11/18/2015 Campus minister cooks up community, connection in Lawrenceville
STUDENTS AT PRAYER • Bryan Mayer, seen facing camera at center, leads Rider University’s Catholic campus ministry. Photo via Rider campus ministry. Photo courtesy Bryan Mayer
By David Karas Correspondent
If Christ were calling disciples on the shores of Galilee today, rather than 2,000 years ago, he might be asking Peter, James, and John to leave aside the Internet, rather than fishing nets, and follow him.
Instead of continuing a career in computer science, Bryan Mayer is now serving as a fisher of people, directing campus ministry in Lawrenceville.
And while his official title may be Campus Minister at Rider University, he says he’s not the only one with that designation on the Lawrenceville campus.
“A campus minister is anyone who ministers to students on campus,” he said. “I see students also as campus ministers, because their role is to share the Gospel with their fellow students.” After graduating from The College of New Jersey, Ewing, with a degree in computer science in 2010, Mayer felt called to take a position directing ministry to college students, something to which he is no stranger.
At TCNJ, Mayer was involved in the Catholic Campus Ministry program, starting the men’s group and serving as vice president of liturgy, responsible both for ensuring preparations for Masses and coordinating with ministers, readers and those involved in the music ministry as well.
He credits then-TCNJ chaplain, Father William Lago – now pastor in St. Denis Parish, Manasquan – for inspiring him and preparing him for his current position in Lawrenceville, where he is now entering his second academic year.
“He had a very profound impact on my spirituality,” said Mayer, who said that his reverence and love for God grew during his time at TCNJ. “I don’t think I would be here if not for my experiences with him.”
When the Rider campus ministry position became open, Mayer said, he was recommended to fill the position, and felt compelled to pursue it.
“I heard the calling that this was something I should move towards,” he said. “It is a far cry from computer science, but it is extremely fulfilling.”
While the position is his first professional stint in campus ministry, he and his wife – Kait Mayer, who serves as the coordinator of youth and adult ministries and Confirmation preparation in St. Paul Parish, Princeton – have a ministry of their own.
“Pilgrims Headed Home” is a platform they use to visit schools, parishes and other organizations, and help lead seminars, retreats and conferences, to share teaching and witnesses on many topics of faith.
“That is where I got the sense of being a professional minister,” he said.
Today, he serves on a campus that is 60 percent Catholic, and he is working to find new avenues to engage a broader portion of the student population.
“One of the things I have noticed about these students is that they are very service-oriented,” he said. In his role leading the ministry on campus, he hopes to “help them to see the face of Christ” in those they serve, to “take that service [and] direct it towards God.”
He views his role as one that requires providing students “an authentic experience of Christ and what the church can offer,” while being honest and serving as a source of support for the students and the various issues and challenges they might encounter during their time at Rider.
Similar to other campuses in the Diocese of Trenton, Mayer serves as a full-time minister, working with Father John Butler, who is assigned to St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, and celebrates Mass and Sacraments on campus at Rider.
“It certainly gives me more availability for the students,” said Mayer when discussing his capacity to be on campus full-time, as well as serve as a peer who is close in age to the people he meets with on campus and is familiar with the challenges facing college students.
“I was only in college a few years ago, and I understand that college mindset,” Mayer said. “[I have] one foot in the Church world, and one foot in the more mainstream world…[my hope is] to be that bridge between the two.”
He said that students have found comfort in being able not only to enjoy fellowship in program activities and in attending Masses and other celebrations, but also in having other students who take faith seriously to talk with. Mayer says that he often arranges for students to meet with Father Butler as well.
Mayer says he hopes to engage more students in attending Mass and in developing a deeper spiritual appreciation for the celebration.
“My goal is to bring students to a deeper understanding of what the Eucharist is and what it can offer,” he noted.
Another favorite activity that Mayer facilitates is a “Wednesday Night Dinner,” held at the ministry’s Emmaus House located just across Lawrenceville Road from the main entrance to the university.
While he won’t be catching any fish to serve on Wednesdays, he does enjoy cooking for the students and sharing a meal with them - “It is as close as I can come to being a professional chef right now,” he chuckled, adding the students don’t seem to mind his culinary adventures. On the contrary, he said “they really enjoy it.”
In addition to his culinary adventures, Mayer is also pursuing a master’s in computer science from Johns Hopkins University.
Whatever the future holds, Mayer says, his experience at Rider is teaching him to be open to the Lord’s call - even to unexpected places.
“I don’t know if or when I’ll return to the field of technology; my plan is simply to go where He calls me,” Mayer said.
While it may not be the first thing one thinks of doing with a degree in studying computer networks, he finds fulfillment in bringing a different kind of connection to the lives of the students at Rider.
For more information on Rider University’s Catholic campus ministry, visit www.riderccm.org.