“How can we engage students at Ryerson?” This is the question that sparked the beginning of Encounter Ryerson, an outreach to Ryerson University that grew out of a partnership between two churches in the heart of Toronto.
The Encounter Ryerson team was made up of a group of students from St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church in Toronto who had a desire to reach out to students at Ryerson. The ministry really took off when we found a location and partner in First Lutheran Church on Bond Street, right in the middle of the Ryerson Campus. As a team, we knew that we wanted the ministry to have three components.
First, we wanted to serve the campus in some way. This developed into us giving out hot drinks to students in the fall and winter outside of First Lutheran Church. This simple hospitality was a vital part of the ministry and opened the way for us to have some great conversations with students and staff about faith and the Church. We were asked questions across the spectrum, ranging from the church building and its functioning to questions about faith and who we are as Christians. These questions led to many great opportunities to interact with Ryerson students and build relationships with them which, God willing, planted some ‘seeds’ for the Gospel! Part of the team’s idea of handing out hot chocolate grew out of our learning about a relational approach to evangelism at Wycliffe College. Simply talking with people, learning about their lives and their struggles, building real relationships and community with them, allowed us to offer ourselves to them as Christians; that is the Body of Christ.
A second aspect of the Encounter Ryerson ministry was a time of prayer. We decided to offer an Evening Prayer service coming from the Anglican tradition. We wanted to invite students into a space in which they could encounter and worship God with other Christians on the Ryerson Campus. We had a number of students come into the church who wanted to worship God; some just checking out what Evening Prayer is, and some who came in to find a quiet space where they could think, ask questions and escape the busyness of student life. It was great for us as a team to be able to offer students this space, and also for us to have a dedicated time to pray for Ryerson University, its students, faculty and staff.
The third aspect of our outreach and evangelism was creating time at a local pub to discuss theology. At first we didn’t know how this would be received, but it proved to be another very good way to reach out to students and to have conversations with them. As we joined together at the pub week after week, people started to recognize us, and again would ask us who we were and what we were doing there. Again, this offered us great opportunities to reach out and build relationships with people. Many students and staff approached our table just to see what was going on, and every so often would even want to talk about questions and issues of faith. This proved a great way to interact with people and be ambassadors of Christ on behalf of the Church.
After a year of hard work and dedication we began to see fruit for the Gospel. We found ourselves building authentic and increasingly long-lasting relationships with students, who came to seek us out as we offered drinks, conversation and a place to gather. In addition, a core group of students started attending the service of Evening Prayer and have been encountering God through worship. Although it was a hard year of work, experimentation and even some failure, the Encounter Ryerson team saw the Gospel and God at work, and are all excited to see what God will do on the Ryerson Campus in the year to come!