Andrew and Kate Owens: Campus ministry in the time of Covid
‘The big win is that our team is still here!’
Andrew and Kate Owens are optimistic, cheerful and committed to Roots, their Globalscope ministry to university students in Edinburgh, Scotland, which is saying a lot after nearly two years of pandemic upheaval.
The couple are currently on a well-deserved furlough but stayed in Scotland so their six-year-old son can attend his local school. We caught up with them online to check in on their lives and ministry and the enthusiastic pair had much to share with us.
Tell us how you came to serve with Globalscope in Edinburgh.
Kate: We met at Christian Campus Fellowship at Georgia Tech. We both grew up in the church, but CCF showed us something very different that we wanted to be a part of. We did separate internships with CMF, then after graduation from GT, we joined a group of friends who wanted to do campus ministry together. We took a vision trip to Scotland, and Edinburgh’s culture fit our vision for what our Globalscope ministry would look like.
What’s the focus of each of your ministries at Roots?
Andrew: I’m the team leader, so I support the team and do a lot of organizing and administrative work. I did the paperwork to set up Roots as a registered charity in the U.K. I try to maintain a vision of what’s happening and encourage our team while keeping my eye on the big picture.
Kate: I’ve served as the exchange intern coordinator, but my main role is as the team’s dreamer. I like to brainstorm for creative ideas and also manage the overall vision of our group talk series and do a lot of the speaking.
How did the pandemic affect your ministry?
Kate: When the pandemic began, we were pumped to do ministry online. We went at it hard, but the students didn’t want to be there.
Andrew: Yes, digital was fun for two months, and then we were done with that. Once the university went fully digital, most students went home because they didn’t need to be there, and the accommodations became Covid hot beds.
Kate: We tried some great new ideas, like our “12 Days of Rootsmas,” but hardly anyone came.
Andrew: We even wrote this great special song, but it didn’t really help.
Kate: We worked so hard on it, and it was super disappointing, but still, it was fun for us. And we had to be ok with that. In the spring semester, we decided to adjust our expectations of success. We slashed programming and shifted to one-on-one meetings outdoors. It ended up fine.
Kate: Shortly before the shutdowns, we had landed on a new idea, a monthly free pancake breakfast that was by far the most successful event we’d ever tried for bringing in new people. We were so excited, but then we had to stop it. That was disappointing.
What are some of the accomplishments you’re most proud of over the past year?
Andrew: It was a trying experience. A lot of work for very little tangible reaction. But the big win is that all of our team is still here. I’m proud of them for not giving up, keeping good attitudes and being open to trying new things, then dropping them quickly when they didn’t work.
Kate: We had new teammates join us during the pandemic, and they were open to doing things they weren’t expecting! The difficulties didn’t become the main thing. We look back and feel proud.
Andrew: I wrote a report on Roots for an online class I was taking and interviewed a student about her pandemic experience. She said, “Everything else in my life was chaos, but Roots stayed steady. No one would have faulted you if you closed, but the fact that you didn’t was cool.”
Kate: We had very little feedback because people weren’t showing up at online events, so it was really cool to hear that. At the end of the year, we sent Roots boxes to students’ homes. We filled them with Roots swag and other fun things. We were so surprised when students sent us videos of themselves unboxing them; we didn’t know if they still cared! So, by the end of the year, we got feedback that they still had a connection to Roots.
You return to work in January. What are you looking forward to?
Kate: The Roots team is back with in-person events this semester, so we’re missing those memories they are making now. But it will be so exciting to meet all the new people.
Andrew: I’m looking forward to a full revamp of Roots. We are basically starting from scratch! Last year, we made plans, scrapped them, then made new ones. So now, our team is ready to go, ready to meet people. But it will take a long time to get back to where we were. This is a longer game, managing the students’ re-entry.
What do you want folks to know about campus ministry in Scotland?
Kate: Roots is all about sharing life. The majority of students don’t have faith; that’s not why they come to us. They’re all about living life alongside others and having experiences in community. And when you are living next to one another you get to have cool conversations about faith and hope and love.
Andrew: The international makeup of Edinburgh makes me feel more connected with the world. About one-third of the students are from Scotland, another third from the U.K. and the last third from the rest of the world. We interact with people from all over the world.
Andrew: I was in a ping-pong tournament on campus and was the only person speaking English. Everyone else was from Arabic-speaking countries. Then in the middle of the tournament, one person stopped and said we should all speak English, for me. They brought me into their community. It was an amazing moment of hospitality from people I’d never have met otherwise. I realized people aren’t as different as we’d like to believe they are, no matter where they grow up.
Andrew Owens, campus ministry, Edinburgh, Globalscope, Kate Owens, Scotland