Pull up a chair!

“The kingdom of God is a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table,” Rachel Held Evans wrote, “not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, and because there’s always room for more.” Held Evans, a 37-year-old best-selling Christian author, tragically died this spring after initially being hospitalized for the flu. The table seemed to be a theme throughout Held Evans’ writing. She was always quick to note that we are not the ones to set the table or prepare the feast. It’s already been given. We simply are invited to pull up a chair and dig in.

In a certain sense, that’s a good way to sum up much of the ministry of Duke Lutherans, the Lutheran Campus Ministry at Duke University. They gather around tables, pull up chairs and dig in:

  • at the long wooden tables in Duke Divinity School where they gather after Evening Prayer each Sunday night
  • at cafeteria tables in West Union where they pause to eat together in the middle of a busy week
  • at plastic folding tables where they broke bread with folks experiencing homelessness in Wilmington on their spring break trip last March
  • at taproom tables where graduate students wrestle with questions of faith at Pub Theology Durham
  • at cafe tables across campus where Pastor Ali meets with students for conversation and pastoral care
  • at the picnic table on the front porch of the Grace House, where Duke Lutherans recently started bi-weekly dinners with new neighbors from across the Durham community.

Eating together can be particularly difficult at a place like Duke, where class schedules don’t account for meal times, extracurricular schedules don’t make room for many breaks, and “earning bread” is a full-time job (and then some)—leaving less time to “break” or “share” it.

But it is at tables where Duke Lutherans are fed, both physically and spiritually. It is around tables where they are invited to experience the gift of God’s grace, and are called to share it. It is at tables where undergraduates and graduates, music majors and biomedical engineering PhDs, Duke athletes and Lutheran seminarians are welcomed into community—where they walk alongside one another through the joys and challenges of campus life. One Duke Lutheran who graduated this spring said, “Duke Lutherans helped me realize what a gift it is to pause in the middle of a hectic day and eat a meal with friends who genuinely wanted to hear about my day…I didn’t realize I needed that. I had papers to write and reading to finish. But when I’d come to the table, I realized not only the literal sustenance the food gave my body, but also the way those conversations fed my soul.”

For graduate student, Anya Varanko, the tables where Duke Lutherans gather “have provided a strong community where I can grow in faith and meet fellow Lutherans in the area. It helps me remain grounded in graduate school and gives me an opportunity to serve my community and participate in fellowship.”

These table gatherings would not be possible without generous support from individual donors, local congregations and Mission Support funds from both the ELCA churchwide organization and the NC Synod. Together, these funds have made possible a full-time campus pastor who is able secure grants in order to fund the ministry’s yearly budget.

Duke Lutherans gives thanks for the many ways the church supports this ministry. This support has allowed our table to lengthen as we invite more and more students to pull up a chair. As Held Evans rightly said, because our God is a God of abundance, “there’s always room for more.”

If you would like to refer a current student to a Lutheran campus ministry, click here for schools in N.C., and use this link for schools across the country.

To contribute to the current Duke Lutherans matching gift campaign, visit the Duke Lutherans website.

Story written by Pastor Ali Tranvik, Campus Pastor, Duke Lutherans.