This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Why is it so hard to work together?

Ben Wideman is the Campus Pastor for 3rd Way Collective, a ministry of University Mennonite Church at Penn State. He blogs regularly for The Mennonite online. 

Why is it so hard to work together?

During my candidating process with University Mennonite Church, I was shown a venn diagram that had three circles. The three were labeled with “Penn State Students,” “University Mennonite Church,” and “State College Community.” The title “Campus Minister” was tucked neatly where the three circles overlapped.

The student circle was obvious. Not only do students make up the largest and most transient population in State College, they were the primary reason that UMC was looking to start their own unique campus ministry. The circle for the congregation also made sense, as they had discerned a desire to build stronger ties to the campus through creating this ministry. But the third circle was surprising to me. I wondered what might it look like to attempt to bring together those three groups through a campus ministry.

Over the past few months this diagram has come to my mind on several occasions as we consider the future of 3rd Way Collective.

I recently met with two prominently connected members of our community. Both expressed frustration with the growing divide in our area: divide between students and residents; political left and right; wealthy and those struggling to get by. They lamented that we primarily connect with those with whom we are familiar or have commonality.

Both affirmed 3rd Way Collective’s desire to position itself as a bridge-builder between various aspects of our community.

But it isn’t that easy. In the past two years I’ve met with Muslim and Christian students who feel cautious of working with those beyond their religious circles. I’ve met with black and Asian students who attempt to step out beyond their community and are met with tokenizing condemnation. I’ve met with Christians who are fearful of speaking out in support of their LGBTQ peers, and LGBTQ students who are fearful of sharing their Christian identity.

Where I once may have considered the local community to be a distant third in the scope of what my job might entail, I’ve come to understand that our campus ministry can only be successful if it seeks to build connections across our vibrant community.

3rd Way Collective is not relevant if it only engages campus faith and spirituality. Nor is it fully engaged if it only focuses only on peace or justice issues. It works best when we find avenues that connect broadly with the real peace and social justice issues across our campus and global community and empowers those we meet to discover how faith plays a role in illuminating these challenges and providing solutions.

I’ve spent the first two years of this new pastoral calling trying to figure out how to do a better job at connecting broadly. It hasn’t always worked well. Yet as people of peace we believe we are called to offer Christ’s example to a world in need of healing. Far too often we engage only with those whom we most agree.

I wonder if we would be more empowered to engage this kind of work if we were willing to step across the lines that divide us. Perhaps if we were willing to connect more broadly we’d be able to fully realize what it means to work together.

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!