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How will we become participants in the university?

As he travels between different IFES movements, Terry Halliday has been raising the call for dialogic ministry. He was recently speaking at the University of Queensland, hosted by Leigh Trevaskis and co and one of the UQ residential colleges. Terry has shared some of the questions people had:

  1. What does it mean to be of the university and not simply in the university?
  2. Does engaging the university require a different kind of person than those who normally staff Christian chapters on campus? While the staff may have theological training, they usually don’t have advanced disciplinary training, so how can they enter into conversations?
  3. I am an undergraduate. How can I be expected to engage in conversations that engage issues in disciplines, in the university, or in society?
  4. Is engaging the university through conversations field specific (e.g., particular to philosophy or agriculture or biochemistry or literature) or is it better understood as layered-from (a) the discipline, (b) faculty-wide, (c) university-wide, (d) society-wide?
  5. A different kind of conversation has been successfully begun at UQ when students were invited to an informal pizza event, then asked: if you could accomplish one wish to make the world a better place, what would you wish for? Since this question in fact is answered explicitly or implicitly by many disciplines and by the university itself, it works well as a conversation starter.

These questions are similar to ones I’ve raised. Engaging the university has ‘elite’ aspects to it, inviting a new focus on graduate students and research institutions, but what might it look like for an existing campus fellowship?

For my part, I’m especially interested in spiritual formation and renewing our group practices, and I want to know how ‘engaging the university’ might shape campus fellowships at the mundane level. Personally, I’m less interested in creating new types of groups and programs than in augmenting our ‘average’. There are exciting possibilities for new forum-style events (for example), but I’m really keen to explore how dialogic ministry will become part of our most basic practices of Scripture engagement, community, and prayer.

As I consider how we might approach these questions, I want to look at not only the kind of activities we do but also the posture and ethos that we adopt. ‘Engagement’ is an umbrella term for our quest to be connected to the university in all its many dimensions, but the nature of this engagement has begun to take shape, and it is to do with participation. That is, we are not just hoping to be involved in wider conversations, but we have a growing understanding of ourselves as participants, taking part in conversations which are shared activities rather than territory we control.

This helps in addressing a point I have posed previously: that university ministries must be capable of fully addressing students as workers in the making. I take it that we are aiming not simply to get students participating, but to form them into participants, that is, the kind of people who will participate in the conversations around them wherever they are, whether or not they continue to be part of the university. The university then becomes a paradigm for participation, a formative experience, before many people move beyond the university. Dialogue will not just be something that we do, but part of who we are.

But why participate? I’ll come back to that in a future post.

Categories: University ministry Written by Arthur

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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