For everyone and every church, 2020 has been a very unusual year.
January: The Spring semester began with excitement and energy. Pr. Jaime spent many a morning on the Quad at his table, pictured above. More than almost any other effort, "tabling" brings students around to find out more about Christ Chapel and our work. Another draw is our weekly lunches, a ministry we share with the United Campus Ministry, serving between 70-130 people every Monday.
February: News about the coronavirus reaching our shores was not yet alarming. What was alarming was word from the Diocese of West Texas that the 10-year agreement between the Southwestern Texas Synod of the ELCA and the Episcopal Diocese had come to an end and that the Diocese would like the balance of the cash still owed them from the sale of the building to the United Campus Ministry. A bit of background:
Christ Chapel was originally a joint campus ministry effort by the two church bodies. In 2006, the former St. Mark's Episcopal Church was purchased by the Lutherans and Episcopalians for $1.5 million, half coming from the Lutherans and half from the Episcopalians, or $750,000 each. The Lutherans raised their share through a multi-year capital funds drive, while the Diocese had reserves that allowed them to simply write a check.
All was well until 2008, when the Great Recession made it clear that both funding the ministry and upkeep of the building were too much to bear. The decision was made to sell the building, and the suspicion was that an apartment building would take up the space. Thankfully, at the very last hour, Christ Chapel struck a deal with the United Campus Ministry, whose building was perilously close to a new construction project undertaken by the University. The deal was this: UCM would pay half of the $1.5 million and for ten years, let Christ Chapel remain in the space and enjoy fair use at the cost of $20,000 per year taken off the remaining $750,000. Now that the ten years are up, Christ Chapel is still owed $550,000, or $275,000 to each denomination. the Diocese wants their share, but UCM doesn't have that much. Much head scratching ensued, with an agreement between the two bishops to take their time in crafting a plan forward. More on that in a bit.
March: We got word one week before Spring Break that the break would be extended for two weeks in order to get the virus under control. That didn't happen. Christ Chapel began weekly worship on Sundays at 5:30 over Facebook Live and weekly devotions over Zoom. Pr. Jaime also started holding regular "Door Dash" lunches with students, where he would order a lunch from the student's favorite restaurant and one for himself and try to get them delivered at the same time, then hold a video call while they ate lunch and talked. This would be popular for months to come.
April: For the first time in the history of Christ Chapel and its predecessor bodies dating back to 1928, there was no in-person Easter celebration. We did manage to start having monthly game nights via Jackbox.tv.
May: In-person graduation was called off.
June and July: A bit of a blur, except that in response to the unrest in our nation's cities, we adopted the following Statement on Racism:
Christ Chapel mourns with the world the violence done to siblings of color as a result of systemic racism, fear, and unexamined white privilege. As a Reconciling Works organization, Christ Chapel has long stood in solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community, but has not been as vocal decrying racism and has not been as deliberate in making sure our welcome to all is truly a welcome to all, regardless of race or ethnicity. We repent our quietness and resolve to actively seek ways to be a community that listens to the stories of pain from our siblings of color and to make steps toward a more inclusive expression of the body of Christ.
August: Fall classes resumed, but the majority of classes were held over the internet. The campus felt largely deserted. Organizations were discouraged from setting up tables on the Quad and the University only held virtual organizational fairs. New student orientation was likewise held virtually, meaning we did not get the opportunity for face-to-face meetings. Finally, we did not feel safe offering meals or operating Higher Grounds Coffee House for sanitation reasons. Needless to say, all of this harmed our ability to grow. We were able to hold a safe socially-distanced pizza party at one point.
September, October, November: Weekly worship and news from the Diocese that we really did start to need a plan for moving forward with regard to the building. Here's where the earlier comment of how the Lutherans raised their money for the original purchase comes into play. When UCM bought Christ Chapel, the Lutherans received their half and eventually invested it in an endowment fund through the Lutheran Foundation of the Southwest. To cut to the end, some the Lutheran's endowment fund will be used to pay off the Diocese under similar terms reached 10 years ago. Christ Chapel is guaranteed a space (and one of the best possible for campus ministry at Texas State or any university) for decades to come.
December: To date, no student or member of the mentoring community has tested positive for the virus. On the legal front, papers are being signed and the deal should be finalized by early in January. The Diocese graciously accepted an offer of $220,000, and pledged to return $5,000 a year for the next two years. The disposition of the building resolved, the long-standing problem of having no on-site kitchen will be addressed, hopefully in time for a full resumption of ministry by the Fall.
Regardless of us soon having no formal relationship with the Diocese, Christ Chapel will continue to offer a witness familiar to both Lutheran AND Episcopal sensibilities. Apart from the Roman Catholic parish, we are the only campus ministry that is liturgical in content and contemplative in character. It's a peaceful place to be for many a student.
There is one clear consequence of our paying the debt owed to the Diocese. Obviously, it will make quite the dent in our Endowment Fund, some of the interest from which was an important source for sustaining the ministry. So, here at the end of the year, I would be remiss not to ask that you continue your financial commitment to Christ Chapel if you are making one, and to invite you who are not making such a commitment to do so, either through a one-time gift or a recurring gift. Both can be offered via the Paypal link on our webpage, www.christchapeltxstate.org, or through the mail at the address below.
We'll get through this pandemic and be renewed in every way; this I know. We are a resurrection people - that's what we do. Before long, we'll be back to lunches and retreats and singing together and being the joyful community of faith we are called to be. Thank you for your prayers and support.