Today is April Fool’s Day, and there are some great things happening on the web, as usual. The best I’ve seen so far is today’s Brian Lehrer Show from WNYC on GM’s New Plan (hopefully audio is coming later).
Today is also the first event for Presbyterian Bloggers Unite – on campus ministry. It’s honestly hard for me to write on this right now, as the PCUSA’s support for campus ministry is changing very quickly because of staff cutbacks that merged the campus ministry office with the youth ministry office and cut the staff who had been working in campus ministry. I’ve worked with both offices over the years, and I’m trying to be hopeful about the merger even though I have some concerns.
That said, I’m not going to dwell on the uncertainties of the future here. For me, campus ministry was a time of full engagement with the life of the church. In high school, I was very active in youth ministry programs, but toward the end of those days things changed in my home church and I felt left out. However, when I went to college, I resolved from the beginning that I would try to get involved differently, so I set out for church that first Sunday morning even before classes started. I was alone in the bathroom that morning, even in the Deep South, but I quickly found a home in that wonderful congregation.
Soon I discovered that there was more going on for college students and got involved in the Westminster Fellowship sponsored out of the church. We were never a large group, but something special was happening in our midst that could not be measured by numbers. Through time spent together, Bible study, and special trips, we got to know one another and provided a place for people to gather who were looking for someplace to call home in the midst of a campus filled with Greek letter societies, other religious organizations, and affinity groups that in some way were more about exclusion than inclusion.
During my sophomore year, I was brought on board as a campus peer minister, paid a small stipend simply to maintain the email list, make announcements, help organize events, and show up when we met. My junior year, we welcomed an associate pastor to the church who was responsible in part for campus ministry, and she helped us grow in faith even more. We even organized the first statewide gathering of Presbyterian campus ministries in Mississippi.
I also got involved in campus ministry nationally with the Presbyterian Student Strategy Team, where we organized national gatherings of Presbyterian college students for the first time in a number of years. The numbers were often small, but the things happening across the denomination, in ecumenical ministries and in congregations, always surprised and encouraged me. I also traveled to several regional events across the country to represent the team and engage with other college students about their experiences in the church.
I could write much, much more about my days in campus ministry, but I’m amazed these days by how the connections I made in those four years continue to sustain me in my ministry today. Imagine my surprise three years ago when I walked into my room at an event for new pastors and discovered that my roommate was an old friend who had served with me on PSST! I count others from conferences and events during my college years among my best friends even today.
I believe that the college years were a formative time for my ministry, and I can’t imagine engaging that sense of call without campus ministry. I pray that all of us across the PCUSA will work to meet college students where they are and make a place for them to be welcome in the church during these formative years, not so much out of fear of losing them but because we know that they have gifts to share and need a place where they can feel at home.