Erskine College students sometimes refer to the “Erskine bubble” as sealing them off from the world outside the campus.
But many students step out in service to the surrounding community and make friends in the process. At least that’s what Chaplain Paul Patrick has found in his work with Campus Ministry at Erskine.
First women, then children
For example, during the past several years, Erskine students have spent several days of their spring break assisting with Widows’ Watchman Ministries, based in Honea Path. And some of the students who have provided simple repairs, painting, and lawn care for widows in need have become friends with the ladies they have served.
“We have several students who have ‘adopted’ widows in the Due West and Honea Path area,” Patrick said. “They continue to visit them weekly or monthly since last spring break’s widows ministry project.”
Last year, Campus Ministry at Erskine sponsored a 12-and-under baseball team, called the Fleet in honor of Erskine, opening an avenue of service at the younger end of the age spectrum.
“The ‘big idea’ behind Fleet baseball is engaging our community in something we all enjoy and doing so with the intention of having a redemptive influence and contribution to the kids and families of the Due West area,” Patrick said.
This year, Patrick and Erskine students Matthew Deegan, Taylor Gordon and Chris Waugh, along with parent volunteers, began working with the players in March. The season opener was scheduled for the first Saturday in April.
“All three of us have played some and love the game,” said Gordon, a senior from Pittsburgh, Pa., who played baseball in high school. “Chris Waugh red-shirted with the baseball team last year and decided not to play this year. Matt Deegan was recruited by Erskine and at least one other team but got injured.”
Speaking of the student coaches, Patrick said, “Folding them into the community and letting them learn to make a ministry out of something they love is one way we model how to do ministry for the rest of their lives.”
Deegan, a sophomore from Pawleys Island, has enjoyed coaching and also participated in the widows ministry. “The love God shows through me for the ‘sweet ol’ gals’ is the same love I show for the players,” he said.
Gordon recalls that he approached the chaplain “wondering why there wasn’t more evangelism stuff going on with the community.”
Patrick responded by introducing him to “the relational ministry that can be done here on campus,” Gordon said. “Then he also introduced me to opportunities like widows ministry and eventually this team.”
Gordon, a Bible and religion major with a double minor in French and psychology, plans to go into inner city ministry once he graduates.
“Campus ministry has been huge for me,” he said. “Education for me goes far beyond the classroom, and these opportunities through the ministry here…that’s had a lot to do with my growth as a person.”
Learning by teaching
Deegan, a special education major, sees connections between what he is learning in the education program at Erskine and the way he works with the players on the 12-and-under team. “The education department stresses the importance of caring relationships, and I think my love for these children is very apparent,” he said.
“Matt interacts so naturally with those kids, and they love him to death,” Gordon said of his fellow coach.
“I have spent countless hours in the surrounding schools,” Deegan said. “I know their teachers, and I keep an eye on them. They know I understand what they are going through with school and such.”
Even without the advantages of being an education major, Gordon has found it “easier than I thought to connect” with the players. “We’ve had some attitude issues with guys kind of getting down. I’ve had opportunities to sit one of the guys down and see what’s bugging them.”
Coaches can also learn from players, as Deegan has discovered. “I have learned how to love the game like a child does,” he said. “For many years I took baseball too seriously, and these kids have taught me that that is not what it is about.”
Identifying a key element of the Erskine students’ coaching experience, he added, “Each child is different, and there are different struggles. But they all want to be accepted by their peers and coaches, and if we can show them that they are loved no matter how they perform, it has been a success.”
Speaking about the value of the opportunities provided by Campus Ministry at Erskine, Gordon said, “I think broadening of horizons is a good way to put it.” Spending time with people in age groups other than his own, he added, is “one of the things I crave most” after several years in college.
The widows ministry and now the work with the 12-and-under team is a good fit for Gordon. “Being able to work with the kids, work with other coaches and with the parents has been so enjoyable,” he said. “And it has provided a great opportunity for that intergenerational fellowship while doing something I love to do.”
Gordon recently spoke with a professor and a couple of other students about Erskine, and the discussion turned to whether the students would choose Erskine again.
“When I hear ‘Erskine,’ I don’t think of the administration, or the president, or even education, though I’ve gotten a good education here,” he said.
“I think of the friendships I’ve made, relationships I’ve built with students, with faculty and staff here, and now some folks in the community. Those are the reasons I would not choose another school if I could go back and do it over.”
During the past academic year, Campus Ministry at Erskine has hosted Erskine Fellowship at the Barn, including a hymn sing in the fall that drew more than 400 people, as well as small group studies and ministry projects. In March, the Barn was the setting for the wedding of Patrick’s former intern, Cam Smith, and Erskine senior Kaela Brown.
The year’s final activity is a trip to the Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) national conference in Panama City Beach, Fla., with a group of 21 set to depart May 16.
Looking toward the fall, Patrick noted a significant change. “We say goodbye to Laura Funke, who finishes her second year as an intern, and will welcome Zack Keuthan, who is graduating from Erskine Saturday, and Elly Hovis, who is graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill, as our next interns.”
Zack and Elly will be married May 28 and start their internship in August. “As interns, they will be raising their salary, insurance, benefits and expenses,” Patrick said.
For more information on Campus Ministry at Erskine, see the following link:http://www.erskine.ruf.org/