December 7, 2011

Midnight Breakfast

It’s getting closer! In this time of preparation, it’s hard not to think about what’s coming: final exams.

In the next week or two college students will hunker down into reams of paper, laptops, and group projects, trying to finish semester long courses with mastery (or at least with passing grades). It’s a stressful time not only for those who take exams, but for the faculty who spend hours grading them all.

This reminder came last Sunday while visiting St. John’s Episcopal Church in Northampton, MA. During announcements, the rector encouraged people to support students in two direct ways: serving “Midnight Breakfast” and making care packages.

St. John’s is fairly unique because it sits in the midst of Smith College, a women’s college with about 2,500 undergraduates on campus. One of St. John’s ministries to these neighbors is cooking and serving breakfast from 10pm until 1am one night during finals week. Last year over 600 students were provided food and hospitality in the parish hall. Congregation members volunteer for the event or contribute financially toward the costs.

Most congregations don’t have a university neighbor, but St. John’s models another way to minister to students. They mail care packages to “sons and daughters of the parish,” wherever they happen to be enrolled. In the rector’s announcement, she highlighted the fact that only half of the students on the list this year are young adults of traditional college age; the rest are older people who’ve gone back to pursue higher education.

These care packages are probably filled with yummy goodies. But I wonder how we can feed people’s spirits as well as their bodies and minds? Certainly the act of receiving a gift box is nourishing in many ways, evoking a sense of connection and thanksgiving by being remembered.

I hope the packages include little notes of encouragement. Remembering my days as a student, I could have used any and all reminders of love, care, and peace during those difficult days. In my imaginary care package, here’s what I’d include:

  • A prayer card quoting Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
  • A simple outline of a 5 minute mindful meditation or yoga exercise. Any reminder to stand up, stretch, and take a deep breath of life can make all the difference in a stressful moment.