CLU pastor reaches out to students, congregations

Alumna Melissa Maxwell-Doherty serves through ministry, counseling and cards

Campus Pastor Melissa Maxwell-Doherty receives a hug from student Leah Griffith during Common Ground, a student-led Communion service.

Photo: David Yamamoto, Special to the Star

Editor’s note: This is the latest profile in an occasional series in The Star on people involved in the religious life of our community. This time, we’re talking with a campus pastor at California Lutheran University who serves through ministry, counseling and cards she makes. Some questions and answers may be edited for brevity or clarity.

Melissa Maxwell-Doherty

Work: University pastor at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks

Age: 56

Home: Thousand Oaks

Education: Bachelor’s degree, psychology, CLU; master of divinity, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary

Personal: Married to Scott Maxwell-Doherty, also a pastor at CLU, with two grown sons, Kyle and Nate

Q: You’re a university pastor, which I imagine is a bit different from being a minister at a church. Can you give me a sense of what you do?

A: My job involves worship leadership, pastoral care and education for the community. CLU has had for 35 years the Lord of Life student congregation, and Scott and I are both involved as their pastor. We’re ambassadors for the university to the community, so we have relationships with congregations and synods in this region.

... Any part of my week will be talking with students. It can be anything from roommate issues to discernment — “What is God calling me to be? Where does the world need my service?” — to “I’m pregnant.”

We’re also working seriously with our graduate population, trying to reach out to our adult population more. When we came here, the focus of our ministry was on the undergraduate population. Slowly, that is changing.

We’re calling the proclamation of the Christian gospel. We do that boldly. At the same time, out of the Lutheran tradition, we want to provide a welcome to people of many faiths, as well as those for whom faith is not part of their conviction.

Q: I think during college, a lot of us wrestle with our faith. How do you handle that in your work with students?

A: Questions of religious faith, of “Who am I in this universe?” are part of the agenda for young adults. Our religious faculty are at the center of those conversations. Quite certainly, the English and philosophy faculty are, too. Students are asking, “Who am I? What am I good at?” The Lutheran understanding of this — we call it vocation. Martin Luther said your vocation is your calling from God into daily life. It wasn’t that there was sacred work or worldly work. It’s the idea that your neighbor needs your service. ... Every student, faculty member and staff member can enter into that conversation.

Q: You work with your husband, who is also a pastor here. How does that work?

A: I like him. I also love him. He has different gifts and talents. He can envision the future more clearly than I. He’s a realist, and he’s direct. And I am hopeful. I’ll say, “Let’s try harder to do this good thing.” He’s a visionary, and he’s creative. When I work with him, I can see the steps to achieving something.

And then we have some rules that we often break. When we first got married, it was no briefcases in the bedroom. The danger for us is that any moment can turn into a staff meeting. Because we’re empty-nesters now, it’s even more of a challenge.

Q: What do you do when you’re not working?

A: I like to read. I read novels. I get involved in a story, and it transports me away. A friend got me rubber-stamping. I make cards that I send to people for birthdays, weddings. I have boxes full of cards. One has cards for birthdays, weddings, get well, thinking of you, new baby, graduation. And the second is the everyday box. That’s just a card. Sometimes I go in my everyday stash kit and it becomes a birthday or Valentine’s Day card, but they’re not specific.

Q: I have to interrupt here. We happened to be talking one time just after my husband and I had put one of our dogs to sleep. I was still just so sad, and I mentioned it in our conversation. A couple of days later, I got a card from you, a card that you had made. I remember how much I appreciated that card.

A: Oh, yes, I remember that. (Conversation ensues about our dogs.)

Well, I passed on that vice to another friend, and she returned the favor by introducing me to knitting. I’m making a sweater for an alum who’s just had a baby.

Q: So you clearly have a creative side.

A: I guess I do. But that was not affirmed as a child. I felt judged. I judge my creativity against others’ strengths. I guess that’s an area where my cup is half full. ... I would like to describe myself as an artist, but I’m more likely to say I’m a crafter.

Q: Clearly, your life is very much wrapped up in your work here. Do you have time to do the other things you enjoy doing?

A: I say yes to perhaps more things than I should. Some things I’m busy about drain energy. Some things I’m busy about bring life.

--- Published Feb. 10, 2013, in the Ventura County Star