Before the pandemic, college students lived in dorms and struggled to make sense of classes, friendships, themselves and God. Chaplains were there to walk with them on their journeys and serve as experienced, loving companions. Though the current college experience may be in flux, Belovedness: finding God (and Self) on Campus reveals the vital role chaplains can play in helping students understand their relationship with God, their communities and themselves, virtually or in person.
This collection of essays by the Rev. Becky Zartman, the Cathedral’s Canon for Welcome and Evangelism; the Rev. James Franklin, her dear friend who serves as Campus and Young Adult Missioner in Winston Salem, North Carolina, primarily at Wake Forest University; and eight other college chaplains from a variety of denominational backgrounds, begins by explaining the concept of belovedness, something those we honor as saints have understood. What made them saints, the introduction explains, was “their fidelity to who they are and whose they are. The love of God set them free and enabled them to change the world.” College, with all its “questions of vocation, relationships, and navigating young adulthood” is fundamentally about the question, ‘Who am I?’” The editors and authors in this collection want college students “to believe wholeheartedly that belovedness is the innermost ‘I am’” of their identity in God.
Each chapter asks “How would you [fill in the blank] if you knew you were loved beyond all measure? How are you going to choose to live into your belovedness?” and fills in the blank with a full range of collegiate experiences: making choices, success and failure, relationships, worship, sex, sexuality, partying, and mental health. For each topic, a particular chaplain shares anecdotes, scripture, and empathic understanding to help students understand how they might handle this aspect of college if they lived into their belovedness. Each chapter also includes further resources regarding that topic.
The book is a testament not only to the love of God, but also to the strengthening love that individuals in community can provide for one another—even, and especially, in college. Each chaplain seems carefully chosen for the subject of the chapter, and each shares their understanding in clear and specific detail, with an open and warm heart.
The last chapter, “Holy Sh*t,” written by Becky with all the energy and intellect that have made her so beloved by Cathedral members, begins by extolling the virtues of compost. She goes on to reassure students that even when they face such traumatic experiences as grief, eating disorders, sexual assault, controlled substance abuse, burnout, failure, or academic probation, “our God takes garbage and makes compost. God is working, even right now, to redeem all things. Even though you can’t see it or even imagine it. Redemption is happening; death is being turned into life.”
Finally the conclusion, “What Now?” sends students out to face their college years with the understanding that, like Jacob, their role is to wrestle with God. Only they can do the struggling necessary to grow into themselves.
Belovedness includes an appendix which explains how to find a campus ministry that will truly allow students to live into their belovedness, instructions on the prayer practice the Observatio,and step-by-step instructions for creating a small group to discuss the book.
Whether on campus or in a virtual setting, beginning or returning to college, any student who wants to find balance and peace while experiencing all that the college years have to offer will feel that they have found trusted friends and mentors in this group of chaplains and will benefit from their collaborative wisdom. Belovedness would make a meaningful gift for graduation or back-to-school and will remind readers even long past the college years “who they are and whose they are” and how important it is to live with this understanding.
“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”