Student life at Seattle Pacific University tends to be closely intertwined with resident life. For many students here, it is how they make friends, how they learn about themselves and how many of their memories are made in college.
However, for transfer and off-campus students, who don’t have this same opportunity to be constantly surrounded by friends and peers, school can become much more difficult.
“Everyone talks about SPU’s great community, but it can feel incredibly difficult to break into that community without the experience of living in a residence hall,” said Jessica Fossum, coordinator of Sharpen. “Sharpen works to be a bridge into creating intentional spaces of community centered around great food and conversation.”
Sharpen is a ministry catered to serving transfer students, as well as those living in Campus Housing and Apartments, also known as CHA, according to Seattle Pacific University’s website.
This demographic, according to Fossum, makes up over half of SPU’s student population.
The ministry’s free, weekly, post-chapel lunch, called “At the Table,” in First Free Methodist Church’s Fine Center serves students food and hospitality.
Throughout the year, the group has consistently worked to not only to demonstrate their accessibility to off-campus students, but meticulously plan and serve meals with them as their point of focus.
These communities, according to core member Kate Dieda, are sometimes invisible on campus.
“We strive to make everyone, especially those who don’t have the community of the dorms, feel like they have a place to belong,” Dieda said.
As a student ministry coordinator last school year, Dieda was recruited to Shapen by Deb Nondorf, minister of discipleship at SPU. Nondorf, advisor to student ministry coordinators, recruited multiple people from such ministries to apply for Sharpen, which she also advises.
Sharpen’s reach extends on campus beyond just their weekly lunches; the group remains involved in aiding other ministry groups on campus, such as CHA ministry coordinators.
Dieda also played the role of Wesleyan small group leader this entire school year, while others on core led small groups in SPU’s UFDN 3100 courses.
There are six members that make up its core, including its coordinator, a CHA ministry coordinator, and an area ministry coordinator.
“Loving on people through food and community is literally the heart of our ministry. If someone needs to just take a box of food to go, then we give them that,” said Dieda. “If someone needs to eat in community, we provide that for them. Hearing that people rely on our lunches every week makes me feel like what we’re doing is important.”
In the fall of last year, however, the group initially struggled with low turnout rates, despite their posters hung around campus and the occasional submission in Stall Talk.
“It is hard to let people know we exist, and to encourage people to attend,” said Fossum. “We serve a population that is just not on campus as much as students living in the residence halls, so we do what we can to make our meals accessible and worthwhile.”
However, Sharpen remains optimistic in their role on campus. They take pride in their attention to detail; planning meals creatively to accommodate every dietary restriction of those in attendance.
Weekly, after its members finish serving those in attendance, Sharpen makes it a point to sit at their tables and talk with them.
“I love talking to our population because they have a completely different SPU experience, and I appreciate being able to help forge community for them,” said Dieda.
“Our ministry is one of the lowest-key ones on campus, but also one of the most unconditional, and I find that incredibly valuable.”