Between bites of prime rib and Yorkshire pudding, Anglican Student Ministry dinner guests pondered questions of sex, death and what it means to be human – a few of life’s big questions found concealed in envelopes at the center of each elegantly-set table at the University of Alberta Faculty Club.
At the annual fundraising dinner and silent auction, held May 16, Educational Chaplain the Rev. Heather Liddell invited Anglican Student Ministry supporters to “think on these things” as they engaged in a favourite student activity: PUBtheology – a monthly gathering ordinarily involving pints of beer in a nearby Whyte Avenue pub.
Liddell described her first full year as educational chaplain, as a “wonderful time of learning and getting to know students. I have the gift of coming after some really incredible chaplains two of whom (the Rev. Susan Oliver and Canon Scott Sharman) are in attendance tonight,” she said.
She framed her inaugural year as chaplain to students on and just-off campus by answering and asking two questions: who are we now? And who is God calling us to be now?
“At the moment we are PUBtheology, which you all just experienced,” she said. “We are pilgrimages to the mountains and pastoral care. We are music therapy. We are book studies for staff and for students and Christianity the Basics course. We have Midweek Matins with our fabulous musician and musical therapist Nadine (Veroba).”
Describing Midweek Matins as “one of my favourite things this year,” Liddell said: “we gather in this room with a full wall of windows (the Multi-Faith Prayer and Meditation Space in HUB), where we can see students walking by as we sing and we pray.”
She explained that this ministry has grown from “just Nadine and I” to a cohort that faithfully prays together every Wednesday morning at 9 am. Starting next fall, Morning Prayer will also be offered Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings, though music therapy will be reserved for Wednesdays.
“We’re also St. Aidan’s House,” she said. At the heart of St. Aidan's are four elements: community, prayer, hospitality and Study. The former St. George’s rectory is home to four to five students each year.
”We’re also the Advent Eve Vigil, when we stay up all night reading the Gospel for the year, the Lessons and Carols Service at the Winspear, Sunday night dinners and Thursday evening prayer at St. George's and Thursday Night Dinners at St. Aidan’s; and we are communal bakers. Some of the girls in Anglican Student Ministries baked over 200 cookies for our Christmas fundraiser.”
“We are all of that and we are so much more,” she said.
For one of the students living at St. Aidan’s this year, the Anglican Student Ministry community was a soft place to land when she moved far away from her family for university; a time of transition that can be overwhelming without nearby support.
“At St. Aidan’s I was supported by a community I grew to rely on,” she said in her testimony which was read during the chaplaincy dinner by a fellow member of St. Aidan’s House. “In our busy schedules we made an effort to connect with each other, whether it was sitting down to evening tea, playing cards or baking cookies so that we could devour them in one night. In fact, food was an aspect of community life that helped connect us. Once a week we made an effort to cook a meal and sit down to eat together as friends. These times when we stepped away from our studies to reflect on our day, laugh about our experiences and discuss issues regarding the house, kept us grounded through all the ups and downs of student life. It helped us establish a community where everyone could contribute and feel a sense of belonging and purpose.”
Liddell said Anglican Student Ministry endeavours to be a community shaped by The Marks of Mission, a community of discernment, a community that says all are truly welcome and, most importantly, a community where people encounter Christ.
“We are called to provide safe spaces where students can really wrestle with what it means to be human; where people can think about their faith, not just as informing who they are, but as shaping who they are.”
Accredited music therapist Nadine Veroba shared how together she and Liddell reach out to students through music therapy - an outlet for students to talk about their stresses and their lives.
“It’s no surprise that students can be under a tremendous amount of stress. Music can be tool to de-stress and lessen anxiety,” she said. The group is drop-in and there is no pressure for students to be there every week, be on time or stay for the whole session. They welcome people exactly as they are every Wednesday, by offering a comfortable pillow to sit on, a cup of tea and a “safe place to be heard and validated.”
“There is no prerequisite to be able to sing or play an instrument,” Veroba said. “Everyone, regardless of musical talent, is welcome. Sometimes a student will ask to play a song that has significance or meaning because it describes how they have been feeling lately. Sharing a song this personal can be a great way to create trust and connection with one another and open up to a deeper dialogue.”
Most of the music is played live with the group singing and playing instruments together, but sometimes the group will listen to a recording brought in by one of the students. Before the end of the session, members of the group participate in a guided relaxation exercise.
Reflecting on the U of A motto, quaecumque vera, meaning whatsoever things are true, from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians, Chapter 4, Verse 8, Liddell asked supporters to picture what the next generation would look like if it was a generation focused “not on discord, not on things that are ugly and degrading but, rather, on whatsoever is true, whatsoever is honourable, just and pure. On that which is worthy of Christ.”
As the evening drew to a close, supporters attempted to secure their bids on silent auction items, such as several one-of-a-kind, local experiences, including a day on a sheep farm, a blacksmithing session, theatre workshops; and items ranging from a silver tea set to craft beer and wine; to custom baking and jewellery, to Indigenous art and art made by children.
If you would like to support the Educational Chaplaincy and Anglican students as they build community while discerning who they are and their place in the world, please donate online at https://edmonton.anglican.ca/donate, or email Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org to ask about other ways to lend a helping hand.