September is a busy and important time here at The Presbyterian College, with new and returning students arriving for studies. For six years now, as a faculty member here, I’ve been part of a team receiving students as they arrive in Montreal.
Often those students come from other places in the country, or even from overseas. They may be arriving from Charlottetown or Edmonton or Yaoundé. Having said their goodbyes to family and friends, they arrive in Montreal to settle into a new neighbourhood, a new culture, and a new pattern of life. One of our tasks at the college is to make students feel at home, to welcome them into a new community, and help them settle into a new rhythm.
This year I’ve also had a new experience in the return to school. For the first time, I am also on the other side of those goodbyes. What do I mean? Well, my wife and I have just dropped our eldest daughter off for her first year of university in Ottawa. This time I’m not on the receiving end of a student, helping her become oriented to university life and a new city. Rather, I’m on the side of saying good-bye and then driving away, leaving her to settle in.
This time I’m on the other side of good-bye.
As I say good-bye to my daughter, there are all kinds of things I pray for her. That she will encounter professors who teach well, share ideas creatively, and introduce her to new disciplines thoughtfully. That she’ll eat well and sleep soundly and remain physically active over these months. That she’ll build new friendships that will last a lifetime.
Above all what I wish for her is a community of Christian friends and of worship and prayer. This might be through informal connections on campus, and might be through a Christian campus organization. I hope it’s also through a local congregation that welcomes her into a rich pattern of worship and service in the name of the risen Jesus. In all of her new experiences, I wish for her to be rooted in the deep love of the God who has redeemed us in Jesus Christ and called us to his way in the world.
Thinking back to my own context here in Montreal (on the welcoming side at The Presbyterian College), what I pray for my daughter is what we work toward as a community. In a way we’re different since our students are here to study theology—there is something professionally religious about what we do!! But there is still a strangeness to this new city where our students find themselves. And there are challenging new ideas to be explored in relation to the Bible and the traditions and history of Christianity. In all of this there is a need, maybe especially for theology students, to be grounded in a relationship with the risen Jesus.
In other words, as a college community we are called to support students for everyday life, but especially to encourage them in walking faithfully with Jesus. Those two things can’t be pulled apart, of course (everyday life and walking with Jesus), but there is always so much to distract us from our faith. There are so many things we could easily prioritize above knowing Jesus and following him. Keeping Christ at the centre is what we are called to do—through worship, prayer, and encouraging participation in a local and vital Christian community.
Heading off to university or college is a challenging thing. For the first time I’m discovering how hard it can be from the side of parents! Through all of these challenges, we are called to find our way to the risen Jesus, in worship, in prayer, with friends, and in a local congregation. It’s about staying grounded, in and with him.