Meeting our Affiliated Chaplains – Rev. Alan Bancroft
Rev. Alan Bancroft
My name is Alan Bancroft, and I currently serve as the Campus Minister for Presbyterian Student Fellowship. I’ve been an ordained Minister (or Teaching Elder for those down with the new PCUSA lingo) since 2005. Prior to working for PSF, I served as the Associate Pastor for Youth and Families at Harpeth Presbyterian Church in Brentwood, TN. I often tell people that I’m living the dream as a Pastor in Nashville. I get to spend time with interesting people, talk about God, explore issues of faith and how it applies to our lives, and think creatively about worship. Whether you’re coming from a place of deep faith, new faith, or no faith at all, I would love to sit down with you and hear your story.
In my spare time, I like to play golf, go for a run, read, attempt to play musical instruments, and go hiking/biking with my lovely wife Gracyn. While I’m glad to sit down at a coffee shop to talk about life, I’m always game for a walk or something outdoors as well.
For those who don’t know, can you tell us about PSF and some of the things that your ministry does?
Presbyterian Student Fellowship (PSF) Nashville exists to provide area college students a place for Christian community and spiritual growth by: deepening relationships through fellowship, experiencing God through worship, and encouraging discipleship through service.
PSF gathers each Tuesday evening at 6:00 pm for worship at St. Augustine’s Chapel and then we share in table fellowship around a meal provided by local churches. This weekly gathering is valued by students as “hallowed time” for worship, reflection, and meaningful fellowship.
PSF also engages in local service projects with various non-profits, and is excited about an upcoming ministry initiative involving street outreach in downtown Nashville. By the fall of 2013, we will be up and running with this new ministry.
As of this summer, PSF will have a new name. Campus ministries denomination-wide are making the switch to the name UKIRK. The U stands for University and Kirk is a Scottish word meaning church. Look for our students already sporting their UKIRK t-shirts around campus.
What are some of the events that PSF participates in during the year?
Each January we attend the Montreat College Conference in Montreat, NC. This event gives students a chance to hear great speakers on the year’s theme, join with college students from all over the country in powerful worship, and engage fellow students in workshops and conversation groups. This is a particularly meaningful event for our group, as Montreat holds a special place in the hearts of many PCUSA Presbyterians.
During spring break each year PSF goes on a service-based mission trip, alternating between trips in country and trips to Guatemala through an agency called CEDEPCA. Many PSF students remark that participation in the annual mission trip was a spark for deeper involvement in the ministry as a whole.
Tell us how long you have been in Campus Ministry and your history with PSF.
I’m actually fairly new in the position as Campus Minister for PSF, but I previously served on the ministry’s board for three years when I served as an Associate Pastor for Youth in a local congregation. As you might imagine, serving on the board and observing campus ministry was helpful as I began my new role, but I’ve had a lot to learn about the campus environment and how to reach college students at a deeper level. I am thankful for student leaders who have been willing to show me the ropes and to let me into their lives in meaningful ways.
How does PSF approach the spiritual lives of students on a busy campus like Vanderbilt and create a place for worship in their lives?
As I mentioned above, we focus our main weekly gathering around worship where we hear the Word proclaimed, receive the Word enacted in Sacrament, discover the Word in the world, and are sent to follow the Word into the world. As Presbyterian-flavored Christians, we believe that worship is at the core of who we are as human beings, and so that is where our community begins. I often hear students remark that PSF is valuable to them because we take the time to carve out sacred space in the week.
Besides our weekly worship, we also provide opportunities for students to engage scripture through Bible study and to explore theological topics through discussion and book groups. I also feel called to make time for conversation about daily life with students in the midst of the busyness so that we can discern God’s presence together. Some might use the term “discipling” but I simply tell people that I hang out with students and talk about God.
For Lenten Season, PSF has hosted a prayer service in All Faith Chapel, can you tell us about it?
I’ll be honest and say that this event didn’t exactly meet my expectations, but I’ve enjoyed the one-on-one or very small group discussion that have arisen out of simply reading scripture and offering up prayers for loved ones and for the world at large. This experience has challenged me to seek a format that encourages students to make prayer a part of their daily lives.
PSF was in Washington D.C. for Spring Break, can you tell us about the trip?
Our trip to Washington D.C. was amazing, and I give all the credit to God working through our committed band of servants. Council members Mitch Boynton and Tory Gentry also deserve major kudos for planning the lion’s share of the trip. I basically drove the van and made sure we got everywhere we needed to go. The students took initiative at work sites, even when the work seemed tedious or we weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms. Due to a snowstorm one day that caused our work sites to cancel, we were able to explore museums and monuments in more depth than we had thought we would.
I think the most exciting thing about our trip was that we were all very inspired by the work one of our service sites was doing in the area of street outreach. Capitol Hill Group Ministries employs someone part time to take volunteer groups like ours into the city to meet the immediate needs of people on the street by providing things like coffee, hot chocolate, water, snacks, socks, soap, and toothbrushes. While the volunteers are meeting immediate needs, our leader Whitney was serving as a case manager on the go, seeking to meet more of the long term needs for people experiencing homelessness. That afternoon of work inspired us to start a similar ministry here in Nashville. Our first day providing immediate needs will take place on Saturday, April 4th and then next fall we plan to be out and about in the community at least once a month if not more often, and we will invite folks from local agencies like Room in the Inn and Downtown Presbyterian Church to serve in the role of case worker on the go.