Monday, January 18, 2016

Practicing a ministry of presence

For more than 20 years, the Rev. Dale Burke has offered a listening ear and caring heart at Hawai‘i Pacific University. Last week, HPU's chaplain was recognized for his dedication, with the Dr. Dave Pariser Faculty Mentor Award. Presented to him at the 2016 NCAA Convention in San Antonio, it honors Division II faculty members who mentor student-athletes and commit to their lifelong learning and well-being.

"Awards are not what you strive for. It's an unexpected blessing for doing the things you do," Burke said.

Burke also teaches as an assistant professor of Communication. When one of his students has a game, he likes to tell the rest of the class. He does the same for musicians, artists and others when they share their talents outside of class. It helps foster a sense of community for the students, which is important at this time in their lives. They need to know that they are not alone, he said.

NCAA PacWest Commissioner Bob Hogue; former HPU volleyball player Christina Furrer, who represents college athletes of the PacWest Conference on the Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee; the Rev. Dale Burke and wife Barbara; HPU Faculty Athletics Representative Barbara Hannum; and HPU Executive Director of Athletics Vince Baldemor attend the 2016 NCAA Convention in San Antonio, Jan. 14, where Rev. Burke was presented the Dr. Dave Pariser Faculty Mentor Award. (Photo courtesy of NCAA)
That means showing the community he's there for them. "The Rev" is a familiar face at HPU Sharks games. He also meets student-athletes when they need someone to talk to. In fact, he makes time to speak to anyone and can often be seen walking around Fort Street Mall, engaging in conversations.

"I practice a ministry of presence," he said, adding if he waited in his office for those who need help "they won't come."

So he heads to the mall, to Club Carnivals and other events and shares a warm smile and handshake. "Just being around, then they will approach you. You call them by name."

When it's time for someone to talk about a difficult challenge, like a sick family member, he says they come up to him, no matter where they are.

"That's when ministry happens," he said, "on the mall, at a basketball game … when they have a need, it's not a stranger."

He finds that despite technological and cultural changes, college students still ask the same questions over the years.

"It's the same as when I was in school," he said, with the big question, "What am I gonna do the rest of my life?"

"I encourage them to take as many classes to get exposure," he said. "If we can get these students get ahold of their passion, ignite that fire, we'll give them a good start to their journey."

Burke speaks from experience. He graduated from high school in Los Angeles and went off to college, wanting to become a dentist.

Student-athletes have a conversation with the Rev. Dale Burke, on Fort Street Mall. From left, Amanda Moriarty, Kara Wong, Burke, Kasey Thompson and Elizabeth Culpepper. (Eric Alcantara/HPU Athletics photo)

"My heart wasn't in it, but it sounded good," he said with a laugh.

A rejection letter from a dental school served as another sign that maybe that career wasn't for him. During that trying time, he said he "felt the call, inspiration from the Lord to pursue ministry."

He studied at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, located in Berkeley, Calif., in the late 1960s, during the Vietnam War.

"Berkeley was the hub of demonstrations — anti-war, anti-government. It was an exciting place to do theology."

Burke came out of the experience stronger, figuring if he could work through that, he could work anywhere. His first parish as a pastor was in San Diego. Then he was offered a chance to establish a church in the new neighborhood of Mililani, in central Oahu. He and wife Barbara moved to Hawaii in 1979 and haven't left — which is a good thing because he enjoys being in the water six days a week ("except Sunday"), surfing or bodyboarding.

As he built the church, his wife taught math at Hawai‘i Pacific. They also raised two sons. In 1994, he learned of an opening for a chaplain at HPU. He's been here since, providing counsel and guidance to countless students.

These days, he isn't alone on campus. He's also proud to be part of team with Kevin Bowman and Kathryn Berano, of Counseling and Behavioral Health. He's happy to see them step outside, showing the HPU community they're there, too.

"It used to be just me!" he said with a smile. "We see the three of us as team — available, responsive and caring for our students."

"It's been a great experience."