Creating a Questioning Space: Rev. Melissa Turkett, Collaborator

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Can you find God in a hammock? Is it okay to care about the aesthetic a physical space creates? Can Amazon Customer Service teach us something about a theology of hospitality? Is it okay to love a generation that the rest of the world seems unsure of? 

I love to ask questions of myself. I am most at home when spending time thinking, but I’m also an extrovert so I can’t contain it to myself. And somewhere along the way I found that questions can often be a platform to invite others to participate in Christ’s Kingdom on Earth.

I am a clergy woman, a millennial, a wife, and the Director of Campus Ministry at the Baylor Wesley. When I arrived almost four years ago at the Wesley I knew that something needed to be done about the space. The place smelled of grandmas and stale cigarette smoke, and the wifi was dial up speed (literally). So I called the internet company, started deep cleaning, and moved a lot of furniture around. 

My first semester leading the Wesley was off and over before I could blink. I built relationships with students, focused our hearts around worship and taught them to vision with me towards what this place could be. In the midst of it all a small room tucked away at the front of the building sat empty.

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One day a student asked if we were ever going to do something with the space. Then more students began asking. Rather than providing answers I asked them what we should do with the physical space. A conversation budded and students began asking each other what to do - no committee needed. There were lots of ideas, some good, some not so practical, and some silly, all ideas were welcome. Not surprisingly one day I found myself standing in the empty room with a student who said, “We should hang hammocks in here.” Something sparked in that moment and plans began to roll out. 

Engineering students researched how much weight the studs could handle, interior design majors were picking out room colors, outdoor recreation majors were ordering climbing rope and tying knots to clip the hammocks into. Before I knew it a work day descended upon the room and in a day we had our very own indoor hammock lounge. Equipped with four hang spots for your own hammocks, two hammocks ready to go, and two hammock chairs. The room was ready for students as soon as the paint fumes cleared the space. 

This would be a nice story if it ended here — college students organizing themselves together to work together towards a joint goal. Cool. But the Gospel isn’t about nice stories, it’s about good news. After the workday ended something else remained, there was this deep-rooted sense of ownership about the room, and as a result the students used it. They also invited others to use it. Friends of students naturally began to ask questions, "so what is this place?” Somehow spending time in hammocks began to open doors to the work of relational evangelism. Wesley Students found themselves sharing their stories about how God was at work in the Wesley and in their own lives. 

The room did something else, it got Wesley Students asking questions. What does a theology of hospitality look like? How do I love my neighbor (fellow Baylor Bears) well? What does hammocking teach me about Sabbath? Why are hammocks so comfortable? 

Each of these questions do something, they bring students into relationship, with me (the pastor), each other, and with new students at the Wesley. They are conversation starters, sometimes as shallow introductions to who they are, and at other times as diving boards into the deep waters of building the Kingdom of Christ at Baylor. 

The hammock lounge is filled with lots of laughter, sometimes tears, lots of studying, napping, and conversations about God. The room pushes against the dominant culture of busy-ness that pervades many private universities and offers a physical space to come rest and experience God. 

So my one idea, ask questions! It was Jesus’ favorite teaching tool after all. Did you know Jesus asked 307 questions over the four Gospels and only answered 3 of the 183 questions that were asked of him? Asking questions will invite you and those around you into a slow, organic form of ministry. Questions will take you to places you never imagined (I would never have come up with a hammock room on my own). And questions will draw you into learning something about the Trinitarian God we love so much (a God who by the very definition is always in relationship). 

So, what question is brewing in your soul, yearning to be asked? 

Rev. Melissa Turkett is a Provisional Elder in the United Methodist Church where she currently serves as the Director of Campus Ministry of the Baylor Wesley Foundation. Melissa is married to Patrick Turkett, together they live in Intentional Christian Community with their two dogs, cat, and 10 chickens named after female saints. Keep an eye out in Spring 2018 for Melissa’s blog launch if you want to keep up with her latest questions, gardening experiments, and ponderings on God.