Campus Ministry is a Doorway, not a Refuge

Earlier today, I was privileged to attend the annual retreat of the Campus Ministers and College Chaplains of the SoMA. Along with one of the members of the SoMA's Committee on Life and Mission, Rev. Mary Newberg Gale, we were welcomed into their space for the morning to discuss the contours of campus ministry, and what they each are doing at their respective institutions to further the mission of God and help young adults become creative, dynamic, and faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

Even though, when I was in seminary, I cut my ministry teeth on a college campus, I am almost a bit ashamed to tell you that my take away from this morning's discussion is this:

Ministry to college students is NOT glorified Youth Group.

Again, I am embarrassed that this is what I thought. But I wonder if that's what a lot of us think.

As Mary and I sat and listened and pushed and prodded and questioned what became abundantly clear is the degree to which these ministers and chaplains understand that they are providing a space through which young adults can experience the church you and I know and love. Indeed, they shared with us that, rather than being a "refuge for those who have been hurt or disappointed" by the Church, they experience their ministry more as a "doorway" into healthy Church life.

I'd say we need more of that.

Many folks wonder and question why the SoMA would involve itself in supporting and funding Campus Ministry and the best answer I have is found in one of the documents we send to them as part of our funding application process. We stole it from our sister synod, the Synod of the Trinity, and I offer it for your edification:

Why The SoMA Should Be Connected: A Rationale For Campus Ministry

Every time that we pour the baptismal waters, we make a covenant to nurture the faith of the newly baptized. Campus ministry provides a valuable resource to the church as we live out that covenant with college-aged students.  

In an age of decline in church participation and at a stage of life where most people leave the church, we would not only provide a turn around strategy for the sake of the church but also we would live into the promises we make as congregations to each of these individuals.  At baptism, congregations promise, on behalf of the whole Christian Church, to guide and nurture those being baptized by word and deed, with love and prayer, and encourage them to know and follow Christ Jesus, as faithful members of Christ’s church.  This responsibility does not cease at confirmation or graduation from high school but is life-long.  Thus, in order to fulfill our baptismal covenants with young adults, we are compelled to support campus ministries in the context of higher education within the Synod of Mid-America.

Young adults experience many transitions and are maturing through these experiences.  Aware of this, it is essential for the church to be present and provide nurture along with opportunities to engage in deep questions of life and faith, provide vibrant worship and a welcome to community.  The church is called to model Christ's example to meet people where they are on their life long journey of faith.

While in college, young adults are taught to think critically.  Simultaneously, they attempt to make meaning of faith and all of life.  Often they are found transitioning between a conventional faith into a critical-systemic faith, which then can evolve into a mature adult faith that can hold both conviction and paradox.[1] It is critical during this time of meaning making the church accompany young adults as they are faced with questions that challenge what they have known, as doubts are raised and they discern what they believe.  We believe in the call to mentor and empower these young adults as they develop their faith for themselves.

W-2.3013 The congregation as a whole, on behalf of the Church universal, assumes responsibility for nurturing the baptized person in the Christian life.

W-2.3012 e.   Making certain that those baptized are nurtured in understanding the meaning of their Baptism, of the Lord’s Supper, and of their interrelation, and that they are surrounded by Christian encouragement and support.

[1] Sharon Daloz Parks, Big Questions, Worthy Dreams ©2000 p. 13