by Monica Schwarze
As soon as Debbie Roberts heard that the University of La Verne was in need of a Protestant campus minister, she knew the job was for her.
Even though this is her first opportunity to work as a campus minister, Roberts has already had a lot of experience working with students. As pastor of the Church of the Brethren in Manchester, Ind., near Manchester College, she gained experience working with a college-age congregation, and hoped to someday work as a campus minister. Even after she moved to Springfield, Ore., she still kept her eyes open for a campus position.
“I love working with students,” she said. “It’s been my favorite part of being in the pastoral community. I always hoped I could move into campus ministry at one point.”
When the Church of the Brethren offices in Elgin, Ill. first informed her of the job, her love for student ministry prompted her to apply immediately.
“When this position opened up, she was really enthusiastic about applying for it,” said Dr. John Gingrich, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “At that point, we had about 20 applicants, and we felt that she was the best candidate. She has the qualities that we felt were important in a campus minister.”
One of those qualities is a strong background in peace studies. Roberts has been interested in peace studies since high school, and, as a minister, the study of peace and justice has always been her main focus. She is interested in working with the University’s minor in Peace Studies, which was created last year.
“I really want to emphasize the peace and justice aspect of studies here,” said Roberts, who is planning to teach a class in peace studies next fall. “I feel that this is an incredible gift to me, to come to a place like this. I hope that students will see me as a link to the peace studies program.”
In addition to peace studies, Roberts wants to become involved in the study of diversity. She is working with Catholic Campus minister Elena Cardeña to plan an ecumenical worship service in the chapel. Roberts is looking for other ways to encourage a discussion of diversity issues on campus.
“I’m hoping to do a lot to encourage diversity,” she said. “Diversity is important because whatever we do and wherever we’re going in this world affects what is around us.”
Experienced in issues of service as well as diversity, Roberts hopes to someday organize a ULV service learning trip to Latin America, where she has participated in various service projects. She wants to find ways to promote Summer Service and service learning programs that are already in place at the University.
“I think [service learning] is so wonderful,” she said. “It ties us right in to the social aspect of education.”
Even though she has spent time traveling, Roberts admits that she is new to La Verne. She considers working in a new community both exciting and intimidating.
“I’m very new, so I am interested in both getting to know people and learning about what they want,” she said. “This will be a learning experience for all of us. I don’t think I have any more to give than I have to receive”
Rather than starting out with a set program for campus ministry, Roberts hopes to find out what the students want from her.
An avid softball player and sports lover, Roberts is already looking forward to attending ULV sporting events.
She also hopes to visit classrooms and computer labs in order to meet students. The only place she does not want to meet students is the dining hall.
“It’s a little bit harder for me to go up to students and say ‘Hi, I’m the campus minister, can I eat with you?,’” she joked, saying that she would prefer to meet students in an informal setting, even her home.
“I want my home to be a place students feel welcome to come to,” she said.
In addition to working with students, Roberts will also work with ULV staff and faculty.
“This school already feels like a community to me,” said Roberts, who was impressed with La Verne from the moment she read the mission statement, which emphasizes community service.
“I look at this mission statement,” she said, “and I know this is the right place for me.”