Laurel Bunker, last week’s Renewal Week chapel speaker, is the senior campus pastor at
Bethel University in St. Paul, MN. The Point sat down with her to discuss her ministry with
young people and to reflect on her time at PLNU.
Q: What is your ministry?
A: Twelve of my years of ministry work has been at Bethel [University] as the associate vice president of Christian formation and church relations, so that means I’m the senior campus pastor and leader of spiritual life on the campus. I have a background in nonprofit management as well as church and parachurch ministry, so, my experience is vast. I spend time at churches talking about youth culture because a lot of church pastors don’t necessarily understand college-aged students. There are unique needs that college students and young adults need as they are transitioning into the world and churches don’t know how to do that particularly well.
Q: How do you keep your ministry fresh and engaging?
A: For me, my favorite thing is face-to-face with students. I see chapel as the place where seeds are planted, but it’s the face-to-face where the seeds are watered. It’s my time with students, it’s wrestling with the things that they’re wrestling with. Being a mom to a college student and a high school student keeps me fresh, but also being acquainted with [students’] sorrows and griefs, hanging out with friends, letting iron sharpen iron, keeping the Word in front of me and being flexible with what I’ve needed over the years. Sometimes I’ve been driven to my knees by the darkness in the world, where I feel perplexed by God. It’s lament; it’s “How are children being snatched off the streets, God?” So, all those things keep me alert and looking for ways to pray and answer these questions.
Q: Why young people?
A: I have seen so many young people feeling forgotten. At this age, there’s a mix of we aren’t trying to act like we don’t need help and guidance, but we want to be honored and talked to like adults. That was a part of it, respecting the wisdom and the experience of college students and realizing that this college stage is a huge one before we launch out into a world that is overwhelming. It’s OK to say I am intellectual, and I worked hard, but I still feel unsure. To come alongside students in this sacred journey is a privilege and it’s something that the Lord has sealed my heart forever for.
Q: What differences do you see between college students now and when you were a student?
A: Technology is huge. We didn’t have the world at our fingertips through phones which sounds so ancient, but it’s crazy. You are a generation that was born with the iPhones in your hands. I don’t think we’ve realized how powerful technology is, not only for the good, but also for the evil. We’re in a hyper-sexualized culture that’s trying to tell our children who to be. The biggest changes have been the way that we engage issues, but the way we engage issues is much harder, because technology is telling us how to feel. Rather than face-to-face dialogue, we’re fighting things out over race and politics on our iPhones. We’re fighting with bumper stickers and t-shirts and we have to stop that. We have to have more courage than that.
Q: Is there anything within Point Loma specifically that you see that either worries you or inspires you?
A: What’s inspired me over the last week is the repentance and not only in the larger spaces, but in the face-to-face, there has been acknowledgement and wanting for things to be different [which] has been a deep encouragement. For all of our Christian colleges, we need to continue to work on reconciliation, particularly around issues about race. You have a fair number of students of color who still feel isolated and to voice what they’ve experienced winds up being met with eye-rolls. There are people who are living with historic trauma. America needs to be a more courageous place in rewriting our history and we as Christians need to be at the forefront of love and grace and listening. We have to recognize that we can’t pin on one person the pain of everyone—that’s what Christ is for.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to say?
A: It’s been an incredible week for me to have face-to-face time, just to sit with students, to sit and listen to stories, to weep with people. I would say for those at Point Loma who are on the fringes, for those who rolled their eyes for having to be at chapel this week, for those who didn’t agree with what I said, don’t give in to the apathy. Instead, dig in. Don’t be disgruntled and let that rob you of the greatest journey that you could ever be on in your life.
Written By: Jaden Goldfain