Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, the moderator of the PCUSA has asked Presbyterian bloggers to reflect this month upon campus ministry. He writes:
This month, I have chosen the area of campus ministry. Despite ongoing struggles around finances and structures there seems to be a kind of renewal that is taking place. One just need look at things such as the YAM Jam, May in Austin, or the newly launched pcusacollege.org and it becomes clear that there is great energy and passion for mission and the church. But we know there is much more going on around the country. So, lets hear the stories from students, campus pastors, congregations about how you have been touched by campus ministry in the past and what you dream about for the future.
Campus ministry has been a core part of my journey of faith. I essentially began my faith journey while in college at the University of Colorado in Boulder (the mountains above Boulder are to the left). While I grew up within a faith community, it was not until my years at college that I began to put it into practice in any way. That did not happen by accident, but by my encounter with the college ministry of First Presbyterian Church – University Christian Fellowship (now called The Annex).
What I encountered through UCF was a community of people seeking to be radically and creatively engaged with the university. UCF saw its mission not as a “refuge” from the secular university, but instead as the centering place for our outreach to the community at CU. While there were definitely challenges to being a Christian on the Colorado campus, we saw ourselves as being a source of hope, strength, healing, and faith for people in need of an experience of Jesus in their lives. We saw ourselves as needing to be radically engaged in the university community and not a place hidden away from it.
What made UCF unique and significant, however, for me was the people who were involved. It was my fellow students who were a part of the program – many of whom continue to be dear friends today some 15 years later (yikes!). It was the late night conversations, Bible studies, football games, and events that we shared in and the deep relationships that were forged as sisters and brothers. Even more so, it was the involvement of the membership of FPC that made a huge difference in the ministry and the relationships. We had men and women with a wide diversity of backgrounds, ages, etc who volunteered with the ministry as worship leaders, Bible study leaders, and mentors. I was blessed to be in relationship with several of them in particular who taught me a great deal not just about my relationship with Jesus, but with how one lives out their faith in their relationships, vocation, and life as a whole.
After college, I interned with a college ministry at the Univ of Arizona in Tucson based at Trinity Presbyterian and supported by the Presbytery de Cristo. This ministry was a very different experience for me from the 400+ people involved with UCF as we were a small group of 20-30 people on a regular week. But it was organized on a similar principle of developing the core relationships of those within the group and seeking to be a source of hope for people on campus and finding ways of connecting students with those from the congregation as mentors and friends.
As I am some 15 years past my experiences in college ministry, I am in a very different setting. I serve a congregation that is in a university community (many large schools within Cincinnati, notably UC and Xavier) but we are not “near” the university. What benefited FPC and Trinity was their proximity to the universities themselves. Students could easily walk to the church when gatherings were not taking place on campus. That is not the case with the congregation I serve. In the midst of that, I think that there are several things that we can take from the above experiences of college ministry:
- Relationships are central. In a world that is disconnected in many ways, people are striving for ways to connect with one another. It is a culture and an environment where our relationship with Christ is central and visible and that our relationships with one another are reflections of that core. People struggle with finding places of relationship and connection in their lives with busy schedules, pressures of work, society, and self need to have a place where they can be given space to rest and grow in the presence of the divine.
- There are lessons in this for the overall ministry of the church. The two things I noted above were creating an environment of openness for people to come and be welcomed as people where they are. But we cannot be content wtih hoping that people will come to us, but instead we need to work to be radically engaged with the community beyond the walls of the church. This means letting our faith show through in our day-to-day lives. It means that we need to be willing to share the ways that Jesus is at work within us. It means a recognition that every area of our lives is a mission field – our homes, our schools, our places of work, our places of play, and so forth. It is not beating people over the head with the Gospel, but embracing as Jesus embraced.
- For those ministries taking place at UC and other schools, we need to be open to serve as partners in those ventures. That partnership can take a variety of forms – prayer, volunteers, resources, finances, etc – but we need to have an openness to being partners. The college years are such a formative time for women and men as they are seeking to find their own path in life. The body of Christ needs to be active and present in helping that journey move towards God.