The Synod has historically supported campus ministries throughout our geographical bounds. One of these ministries is the Protestant Chapel Community, a ministry of Genesee Area Campus Ministries, led by Presbyterian Teaching Elder Laurie Tiberi. She gathers students for weekly Sunday worship and Wednesday Dinner Dialogues, as well as Saturday student-led bible study and service in a local soup kitchen, game nights and social events.
Laurie has been the Chaplain and Director for the past eleven years. She spoke with Mieke Vandersall, our Communications Consultant, to talk about her ministry.
MV: What kind of students do you attract? Are there themes in their journeys leading up to college?
LT: In my eleven years here I have had five students who have gone on to seminary. None of those students thought they would enter seminary when they began being involved with PCC. Those are a lot of new leaders, but are also just a small percentage of all the students involved.
There has been a gradual change in the kinds of students who come to us. I inherited a group that was almost completely students from mainline Protestant churches and maybe a couple lapsed Catholics. Over the years that has gradually shifted. While the majority are still from mainline denominations, quite a few students are now from evangelical and non-denominational backgrounds. These students particularly come to our weekly Dinner Dialogues.
Our students have mostly had some kind of experience with the church before coming to PCC, and fairly frequently we get students who were turned off by church but are curious and come to check us out. This ministry, for quite a few students, is something that has kept them in the church; they find other ways of being Christian here.
MV: What kinds of topics have you discussed at your Dinner Dialogue Series?
LT: Our Dinner Dialogues are usually posed as a question for discussion, although a few times a year we bring in a guest professor and annually host a lecture. We have talked about questions like these:
How do you feel about interfaith marriage?
How open should the Communion Table be?
What’s the role of faith in politics?
Is there such a thing as free will?
What’s the impact of smartphones on relationships?
Is it appropriate to try and legislate morality?
How would our lives be different if it were proven that God does or does not exist?
Does the church need to change to survive?
MV: How many students participate on an annual basis?
LT: Every year we have about 45 students who participate, and many of those are in leadership roles. Think about it this way: Every year we lose 25% of our congregational body, and gain a whole new 25%. So, think about the thousands of students who we have reached over the 52 years that we have been in existence.
MV: In your years at PPC has worship changed?
LT: We have pretty traditional, but very relaxed worship. Our organist is fantastic, holding a doctorate from the Eastman School of Music. The order of worship is standard and tends to be a Reformed order because that is my background. When I got here there were no hymnals. Students wanted hymnals and so a local congregation gave us some. A lot of students come to the University of Rochester because of UR’s Eastman School of Music, so a lot of my students are highly musical. While our students enjoy more traditional worship, we also have a lot of fun with each other. I never know what kind of prank they will decide to pull on me!
MV: What do your students think church is going to look like when they are out of college? What kind of feedback do you get from graduates?
LT: I hear over and over again from alums that they are looking for congregations like PCC. They have a very hard time finding anything like it. They aren’t concerned with finding with a bunch of young people; that isn’t the issue. The issue is that they often do not feel intellectually engaged in church and they feel like they aren’t getting to ask the obvious questions. Here they get to ask all the questions and acknowledge the contradictions and don’t have to disengage their brain. They want to continue that journey.
What they get here is a place where they don’t have to posture. This is the place where they can relax, be themselves, support each other, and be honest about how they are feeling. Here they find both a strong sense of community and intellectual engagement of their faith.
MV: How is PCC organized? Is there a student leadership team? A Board?
LT: We have a Student Leadership Team of 10 elected students. I try to give them the same responsibilities and authority that a local church governing council would have. It is super important for them to learn what it means to be in leadership in a church. There are no changes to our order of worship without asking them what they want. They maintain the website, they serve communion, they are the liturgists, they make sure they fulfill all our responsibilities.
There is also a Board of Directors comprised of non-students (many of them clergy and faculty) because we are a 501c3 organization.
MV: What kind of support do you receive from local congregations? Could you use more or different support?
LT: Local folks are of course welcome to worship with us any time; for example, I always make sure to let local congregations know the date of our annual service of Lessons and Carols. One Sunday a month we have dinner after worship and we ask local congregations to join us for worship and provide the dinner and eat with us. Everybody loves that. It reminds them of their home churches.
Our financial stability is a big issue. When I came two-thirds of the budget was denominational funding (not only PC(USA)). That is now down to one-third. We have had to try and make up the difference with individual and congregational giving. We need congregations to support us. Churches give us anything from $100-$1,000, or more! We could certainly use churches to take up a special collection once a year or put money in their budget.