The Life Changing Magic of Sorting Out & Tidying Up

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is the title of a lovely little book by a young Japanese author.  Currently on the bestseller lists, Marie Kondo’s premise for organizing a household is simple: keep what brings you joy and release the rest.

It’s a great principle for sorting out t-shirts and old books but a little more difficult for me in my current project at the Chapel Center.  I am taking advantage of the slow summer months and trying to tackle multiple boxes and file drawers of accumulated paper clutter, some of it kept for the fifty plus years of St Anselm’s existence.

I’m a librarian.  We love organizing stuff.

Some of it is straight forward and easily fits under the diocesan guidelines for what paper records need to be preserved and what can be pitched.

Other files are a bit harder for me.  Files and files of correspondence attest to previous chaplains’ diligence in contacting prospective students and following up on pastoral concerns.  What record will future generations have of our work, I wonder, now that all this sort of mail happens electronically and is not preserved on ancient yellow letterhead in dusty file drawers?

A few lessons I’ve learned so far:

Everything that is happening now has happened before, and will probably happen again.

This is not really as fatalistic as it sounds.  It’s just important to remember that, for all the great programming ideas we have and activities we try, those who came before us have done the same (and sometimes better).  For all the times we have complained about dishes left unwashed in the kitchen sink by our residents, other chaplains have fought the same good fight before us. At the very least, it’s a good idea not to get either too cocky or too discouraged.

The personal touch is still (and always will be) the best.

Letter after letter from former chaplains welcoming incoming students and inviting them in.  Letters from parish rectors asking the chaplain to check in on a new student on our campus.  It is community and the very best of what we are meant to be as a campus ministry.

Celebrations are essential to being a community.

There are records of so many celebrations in our files.  People coming and people going.  Ministries started and ministries concluded.  It is important that we honor all these stages.  A few minutes to stop and say thank you and leave a record of a job well done.

In the midst of my sorting and pitching, I came across a photograph taken in the 1980’s of one of my current parishioners.  She lived at the Chapel Center when she was a student at USF, met and married her husband during her time there.  I’ve only known her in recent years and she is herself now a parent of a USF student, but the photo of her much younger self was unmistakable.

Knowing the wonderful person she is now and knowing the impact that her time at the Chapel Center had on her, I was reminded once again that what we are doing in campus ministry–all the small and seemingly inconsequential duties–matters.  And that is where the real life changing magic happens.

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