outStanding in the Field

"Spring" Term at West Virginia University

PTS Alum Called to Campus Ministry

hen Charles Spring was a middler at Princeton in 1962, he unexpectedly received a Danforth Fellowship to do an internship in campus ministry.

"I always wanted to be the pastor of a church," he says, "but off I went to the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida [a very secular and faraway place for a boy from a small college in Pennsylvania], to try out ministry on a college campus."

spring.jpg (11328 bytes)Sometimes call and circumstances converge. Today Spring is in his twenty-first year as the Presbyterian university pastor at West Virginia University (WVU), a state university with a 22,000-member student body in Morgantown, West Virginia. He has never looked back.

"That intern year I worked with three inspiring campus ministers‹one Presbyterian, one Methodist, and one Episcopalian‹in an ecumenical setting," he remembers. "When I came back to Princeton, still hoping for a call in the parish, [former PTS president] James McCord stopped me on campus one day to ask if I were interested in filling in for a year as interim chaplain at Colorado Women's College [in Denver]."

That one year turned into thirteen. Spring married, earned his doctorate in Christian ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, and taught philosophy and religion at Colorado Women's College, as well as filling in as sometime chaplain.

When it was time to move on in 1977, Spring admits he still longed for a local congregation to pastor. "But I wasn't as desirable as I thought I'd be," he laughs, "and the door to a church did not open."

However, the door to West Virginia University did.

"WVU campus ministry had a history of a close working relationship with the local Presbyterian church," Spring says, "so I figured there would be a church for me to connect with." He was right.

The First Presbyterian Church in Morgantown, which Spring can see a hundred yards away from his office window, is an important component of his campus ministry. He is in and out of the church every day.

"When I arrived in 1977, I began to relocate the Presbyterian denominational ministry at the university within the life of that congregation," Spring explains. "I did not want to have a separate group of Presby-terian students on campus who never went to church. Now about forty Presbyterian students attend church there. We have a sermon discussion group, and we pair students with members of the church who can be family-away-from-home for them."

Spring preaches on occasion in that congregation, and lay leaders and pastors of the church also take responsibility for ministry with the students.

The willingness of local church members to share in the ministry with Presbyterian students frees Spring to do more non-denominational and ecumenical work on the WVU campus. He is the director of an ecumenical campus ministry center that is also staffed by Methodist and Baptist clergy.

"We try to identify needs in the university community and then model start-up programs to meet those needs," he says. For example, Spring and his colleagues began an emergency loan fund for African American students, and they initiated a women's information center to distribute material on domestic violence, rape, pregnancy counseling, and sexual harrassment long before the university had either a women's studies program or a women's center. He also initiated a hospital chaplaincy program at the university hospital. "We began with local clergy and campus ministers volunteering their time," Spring says. "We tried to model what it would mean to have chaplains in the hospital." Now, WVU Hospital has a full-time chaplain and a CPE program with two residents.

Spring is proud of the campus ministry's role as "vitamin pill" or "provocateur" to the university. "I try to show them how ministry might work, to get them started, and then to get out of the way," he says. "The goal is to integrate these programs into the structure of the university itself."

The achievement that Spring is most proud of is the introduction of an ethics course into WVU's medical school curriculum.

"I started small with this idea," he explains. "I invited several professors, including the chair of the pediatrics department (who served on the committee that called me), and five students to a brown bag lunch. Our conversation that day first evolved into an elective class and then into a required 22-hour unit in ethics for all second-year medical students at WVU. It's really a model program for medical schools."

In 1997 the dean of the medical school applied for and got a $10,000 grant from the Templeton Foundation to develop a model curriculum for teaching issues related to spirituality and faith to medical students.
Through the grant, WVU has instituted a five-class, ten-hour required unit on spiritual issues in the practice of medicine.

"It was a gutsy thing to try," Spring says, "but it's one of my most memorable moments in ministry. Medical students are learning to take spiritual histories of their patients as well as medical histories. They are also asked to write an essay about their own spiritual journey. Lots of feelings are unleashed in those essays‹anxiety, fear, relief, and compassion."

WVU med students now frequently carry a laminated card in their coat pockets that instructs them in taking a "patient as person" history.

Spring's style of campus ministry has its critics. "People, some in the more evangelical wing of Christianity, complain that we don't always emphasize enough that we're doing all of these things because of Jesus Christ," he says. "But in a state university, Jesus Christ can't be too far out front. I guess the question is, Do you give up too much of the distinctiveness of Christian proclamation by recognizing the needs and responding to them without telling people overtly why you're doing it? My board and I don't spend too much time worrying about that. We don't disguise who we are as Christians, but our main work is to meet the needs."

In addition to his other duties, Spring teaches one class each semester‹a humanities course on human sexuality in the fall and a course on the ethical issues of life and death in the spring. He finds that teaching anchors his week and keeps him in touch with the faculty, often opening doors to pastoral counseling opportunities with both faculty members and students.

"Being present with people is the most important thing I do," he says. "I have lunch twice a week with students, either by appointment or just by going into the dining hall and sitting down. You can plan programs until you're blue in the face, but you have to let people know that you are there, that you are available."

