From a Pastor's Desk

A series of opinion articles from rostered ministers and lay leaders from our Synod.


Our Campus Communities

May 14, 2024

By The Rev. Becca Seely

Liv Kouveras, The Rev. Becca Seely and James Vaughan

I am a campus pastor, and I love my job.  As director of The Vine NYC, a multi-denominational, progressive Christian campus ministry for students in New York City, I get to work with intelligent, passionate, hilarious, outstanding students from institutions across the city.  I get to help them explore faith and discern vocations in which to serve as they grow into adulthood.  It’s a joy and a privilege.  And, sometimes, it is also really tough, like this past month.  As you have undoubtedly seen on the news, many New York City campuses have become turbulent lately due to student protests and university responses to those protests.  The semester is ending not with celebration but with uncertainty and anxiety abounding.

Quite a few thoughtful folks have reached out to me to ask how students are doing. For many of the students I know, the answer is, unfortunately, "not great."  As so many of us are, our students have been grappling all year with the troubling situation in Gaza and trying to find nuanced, compassionate, and just ways to speak and act in response. As protests have grown on our NYC campuses over the past weeks, some students have been engaged in activism to different degrees, but all have been impacted by the events that have unfolded in the past weeks. While the media has seemed to portray campuses as devolving into chaos, much of what has been unsettling for students has not been the student protests but the response to them.  Witnessing university administrations call on the police to arrest their peers has been deeply disturbing for many students. The constant presence of both the police and the news media near campuses has been incredibly overwhelming. Before the lockdown at Columbia, non-student protesters and doxxing trucks bombarded students daily as they attempted to walk home or to class. Once Columbia locked down its main campus, many students could not access basic services like dining halls, libraries, and community gathering spaces during finals. It has been a hard few weeks, during which change has been constant, and the news has seldom been good. This is a very trying time for our graduating students, especially. Please keep them and our campus communities in your prayers.


The other question I have been asked recently is how The Vine is responding to the campus situation.  While it has been difficult to know exactly how to be most helpful in this changing landscape, we have sought to show up not only for the active students in our ministry but for the student communities more broadly.  At our weekly ministry dinners, we have had intentional conversations, theological reflection, and prayer around these issues in the last few weeks. I have also been able to provide one-on-one pastoral care to struggling students.  At Columbia, where these last weeks have been most intense and difficult, our LaMP ministry has mobilized to meet the needs of the wider student community.  On Monday, April 29, LaMP hosted our annual Midnight Pancakes Study Break, inviting hundreds of students into a space of rest, joy, and peace.  By the end of the week, Columbia had limited access to main campus dining facilities, which led to many students struggling to access and afford food. In response, our LaMP students quickly organized a free student dinner.  On Sunday, May 5, we hosted a free student meal at Broadway Presbyterian Church for over 100 Columbia students.  That week, we also partnered with the student councils on campus to host study halls in the church since many students cannot currently access libraries or study lounges during finals.  Students filled the sanctuary at Broadway Presbyterian, books and laptops in tow, and we did our best to ensure they had WIFI and snacks to carry them through.  While the semester has officially ended, we will continue to respond to student’s requests and needs as they come since the situation is far from settled. 


The reality is that even as our campus communities experience crisis, the student's basic needs have not gone away.  They are stressed about school and work, experiencing the ups and downs of friendships and relationships, and struggling with issues like anxiety and loneliness. They also still need opportunities for fun, joy, and celebration, especially as the year comes to an end.  As a Christian, I cling to the promise that we have a God who shows up in the messy, lived realities of our world.  And so I trust that Jesus is present in the Holy Land right now and that he is showing up with students in the fear and sadness of these days, and that he is also present in their everyday struggles and the moments of hope and joy.  As followers of Jesus, my colleagues in ministry and I are doing our best to show up for and with the students, too.  Not to fix everything but to provide presence, love, care, and practical support however we can. And it’s not just the ministry professionals–the students are showing up for each other by caring for one another, organizing meals and study spaces, raising funds for peers in need, and praying together, even across faith traditions.  That, more than anything, is what gives me hope in these troubled times. 

The Rev. Becca Seely
MNYS Candidacy Coordinator