The call for service at a campus ministry is not one that the Rev. Jim Kitchens can let go unanswered.
So when the Cal Aggie Christian Association, a nearly 100-year-old ministry at UC Davis, asked for an interim director, Kitchens responded. He shared his reasoning for feeling so indebted to ministries for students in particular:
“I have always cared a lot about campus ministry, because it was the Presbyterian campus ministry at the University of Mississippi, in the late ’60s, that sort of rescued me for the church.
“I grew up pretty conservative, evangelical, and got to the place where I was having real problems with that understanding of the Christian faith. And it was campus ministry that re-framed for me what faith was about.”
Kitchens, who served as pastor at Davis Community Church for 16 years, is filling in for Kristin Stoneking, who guided CA House over the past 14 years. Stoneking recently accepted a new job as executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a multi-faith peace and justice organization.
Kitchens left Davis in 2003 to take a job as pastor at Second Presbyterian Church in Nashville, where he remained for seven years. He later returned to the West Coast, and just finished another interim appointment as pastor at San Francisco’s Calvary Presbyterian Church. This granted him perspective on the goal of these temporary assignments.
“Interim time between directors of any organization is a time to reassess,” Kitchens said, “and reimagine what the mission is for the next 10 or so years.”
As interim director of CA House, a position he expects to fill until June 30, he’ll provide leeway for the managing board of the campus ministry to decide how they wish it to proceed.
“Not that you’re going to walk away from the trajectory they’ve started, but it gives you the opportunity to get a lay of the land and examine what it is we’ve been called to do,” Kitchens said.
The path on which Stoneking had led CA House included the opening of a multi-faith student living community at 433 Russell Blvd. The six townhouses constructed at the ministry’s headquarters now are home to more than 30 students.
It’s in the balance between that and the other direction CA House has long been in — as a presence of progressive Christian-based faith at UCD — that a dilemma has arisen for the organization.
“Do we continue to try and do both, or will we shift into becoming fully an interfaith ministry?” Kitchens said. “That’s the question the board will be wrestling with.”
Kitchens has been a Presbyterian pastor in all other calls, but he said his congregations always have been involved in interfaith dialogue and communication. He was also a part of the San Francisco Interfaith Council.
“It was formative in helping me think through what interfaith community and interfaith dialogue was for,” he explained, “because it certainly wasn’t to try and convert each other.”
Interfaith community helps everyone better understand the commitments made by people of other faiths, and the values that guide them, he said.
But what Kitchens believes is perhaps most significant is the way it allows an individual to think more deeply about his or her own faith tradition. He recalled an anecdote that spoke to this from his time with the Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco:
“That church had a really strong relationship with a nearby synagogue,” Kitchens related. “It was always fun to watch my church’s members when a Jewish friend said, ‘So, explain this holy trinity thing to me,’ and to find them struggling to say something that made sense.”
And it’s essential that CA House continues on with interfaith dialogue, he said, given that it has become a key ingredient of today’s American conversation.
How to maintain relevance in an ever-changing society is an interest of Kitchens’, who wrote a book on the subject, “Postmodern Parish: New Ministry for a New Age.”
Kitchens will be joined by Mahsea Evans, programming director and co-pastor at CA House, in bringing speakers to the living community who will address the multi-faith dimension of American culture.
The first meeting of the living community will be Wednesday, which is intended to double as a community gathering. The public is invited to attend the 5:30 p.m. event to formally bid farewell to Stoneking.
The event also will celebrate the naming of one of the townhouses in honor of the late Richard Harris, a professor emeritus at UCD, and his wife, Vera Harris. These locals were longtime supporters of CA House.
The students will be introduced to the interim staffers on Wednesday, and community members are invited to attend to welcome Kitchens back to Davis after his decade away.
The role of being a pastor at DCC meant that you had a community presence as well, Kitchens said, so he developed strong relationships with people who weren’t even a part of the church.
“People have already begun to reach out, certainly with social media, but they’re being nice about not overwhelming us,” he said with a laugh. “They’re being gracious about letting me slowly re-establish those relationships.”
What: CA House welcome-back gathering, greeting interim director Jim Kitchens and bidding farewell to former director Kristin Stoneking
When: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: 433 Russell Blvd., Davis
— Reach Brett Johnson at email@example.com or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett