On Oct, 1 2021
As a campus minister, dynamics with our chaplains can either make or break our ministry. Having a peaceful, healthy work environment is important for any job, but most especially in the Church.
We talked with Fr. Matthew Gossett, a campus minister and chaplain at Ohio University (and a member of one of our Newman Ministry Small Groups 😎) and asked him some of the most repeated questions we hear. He shared some great advice on pastoral care, interpersonal relationships, and all things campus ministry!
First, we asked Fr. Matt what he considers to be the most important things he has learned from the past 2 years working in campus ministry, here are some tips from what he shared:
- It’s not just about putting on programs or retreats, but forming relationships.
Fr. Matt said he has learned how crucial it is to be very intentional in relationships, with the team, students, and priest. That doesn't mean programs aren't important, in fact building good relationships as a team will actually provide the foundation for your ministry to thrive.
- It’s helpful to have strong outreach initiatives from campus ministers and students.
It can be a little harder for priests to do personal invitations on campus, especially those who aren't Catholic, and that can be intimidating for students.
- Fostering an inclusive Christ-centered community life is so needed-and campus chaplains should be a part of that too!
Don’t be afraid to invite your chaplain into your daily events such as tabling, prayer groups, and ministry team meetings. He might not say yes every time, but the invitation is important!
- It’s really nice to have help with the women's side of ministry.
If you are a female campus minister this one's important! While priests meet with tons of students, both male and female, there are sometimes needs that the chaplain can’t meet alone. “The experiences and the feminie genius available, I just can’t speak into that”, Fr. Matt says, “having help for that is really nice." Consider having a sit down meeting with your chaplain and discussing the needs of the men and women involved in your ministry.
- Communicate regularly. About everything!
But especially about where your students are-the chaplain and campus minister both have separate relationships and encounters with students and can give each other good insight into what is needed in the campus community.
- Surrender and entrusting to the Lord.
There will always be more that you can theoretically do, but Fr. Matt said he has had to make a practice of continually surrendering his campus ministry (and all of his plans) to the Lord. This gives him freedom to be more present to his students and those he serves. We also asked Fr. to share a few tips from his perspective as a pastor on the relationships between campus minister and chaplain (and how to handle those awkward moments of conflict 😬):
- Remember to the humanity of the chaplain you are working with.
“They are not going to be perfect. They’re not. Theyre going to mess up and make wrong decisions.” Fr. Matt shared. Keep in mind that although there definitely should be proper respect shown to your priest, they are just as human as the rest of us. This looks like being patient with their mistakes in moments of tension and supporting them in their human needs too (asking them what they need, holding them to the same standards as the rest of the team, etc).
- Make a real effort to befriend your chaplain, even if that is intimidating.
“Priests in general are very susceptible to loneliness and that never leads to anything good.” Fr. Matt shared that chaplains really need relationship and community, but a lot of the time even coworkers can keep them at a distance. A great way to work on this is to try and spend some time as a team outside of meetings and ministry related events. A simple invitation out for a drinks with the rest of the staff or a cup of coffee after mass, can go a long way.
- Be aware of your chaplains practical needs and try to offer support when possible.
Because of the uniqueness of their vocation, priests can have a hard time making their needs known. Campus ministers are often very aware of the needs of their students but try being sensitive to those of the chaplain as well. “Even asking simple things such as ‘are you drinking water today’ is extremely helpful” Fr. Matthew explained, “Priests, including myself, can be awful about self-care because they are always thinking about what is next and what needs to be done [in the community].” Whether they are aware of it or not, your chaplain will benefit greatly from having someone be on the lookout for their practical needs. Loving each other well will lead you to serve the people in your care to a better degree.
Lastly, we asked the question we know is always on the heart and mind of campus ministers: What are college students most in need of?
“Jesus. Christ and Christ-Centered relationships...when [students] see people who want what is best for them, it changes the dynamic of the relationships and shows that there is stability in [your community.]"
The more we learn to work together, and work together well, the more we are able to foster Christ-centered community on our campuses that students are carving. Fr. Matthew shared that he has seen this more relevant than ever before, especially after being separated for the last year or so.
Making and effort to create healthy community with your chaplain and staff is a building block to creating this kind of community. By working on the way we love one another and work to serve Christ in the other, we are truly showing students what discipleship looks like. Modeling the love of Jesus in the way we treat and love one another is invaluable and will set a great precedent for ministry!
"By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:5
Fr. Matthew Gossett is a priest of the Diocese of Steubenville. He was ordained in 2016 and is entering his third year serving as campus minister at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio