Empty Nesters

College graduation causes empty-nest syndrome for hundreds of WELS campus pastors around the country.

Glenn L. Schwanke

It’s summer. Everything is settling down after college graduation. My wife and I are empty nesters again. We saw Rachel off to further her graduate studies at Virginia Tech. Calvin packed up his van and headed down the road for his new job in Tennessee. Another Rachel plans on pursuing graduate studies in Illinois. Jon and Ashley are off to the Twin Cities, where Jon starts his new job as “a project engineer designing hardware setups that will run software to monitor the power grid in various countries.” Please note: It’s countries not counties. I sure hope he gets it right. There are quite a few more who are leaving our nest, but I just don’t have space to list them all.

For more than 18 years now, graduation has caused my wife and me to ride the same roller coaster of emotions: proud, thrilled, and yet sad to see our nest emptied. Exactly how many have left through the years? I’ve lost count. It must be in the hundreds.

What? So many? How is this possible? I suppose by now it is time I make clear what you have probably already guessed. The young men and women who leave our nest each year are not our biological sons and daughters. They are your sons and daughters, your grandsons and granddaughters. You have entrusted them to us through WELS Campus Ministry. But we develop a close relationship with so many of these fine young Christians. Remember that Paul called Timothy “my true son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2). That’s how we feel about the young men and women who spend four, five, or sometimes even six or seven years with us here in Houghton.

We watch them grow and mature. We rejoice to see them “fan into flame” the gift of God that has been given to them by Baptism and then nurtured through Word and sacrament over the years (2 Timothy 1:6). We cry with them when their hearts are broken. We laugh with them when they are happy (Romans 12:15). We celebrate with them when they walk on commencement day, hear their names read, and proudly grasp their diplomas.

Then we send them out into the world with our prayers, hugs, and also a few tears. The good-byes aren’t always so easy.

Not that the good-byes come easy for the other 384 campus pastors in our Wisconsin Synod either! Did you know that we have a full-time campus ministry at Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel at UW–Madison? We have part-time-plus campus ministries here in Houghton and at Point of Grace in Milwaukee, True North in Minneapolis, the Rising Son Campus Ministry in Oshkosh, and the Beacon Lutheran Student Center in Mankato. We have campus ministries as far away as the Light of the World Campus Ministry in Fairbanks, Alaska, and even a few in Canada. And we all share a common goal.

Just what is that goal? Nurturing sons and daughters in the faith. Preparing them for the day when they will leave the nest. Sending them out with the prayer once offered by Paul: “For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:17).

We pray you will welcome our “adopted children” when they come. We pray you will be blessed by them, as we have been.

Glenn Schwanke, pastor at Peace, Houghton, Michigan, serves as campus pastor at Michigan Technological University.

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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 102, Number 7
Issue: July 2015

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