Quantifiable results are not something Spring worries about. "It's hard to know the impact you make in campus ministry," he reflects. "The students are here for, at most, six years. Sometimes we do crisis intervention while they are here. Sometimes we do it much later, when a former student calls after twenty-five years to tell me of a marriage, a divorce, a child's suicide. These are people who remember that I said I'd be there for them. These are people for whom, when they didn't think they needed the church, the church was there."

Spring is willing to trust these moments, measured in the long, not the short, term.

"In campus ministry, the church must be faithful even when we don't get a response," he says. "It's easy to neglect students when they are pulling away, trying to be independent of authority, saying they don't need any help. But our calling is to be faithful, especially in those times."

An Educator with a Mission

Bowers Helps Open School Doors in Malawi

W-small.gif (450 bytes)hen I was at Princeton Seminary, I knew that I wanted to serve the church, but I didn't know how," says Dorothea Nill Bowers, a special student in the Class of 1955. "I thought I would be working in Christian education, and I dreamed of being a missionary." Bowers worked for two years at Erie Neighborhood House and Chapel in Chicago before marrying her husband, Jack, a Presbyterian minister. "At that time," Bowers recalls, "there were no co-pastorates. You were either a 'heroic spinster' or the stereotypical minister's wife." Though she did marry a minister, Bowers fulfilled neither of these prophecies. She has lived a life filled with service both to the church and to public education.

africa-map.jpg (17338 bytes)For the past four years Bowers has been making annual trips to Malawi, a small country located in southeast Africa, where she has been involved in the development and supervision of a model preschool that serves forty children at Domasi Mission near Zomba.

Domasi Mission was the result of the missionary efforts of the St. Michael and All Angels Church in Blantyre, the largest city in Malawi. Blantyre derives its name from famed Scottish missionary and explor-er David Livingstone, who was born in Blantyre, Scotland, and who brought Presbyterianism to Malawi and established the mother church there.

Bowers first went to Malawi in 1993 as part of a team from Pittsburgh Presbytery that was working in partnership with the Synod of Blantyre, CCAP (Church of Central Africa Presbyterian). The twenty-member work team was headed by Bowers's husband, who was then chair of mission interpretation for Pittsburgh Presbytery. The team was welcomed to Malawi by the Very Reverend Dr. Silas Ncosana, general secretary of CCAP. (Ncosana received his Th.M. from Princeton in 1981. From September 1, 1994, to March 31, 1995, he was a visiting scholar at the Seminary.) The team set out to restore the 100-year-old, decaying church at Domasi.

During this trip, Bowers was invited to meet with Lucy Botomani, the wife of the pastor of Domasi Mission Church; the Reverend Grayson Nputeni, secretary of education for the Synod of Blantyre; and Ncosana to discuss the greatest needs of the people. What emerged was the recognition that the children were ill-prepared to go to school. What the villages surrounding Domasi Mission desperately needed was a preschool.

bowers.jpg (13053 bytes)Bowers, an associate professor of education at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania, has had ample experience in early childhood education. While raising her two daughters, she taught kindergarten in the Northbrook School District in north suburban Chicago and took courses toward certification at Illinois State Teacher's College and Lake Forest College. When her husband accepted a call as the pastor of Dundee Presbyterian Church in Omaha, Nebraska, Bowers found herself teaching Headstart children in the public school system. During her seven-year tenure as a kindergarten teacher in the Omaha public schools, she developed an individualized program for kindergarten, creating manipulative materials for teaching.

In 1976, Bowers and her family moved back to Pittsburgh where she received a call from Fox Chapel Area School District, located in a suburb of Pittsburgh. They were looking for a substitute to fill in at an elementary school for a first-grade teacher on maternity leave. Bowers accepted the position, which later became permanent. During the next ten years, she simultaneously did course work toward obtaining her Ph.D. in curriculum development. At the end of that time, she took a sabbatical leave to teach in higher education at Wilson College where she was offered and accepted the chairmanship of the education department.

"My path was never intentional," she laughs. "Each time I got to a threshold, the Lord just opened doors."

In 1994, the year Malawi made the transition from a single-party government to a multi-party democracy, Pittsburgh Presbytery, at the suggestion of Bowers's husband, began the "Blocks for Blantyre" program. The purpose of the program was to raise funds for various projects at the Domasi Mission including the renovation of the church and the construction of a new wing of the secondary school. That same year, the church-based Domasi Mission Preschool opened its doors.
"These are children who had never seen printed materials or manufactured toys," says Bowers. "They made their own galimotos (motor cars) out of old wire, tin cans, and bamboo sticks."

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the preschool is thriving. Equipped with blocks, puzzles, paper, paints, books, and hand-made tables and benches provided by Pittsburgh Presbytery, this model preschool halfway up Zomba Mountain is changing the lives of young and old alike.

Bowers has returned to the school for several weeks each year since it began. She has recently been working with Professor Charlotte Day, chair of the Home Econ-omics Department at Chancellor College in Zomba, to help to train teachers and to implement a lab school at the college. She plans to return this summer to conduct training workshops.

It is a long way from Princeton to Malawi, but for Dorothea Nill Bowers, each step on her journey has led her to an open door.

The 100-year-old Domasi Mission Church pictured after renovation by the Pittsburgh Presbytery work team, which was headed by Bower's husband, and the Malawians.

Copyright 1998 Princeton Theological Seminary
The URL for this page is http://www.ptsem.edu/read/inspire/3.2.outstanding.htm
[email protected] | last updated 07/07/98

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