Monday, August 12, 2013

Anniversary Story-Seeking

This summer and school year, I’m the Service-Learning Center's 50th Anniversary Research & Project Coordinator, a title more or less made up, like my position, like a lot of my work. I’m figuring out how to honor the Service-Learning Center’s first fifty years. So far, that’s involved organizing old files, perusing historical documents, books about service-learning, and articles about Christian education; googling alumni, digging through archives, interviewing former staff members, writing web copy, sending out surveys, pestering people to complete them, and transcribing hours of recordings. 

I’m a lover of structure and clarity in a very open-ended job, which has frustrated and challenged me, humbled and empowered me. I've had to ask for help and advice frequently. I've had to trust my instincts and follow through on ideas. I've been gutsy and also wildly inefficient, and I've generally felt somewhat intimidated by the tasks before me, undefined as they may be.

The Service-Learning Center has a powerful legacy. It’s been a community, a resource, a family, a home, a launch pad, a safe place, a starting point, and so many other things to so many people I respect and admire. Articulating that legacy, honoring it, feels like a fairly weighty task. It’s already hard to talk about the ideas that drive this place: justice, peace, presence, community, sustainability, shalom. We use those names to frame phenomena we don’t know how to describe, to talk about the often so intangible acts of kingdom-building that comprise our purpose in this life. Language is just a container for the dynamic, collaborative soul of this place that is not a place at all—it’s not the Commons Annex that forms the S-LC. It’s the people who are there and who have been there and who have built and absorbed a culture that changes with them.

I, as the 50th Anniversary Research & Project Coordinator, have to find some way to articulate that culture, to ask good questions about that culture, and to do it all with some semblance of grace and concision.

But to do that well, I have to find the stories of people to whom the S-LC has mattered. I have to tell those stories with the same honesty and feeling they show, which means I have to really listen, and follow the threads of narrative backward and forward. The anniversary is about our history, but it’s also about the future, and the kind of chapters that have already been foreshadowed. So I’ll spend the next ten months or so teasing out the story, as faithfully as I can.

Any assistance is appreciated.


Katie Van Zanen.