Saturday, October 27, 2007

InterVarsity and Georgetown University

I have a warm spot in my heart for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, since this was the organization that most effectively brought the Word to me in my high school years - and then told me in no uncertain terms to get affiliated with a church. [28 OCTOBER - NOT EXACTLY.]

So I was interested to read this article:

Georgetown University – One Year Later
October 26, 2007

The sense of freedom felt by InterVarsity staff and students at Georgetown University this fall is palpable. After being unceremoniously booted off campus a year ago last August, along with five other groups, InterVarsity was later invited back as a whole new relationship was established for Protestant ministries on the Jesuit campus.

Thus closes a chapter that began back in August 2006:

On August 21, 2006, InterVarsity staff at Georgetown University received a letter sent out by email announcing the disaffiliation of InterVarsity and five other ministries previously affiliated with Georgetown through the university’s Protestant Ministry office.

On August 14, we had received an email invitation from the Protestant Program Coordinator to an Affiliated Ministries meeting on August 17. Staff were scheduled to be out of state on the 17th and requested a meeting after returning. We received no further communication until the 21st, when the disaffiliation notice arrived. We were told by affiliated ministry staff who attended the meeting that they requested discussion with the chaplains, but were informed that the decision had already been made and that no further discussion was necessary. We stopped by the Protestant Ministry office the following week and received the same answer.

The original letter stated that the reason for terminating the relationship was Protestant Ministry’s decision to “move in another direction” for the upcoming school year. This was later articulated by a university spokesman as a decision to “build the ministry from within.” Then, in a widely circulated letter dated September 6th, Fr. Timothy Godfrey, Director of Campus Ministry, stated that “Campus Ministry has experienced ongoing difficulties in communication and cooperation with these outside organizations.” Both on and off the record, the university seems to have shifted from its original stated reasons for terminating the relationship to an accusation about the affiliated ministries’ lack of cooperation....

InterVarsity had a positive relationship with the Office of Campus Ministry at Georgetown for at least a decade prior to 2003-04 when personnel changed in the Protestant Ministry office. Since then there have been many problems in communication and coordination with this office. Over the past two years, members of the Protestant chaplaincy have ignored or rejected our repeated requests to talk about ways that we could work together, and to meet informally to get to know each other as staff and as ministries....

Protestant Ministry requested yearly calendars as well as a two-week notice on any requests or other items needing their attention. We complied, but they rarely gave the same courtesy, usually giving well less than two weeks notice of meetings or other communication requiring our response....

At a meeting with affiliated ministry staff and students in April 2006, the Protestant chaplains were hostile and accusatory. They would not listen respectfully to our perspectives and those of students involved in these ministries. Undergrad staff spoke with Rev. Wheeler afterward. She complained that we had never come to her office like one of the staff workers who had been here several years before us; we responded that we had never been invited and then we asked if we could come visit. She asked us to email her about getting together; we did. But we received no reply.

Things changed by late September 2006:

Rev. Philip Boroughs, S.J., Vice President for Mission and Ministry for Georgetown University today announced the formation of a University Advisory Committee to review the current resources and structures of Georgetown’s Protestant Chaplaincy and assist Georgetown’s Office of Campus Ministry in designing a future model in keeping with Georgetown values.

“This committee will assist the Office of Campus Ministry and the Protestant Chaplaincy in the development of a structure that supports the spiritual life and religious identity of our students within their respective traditions and, at the same time, promotes a religious environment that fosters ecumenical and interreligious engagement and understanding,” said Rev. Boroughs.

By next May, InterVarsity had been reinstated:

“It wasn’t theological issues that led to the decision [not to renew affiliations], but rather a lack of communication,” [Georgetown University Vice President Philip] Boroughs said, in a Georgetown University news release announcing his acceptance of the Advisory Committee’s recommendations. Boroughs praised the work of the Advisory Committee. “It is my hope that this new framework, like the collaborative process that recommended its creation, will continue to foster inclusivity and respect for our various theological and liturgical perspectives,” he wrote in a letter to the university community.

The Advisory Committee also recommended creation of a more broadly-based Protestant Student Forum, to replace the current Protestant Student Association. It would include student representatives of all protestant groups that work with Georgetown Campus Ministry. InterVarsity staff member Kevin Offner, who was a member of the Advisory Committee, reported that InterVarsity and the other disaffiliated ministries have all been invited back. “We have been invited to return to campus with full privileges,” he said.

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