Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, more than six weeks before Easter, is a “meaningful season to so many Christians.” So meaningful that Augustana’s campus pastor decided to build programming around the season — programming now known as Lenten Faith Partners — first implemented in 2022.
“It (the program) fits well with what the season of Lent was, historically, which was a time of preparation, a time of learning, a time of formation,” said Pr. Ann Rosendale ‘04.
But, the concept for the program originated years prior as Rosendale was going through her discernment process for the senior pastor administrative position. The idea came to Rosendale when a member of the discernment committee asked what she wanted to accomplish in the next 5-10 years.
“I would really like to develop a kind of faith mentoring program that pairs students and faculty and staff members,” Rosendale answered.
Rosendale said she held onto the idea for quite some time — throughout the pandemic and until another campus pastor was hired — in order to have enough bandwidth to be creative and implement what she had envisioned.
A few years later, her vision has become a hit among students, faculty and staff. The first year of the program, in 2022, there were 24 pairs or 48 participants. Last year, that number nearly doubled.
“The way it (the program) works is students opt in. Then, we ask each student, ‘Who do you want your faith partner to be — which faculty or staff member?’ They give me a first and second choice and then we reach out to that faculty or staff member,” Rosendale explained. “I would say half of the students had somebody in mind and the other half of the students said, ‘Surprise me!’”
The program kicks off on Shrove or Fat Tuesday with an ice cream social through which all of the participants gather together and have the opportunity to meet their partner. Participants are encouraged to attend Chapel the next day for Ash Wednesday and then begin meeting once a week until Holy Week — the week before Easter. Due to spring break, the partners will have five meetings instead of six.
“My faith is really important to me. I really wanted to see that in other people,” said Shirley Wang ‘23, when asked about her experience with the program as a student. “You get to learn so much through this time. It's like reserving a professor for an hour each week, and I think it's a real privilege to be able to do it.”
The pairs are encouraged to meet on their own time, which may include “grabbing coffee in The Huddle or in a professor’s office, wherever.” The Office of Faith & Spiritual Life provides some guidelines or conversation starters and the discussion takes off from there.
“It was a nice break during the week,” said Dr. Paul Egland, professor of biology, who participated in the inaugural program. “It was nice to connect with a student in that way and to give myself a moment to think about my own faith.”
“I heard people (the participants) talk about how it caused them to be more vulnerable,” said Rosendale. “It’s not always easy for professors to be vulnerable with a student, but it does humanize them. And, ultimately, faith is something that we all share. A professor isn’t any better at faith than a student — each can inspire the other.”
The Office of Faith & Spiritual Life even surveyed participants following the Lenten season — 100% of the respondents indicated that they would participate in Lenten Faith Partners again and would recommend the program to a friend. Nearly 60% of them disclosed that they planned to continue meeting with their faith partner.
“This is the best kind of ministry because it yields exponentially. You plant a seed and it blossoms into a tree … a tree full of fruit,” said Rosendale. “It’s been really gratifying for me to see it take off.”
This year, Lenten Faith Partners will kick off on Tuesday, Feb. 13, where more connections are sure to be made and meaningful conversations had.
For more information on the Office of Faith & Spiritual Life, visit augie.edu/faith.