[an error occurred while processing this directive] This article is from the EMU News Archive. The approximate date of publication was in October 2006. Current EMU news is available at www.emu.edu/news

Seminary Students Relate to EMU Undergrads

By Laura Lehman Amstutz

Nan Kanagy (center) hosts "Smoothie Night" in Northlawn, her residence hall.

Six Eastern Mennonite Seminary students have found a unique outlet for ministry among undergraduate students at Eastern Mennonite University.

EMS students Cindy Voth, Nan Kanagy, Jonathan Bowman and Luke Mullet have found ministry opportunities as residence directors in the dormitories at EMU, while Dustin Miller and Andy Miller have found a place for internships and employment in the campus ministries office.

The connections to undergraduate students have provided rich opportunities for these students to put what they are learning into practice.

Residence Halls are Ministry Settings

Nan Kanagy, a residence director in Northlawn, an all-women's dorm, said, "I view this dorm almost as my congregation. I encourage the women who live in my dorm spiritually, socially, emotionally and physically."

Voth, who is beginning her third year as a residence director in Elmwood, a co-ed hall, agreed. "I've been able to form unique relationships with undergrad students, and in their time of need they come to me," she said. "That gives me a rare opportunity to provide pastoral care."

"I look at being a residence director as an opportunity to be with students as they make lots of life decisions and ask lots of faith questions," Voth continued. "Often they don't go to their families or their churches for the answers to these questions, but I feel like I can be a positive role model in their lives."

Bowman, who is beginning his first year as a residence director in Hillside, primarily an upperclassmen hall, said, "There's something kind of thrilling about interacting with people in this stage of life. In one or two years they'll be making radical life changes. There's a certain vitality among the students and a richness in the interaction."

Seminary Students Find Ways to Connect

Each residence director also finds special ways to hone ministry skills in their halls. Kanagy offers a morning prayer time and prays with her students whenever they come to visit.

Cindy Voth (center) chats with students who live in her dorm.

Voth takes cookies or candy around to her students when she walks the halls with her husband Luke. She knows every student in her residence hall by name before the end of the first week of classes.

Bowman and his wife Beth, who live in a dorm made up of suites, make a point to have at least one suite of students into their apartment for dinner each week. Bowman also leads a men's Bible study in his dorm.

"My position provides a ministry outlet for me," said Voth, "so not everything I'm taking at seminary goes in one ear and out the other. I can relate it to ministry and to being in ministry."

The residence directors supervise community advisors, students who are in charge of floors in the halls. "My job is to encourage these students to be leaders on their hall, but also stand by them in as they are making life decisions," said Voth. "It's a very relational position, which is what ministry is."

Ministry among Undergraduates is Challenging/Rewarding

Dustin Miller, who did his seminary internship with campus ministries last year and is working with campus ministries as program coordinator this year, said, "Students challenge you to think about ministry differently then you do in seminary or in a congregation. They're all trying to identify their own faith, so they ask questions like 'what does it mean to be church?' I'm challenged theologically by such questions."

Kanagy feels the combination of seminary studies and work in the residence halls is an educational plus. "I think this job has helped me learn about people, how people function and operate, what happens when there's conflict or there have been past hurts and pains and how people work those out," she stated.

"I certainly feel like there are numerous opportunities to put some of my seminary reflections into action," Bowman said. "We're challenging each other here at the seminary to serve Christ and to serve Christ by serving others. I have been able to do that in the dorm."

But ministry in an undergraduate hall is also challenging. "Sometimes, people's choices hurt others, and I'm the one who has to address that," said Kanagy.

Jonathan Bowman poses his community advisors. L to R Matt Garber, Alex Brodt Debbie Keiser, and Jonathan Bowman.

Voth agreed: "Being with students who make poor decisions can be difficult. The most frustrating part is wanting to be able to help them when they don't want help."

"There are people in the dorms with deep pain that you're not sure how to respond to," said Bowman, "I feel propelled into those situations because it's an opportunity to care for someone, but it's not easy to listen to the depth of pain that can be found in the human condition."

Working with Undergrads is Ministry

Despite facing some difficult situations, each of these seminary students say they wouldn't do anything else. "It's unique to come into students lives and learn about them and to journey with them through pain and excitement," said Voth.

Residence directors get free room and board and a small salary for their work in the residence halls. They supervise community advisors, learn to know the residents, provide mediation in conflict situations and deal with community lifestyle violations.

"Getting calls at three o'clock in the morning is not ideal," said Voth, "but both the financial and relational benefits far outweigh these small inconveniences."

"This gives me a practical place to put to work all my academic studies," Dustin Miller added. "Seminary can get kind of abstract, but campus ministries gives me a place to think about why I'm in seminary."