First-year student Jing Wu (left) with juniors Macson McGuigan and Maddie Gish enjoy a meal prepared by Professor Michael Medley and his wife, Deb. The trio were among 100 Eastern Mennonite University students who dined in the homes of faculty and staff members during Spiritual Life Week in late February. (Photo by Esther Ajayi)

Faculty and staff open homes and hearts during EMU’s annual Spiritual Life Week

Spiritual Life Week is an annual tradition at Eastern Mennonite University – a rich diversity of opportunities for the campus community to join together in various forums to share about walking and living a life of faith.

The theme this year was the question, “Why do I continue to ‘choose’ Jesus?”

The late February event features nightly faculty/staff sharing and conversation in residence halls, special gatherings for women and men, chapel events, retreats, and the much-loved tradition of meeting in the homes of faculty and staff for a meal and fellowship.

More than 100 students signed up for dinners hosted by 20 faculty and staff. “We have been trying to do this every semester,” said Lana Miller, undergraduate campus pastor and event coordinator, “but this semester, it was really successful.”

Speakers at the informal nightly discussions included Chad Gusler, professor of English, and Cyndi Gusler, professor of visual arts; head baseball coach Ben Spotts and assistant coach Adam Posey; physical education professors Roger Mast and Sandy Brownscombe; undergraduate dean Deirdre Smeltzer and Ben Bailey, office coordinator for the Applied Social Sciences Department.

Professors Carl Stauffer and Carolyn Stauffer led a women’s gathering, while Wes Wilder, a ministry intern, hosted the men’s luncheon.

Carmen Schrock-Hurst spoke in chapel about her years-long journey with glaucoma, a reflection titled “Walk by Faith, Not by Sight,” which was widely read and shared after posting to EMU News and Facebook accounts. Schrock-Hurst teaches youth ministry, spiritual formation, and introduction to Bible courses in the Bible and religion department, in addition to overseeing the Ministry Inquiry Program.

‘All their stories are sacred’

A special chapel service commemorated Spiritual Life Week, an annual tradition at Eastern Mennonite University. (Photo by Andrew Strack)

“I really enjoyed hearing the stories from the faculty and staff and their perspectives on following Jesus,” said Christina Hershey, a pastoral assistant for campus ministries. “It was interesting to go to multiple forums because everyone had very different stories, but all their stories are sacred, and it shows the diversity in the church.”

She added, “I really like the opportunity to hear the stories from the faculty and staff and to learn from their vast wealth of knowledge. Many of them do not get the chance to share about their faith in their classroom or other work contexts, and I enjoy hearing their perspectives on faith. I also attended both chapels and the faculty and staff meals.”

“I admired Adam and Ben’s willingness to open up and discuss their personal faith journeys,” said senior Jolee Paden, who helped to host an evening forum and the women’s meal, which attracted about 50 participants to the West Dining Room. “Carl and Carolyn addressed the question, ‘What is the difference between living like Jesus and living in relationship with Jesus?’ [They] brought about a conversation that can be controversial and layered it in the love and grace of Jesus as they related it to attachment theory. They shared personal reflection laced with academic theory and profound passion for relationship with Jesus.”

Care ‘extends beyond the classroom’

Mike Medley, chair of the Language and Literature Department, opened Saturday evening’s meal with a smile and a Punjabi song to bless the spread of Pakistani dishes before him. He and his wife, Deb, provided curried foods including lentils, chicken, potato with cauliflower, and mustard greens. In addition, they served roti, a flour-based flatbread, achaar, mixed, pickled vegetables, and raita, a tart yogurt condiment with mint and cumin to cool down the spicy Thai dragon peppers.

The dinner was typical of what he and his wife often prepare for special guests. Since a great number of EMU students study abroad, Medley thought that the ethnic food would be very much appreciated.

“It’s a matter of identity,” Medley says. After living in Pakistan for 11 years, their lifestyle has become heavily influenced by the food and way of living. The influence of Pakistani culture is evident not only in the dishes served, but also in the artwork and ornaments that adorn their home.

In the past, Spiritual Life Week has often involved bringing a well-known speaker to campus. Now those resources are focused on facilitating conversation and relationships between students and their faculty and staff counterparts.

Professor Carl Stauffer takes a break after hosting a luncheon with his wife, Carolyn Stauffer.
Professor Carl Stauffer created a relationship diagram with audience input during a luncheon conversation on faith with his wife, Professor Carolyn Stauffer. (Photo by Amber Davis)

“This is what is means for faculty and staff to enter into conversation with students, and to talk about life and faith,” said Miller.

First year Grace Burkhart feels that “these meals highlight the fact that faculty care about students in a way that extends beyond the classroom.”

“We want to ask: How are faculty and staff making themselves available to students out of class?” said Miller. “As a community we can sometimes speak better into people’s lives than a big name speaker would. So now, when you see someone across campus, there is a chance you actually know something about them, but a speaker, you probably will only see once.”

Initially, when Medley received the invitation to host students as well as the indication that students wish to interact with the faculty more, he felt that it was important to open his home. He finds that encouraging community feeling on EMU’s campus is an important part of Spiritual Life Week. In the past, the Medleys have invited students and other faculty members in his classes and within the department for dinners and occasional seasonal events. However, Spiritual Life Week has made it easier to do so because of its efficient organization.

“I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know some people I had seen on campus before but never had the opportunity to get to know,” said junior Maddie Gish. “It is amazing how much we can learn from everyone around us. I am so glad I participated!”

Portions of this coverage were reprinted with permission from the March 3, 2016, edition of the Weather Vane.