The University is Our Parish.
The parish model of ministry is an old concept, but has recently become popularized as Christians reimagine what it means to be a witnessing community that benefits the places where we live, work and worship.
What I love about the word parish is that it comes from the Greek paroikia, which encompasses the idea of presence and dwelling in a specific place.
When we talk about a parish in the context of ministry, we are talking our responsibility to a specific place, our call to embody the presence of God in a finite location.
In our ministry, the university is our parish. In Arizona State University we have a parish of 18,000 graduate students. Our neighborhood is spread across 5 campuses and numerous departments in the Phoenix metro area. This is our context, and it is where we are called to live, work and embody the love of God.
As Christians living in an academic environment, we are called to love Arizona State University and its graduate student community in all of the complexity and nuance that entails. Put another way, “the university is our beautiful and broken parish, existing within the beautiful and broken U.S. ecosystem where we join Jesus in the work he is already about.”
Our task is to discern where the Spirit of God is at work and follow that leading to develop a vibrant and dynamic community of graduate students worshiping, following and exploring the fullness of Jesus. Naturally, this leaves us with the question of “How?” How is it that a community like this will form and make any sort of impact on a meaningful scale? In Matthew’s gospel Jesus explains the Kingdom of God is like “the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.” This is how a university gets transformed by the love of God: small parts of God’s Kingdom impacting a larger whole to great institutional change. Because we carry the yeast of the Kingdom, we know that we can work in multiplicative and exponential ways. This is why ministry with masters and P.h.D students is so important: graduate students are yeast in the dough of the university. These students will spend their lives in the halls of academia or leading in the workplace. Empowering graduate students to lead in their faith will change the soul of the university and the ecosystem of the marketplace as the bread of the Kingdom is baked- that is our sacred task.
We love the university, we love our parish and we long to see graduate students usher in a new kind of flourishing on campus that reflects the fullness of Christ.
There are 5 campuses, 16 colleges, 400+ degree options and over 18,000 graduate students at Arizona State University. We have dreams that one day all 5 campuses will have graduate fellowship meetings and that all 16 colleges will experience dynamic community gatherings focused on scripture, discipleship and integrating faith into their academic and professional practice.