Still on the Watchtower
U of T’s Campus Ministry marks 50 years.
The Vietnam War was raging, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated, the counter-culture movement was in full swing and Jimi Hendrix had just released his stunning retake on Bob Dylan’s song: “All along the watchtower, princes kept the view […] outside in the distance a wildcat did growl / two riders were approaching, and the wind began to howl.”
It was 1968 and I wonder if Morris Greidanus had such an apocalyptic sense of the times as he launched a Christian Reformed (CRC) campus ministry at the University of Toronto. Did he perhaps feel like Isaiah, taking up his place on the watchtower, scanning for the horsemen of the apocalypse? (Is. 21.6-9) Did he hear in the wailing guitar of Jimi Hendrix and the shouts of protest on campus the howling of a culture in collapse?
I don’t know. Maybe I am projecting my own memories and predilection for such cultural interpretation onto the founding of the first CRC campus ministry in Canada. What I do know, however, is that by the time I found my way into the “Hart House Fellowship” that Morris had founded, there was a clear sense of prophetic urgency to the worship, preaching and activism in that community.
It was 1974. I had been a Christian for five years, still finding my feet, still seeking a community and a biblical vision that would make sense out of the radical Jesus to whom I had given my life. And it all came together for me in that campus ministry community.
Cynicism and resistance
How amazing it was that in 1996 I had the honour to become the fourth CRC campus pastor to lead this ministry. Since then, the times have changed, but it is worrisome how much they have remained the same. The world is still at war. Young people are still on the streets demanding a better future. There is another President of the United States facing removal from office. There is even a Trudeau serving as the Prime Minister of Canada.
And there is still a bit of an “All along the Watchtower” feel to the times. A weary cynicism resonates with Dylan’s lines “There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.” But how do you build a life, a culture, a society, on a joke? So campus ministers are still replying, “But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate. / So let us not talk falsely now, for the hour is getting late.”
No cover ups. No cheap piety. But honest, abrasive, often painful, tear-filled truth. On the watchtower, in the streets, in the lecture halls, over coffee, in fellowship groups and in alternative worship. Today, U of T’s campus ministry is one of 17 across Canada supported by CRC churches.
It isn’t the 60’s anymore, but it still feels like the hour is getting late. Economic structures in conflict with the ecological foundations of life, combined with a moral bankruptcy in our political and economic systems, leave many of my students angry at best, defeated and depressed at worst.
And so we do what Morris did 50 years ago. We invite people into communities of hope and resistance. Kingdom communities of discipleship following a radical Jesus. In worship, prayer and celebration, we foster a liberated imagination when the hour is getting late. Why don’t you join us?
MARCH 16th UPDATE:
Please note the March 28th event is POSTPONED.