Time with the TARDIS enlivens campus ministry

Ohio University visitors pose for a selfie photo with the TARDIS replica at Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. Photo/courtesy of Church of the Good Shepherd

By Episcopal Journal

“I want to tell you, seeing the TARDIS every day this semester has been what keeps me going.” — student at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

Since September, a big blue box has occupied the front steps of Church of the Good Shepherd, located in the heart of Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Fans of the long-running BBC science-fiction television series “Doctor Who” quickly recognize it as a replica of the TARDIS, the vehicle the title character uses to travel through space and time.
The church created the replica to advertise its fall “Gospel According to Doctor Who” series. More than serving as a marketing tool, the box has sparked what the church called “powerful and unexpected interactions” with members of the university community.

First launched in 1963, “Doctor Who” is a BBC television series about an extraterrestrial “Time Lord” who explores the universe — past, present, and future — with human companions. They travel in his purloined TARDIS (short for Time and Relative Dimension in Space), which resembles an old-fashioned British police call box on the outside but is a large, technologically advanced space ship on the inside.

Annoucement of “Gospel According to Doctor Who” series with TARDIS replica at Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. Photo/courtesy of Church of the Good Shepherd

After the TARDIS materialized outside the church, church members observed people of all ages photographing themselves with it. During Homecoming weekend, visiting alumni took a picture with the TARDIS, posted it with a description of the church and promoted the Gospel According to Doctor Who program on their Dayton business’s Facebook page.

Among other interactions the church reported:
• Student groups who meet with the priest or use the church space asked about it, which provided a conversational way to introduce them to the Episcopal Church. A few students attended church services because they saw the TARDIS in front of the church.
• During the parish book sale, a young woman stopped by and bought two books because, when she saw the TARDIS, saying it felt like a sign that she would be welcomed. She also said she didn’t think highly of churches because of news stories predator priests but that the presence of the TARDIS made her realize not all churches were bad.
• The university music department borrowed the TARDIS for a Halloween season “Hallowpalooza” music program for area school children. When the TARDIS moved, passersby expressed concern that it was leaving, and students applauded when it later was reassembled on the church steps.

“It has been a wonderful opportunity to explain that when the church is at its best, it is very much like the TARDIS: symbolizing hope, a place for help and [somewhere] bigger on the inside, which means it shows us something larger than ourselves and has room for all people,” said the rector, the Rev. Deborah Woolsey. “The TARDIS has given us ... a new and surprisingly effective way to engage in campus ministry. We have been reminded that interacting with the Holy Spirit can be playful and joyful and still be holy.”

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