and other Liturgical Traditions.

Introductory Prayer Service:
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
5:00-5:30 p.m.
English Chapel Sanctuary

Please join us for this time of prayer and contemplation.
Sponsored by: Chaplain’s Office (Chaplain David E. MacDonald)

Starting on September 5th, we will be offering “Mid-Week Prayer in the Liturgical Tradition,” a prayer service designed for those who enjoy a more traditional/liturgical/contemplative time of prayer.  Drawing on resources from the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Taize, and other liturgical traditions, this service will closely resemble Evensong, Compline, or Vespers (for those who are comfortable with such words!)

The goal for this experimental community of prayer will be to provide a space where the ancient words of the Christian faith become the deep wells from which we may all draw inspiration, refreshment, and comfort.  As Christ said to the woman at the Samaritan well, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.  The water I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13b-14, NRSV)

Please consider joining us for this new venture in prayer, which is really a new expression of the ancient practices of the Church!


Thoughts on Worship (Part 1): What Worship Is Not.

Worship has been on my mind a lot lately, as I spend these first few quiet (lonely) days in my new office.  No one seems to be on campus, other than the many wonderful behind-the-scenes folks who keep ONU’s campus looking so beautiful, and a few classes that are in session.  So, I’ve been spending some time thinking about the coming school year, and specifically Thursday morning chapel worship.  Since the time I was offered this position, I’ve done a lot of listening to people on campus, asking what they think about the chapel.  And the one topic that has come up, time and time again, is worship.  Something is “missing,” or something is “off,” or something needs to be done.  The numbers tell part of the story—like many ministries and churches, chapel has seen a decrease in attendance over the last few years.  Part of that is because of a wider trend in American religion, and among emerging adults, to be sure.  But there is a sense that a truly dynamic chapel worship would appeal to more students, and would increase those ever-elusive numbers.  In order to understand a thing, sometimes we have to understand what it is not.  So I want to spend some time thinking today about what worship isn’t.  (Later, I’ll write about what it is.)

One question that keeps coming up in my mind is this—What can we do in worship that will increase attendance?  The answer is—Absolutely nothing!  Worship isn’t meant as the solution to the crisis of dwindling numbers.  The way we worship is an integral part of who we are, and it will certain nurture and grow our members spiritually, but it is not meant—it never was meant—to be our sole means of discipleship and spiritual formation.  Discipleship and spiritual formation, along with outreach and evangelism, are what will help grow our worship attendance.  (More about those topics at another time!)  So, I would disagree with those who say that one “style” of worship or another is the key to growing a worshiping community.  I have known churches that worship in a very traditional, almost ancient, style, that have grown by leaps and bounds, and I have known just as many churches that worship in a totally cool, contemporary and down-to-earth style that are doing the same.  Worship “style” doesn’t determine growth.

Another thought that often attaches itself to worship is that worship “feeds” the congregation.  When people leave a church, they often say that it was because the worship wasn’t “feeding” them.  I have seen a lot of people come and go from worshiping communities in the course of my ministry (I’ve even helped some of them go in a manner that was healthier for both them and the community).  A few times, people have said to me that worship in the community which they were leaving was not “feeding” them.  Then, as we dug deeper into their story, they revealed that the real issue was that they had a conflict with another congregant, or with the pastor, and that worship wasn’t “feeding” because they couldn’t go to worship without focusing on the conflict they were having.  Worship isn’t meant to “feed” us, and when we do think that worship is our main (or only) source of being “fed,” then we have a very poor spiritual diet!  Imagine only eating once a week, and then only on fatty and sugary foods that satisfied you for an hour and then quickly left your system.  If you’re going to worship only to be “fed,” you’ll never be filled with the Spirit of God—at least not completely.

A third thing that worship isn’t is entertainment.  If you’ve been a part of the Christian community  through any part of the last few decades, you’ll be at least somewhat familiar with what have been called “the worship wars.”  Each side on this battle (there are more sides than the false contemporary/traditional, by the way) sees the other sides as promoting worship that is merely “entertainment.”  And I can see where those arguments could be valid.  I’ve been to high masses and Eucharistic worship during which people talked through the whole service, until the bells were rung at the consecration.  And, I’ve been to more than my fair share of “worship experiences” that were more about the worship band’s latest album than about worshiping the living God.  So, let’s all admit that all sides have transgressed in this manner, and let’s move on.  Worship isn’t entertainment.  It isn’t meant to be entertaining.  Although there may be enjoyable moments within worship, those moments are not the reason we worship.  John Wesley addressed this way of thinking in his sermon “The Duty of Constant Communion.”  Writing of the sacrament, he said:

Reverence for the sacrament may be of two sorts:  either such as is owing purely to the newness of the thing, such as men naturally have for anything they are not used to; or such as is owing to the love or fear of God.  Now the former of these is not properly a religious reverence, but purely natural.  And this sort of reverence for the Lord’s Supper the constantly receiving of it must lessen.  But it will not lessen the true religious reverence, but rather confirm and increase it.

Applied to worship, the above passage points out that our feelings about worship—whether or not we are “entertained”—don’t matter as much as the fact that we are worshiping the God of creation, the Holy and Divine Trinity, Three in One.  That alone should be the focus of our worship, not whether or not the choir was in top form or the worship band’s lighting was effective.  Those elements of worship are important—more on that  later, too—but they are not the main purpose of worship.

Check back again soon to see some thoughts on what worship is. But for now, in the comments section below, or on Facebook or Twitter, let me know what you think—is there something you’ve come across in your experience that worship is not?