|Campus ministry offers church presence at college|
United Methodist campus ministries provide a denominational presence at universities and colleges. A UMNS file photo courtesy of DePauw University.
By Linda Green*
Aug. 30, 2007 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
College campuses are a marketplaces of ideas, and students need The United Methodist Church as their "storefront," says one campus minister.
Diverse audiences vie for students' attention today, including different church denominations and faith groups, according to the Rev. Leigh S. Martin, chaplain at United Methodist-related Reinhardt College in Waleska, Ga.
"You have so many voices reaching for our students, and it can be overwhelming and confusing for all of them," she said. "Students are confused enough trying to find their purpose and passion in call on their life. This is a big decision time for them."
Martin was among five campus ministers who discussed the scope and depth of campus ministries during an Aug. 24 presentation to the board of directors of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
The Rev. Luther Felder
While the number of United Methodist campus ministries is gradually shrinking across the United States, leaders say their impact on the lives of college students and university campuses is as important as ever.
The Rev. Luther Felder, who oversees United Methodist campus ministries for the board, calls campus ministry an extension of The United Methodist Church onto campuses.
"This is particularly important for United Methodists because the most critical vocational discernment questions are being asked and values learned in that setting," he said.
Felder cited a deadly shooting spree on the campus of Virginia Tech last April and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina at Dillard University in New Orleans as examples of why the church is needed on today's college campuses. He said crucial support for the spiritual and emotional wellbeing of students was provided during those dramatic crises.
Extending the church's presence
Applauding the work of United Methodist churches in nurturing students through youth groups before they reach college, Martin said college students need support, too. She cited a survey of Reinhart students indicating that stress is the biggest issue they struggle with, followed by making the right decisions and self-esteem issues.
"Our students need The United Methodist Church as their storefront in this marketplace of ideas," she said. Once a student enters the "storefront on their campuses, they are connected to the past, present and future of The United Methodist Church. We are growing United Methodist leaders today," Martin said.
The Rev. J. Mark Forrester, campus minister of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said United Methodist work on campus blesses both the church and the world.
“Students are confused enough trying to find their purpose and passion in call on their life. This is a big decision time for them.”
–The Rev. Leigh S. Martin
"The school is poised to reach a new generation of students with the awareness of God's calling unfolding in their lives," he said.
Forrester said campus ministry prepares young people to do important things that are at the heart of discipleship.
He described how, three years ago, Vanderbilt's Wesley Foundation received a grant for a new ministry to equip students with tape recorders to listen to people's stories. The heart of the project was that theology rises out of biography-and not the other way around.
"We in the West are sort of given artificially a theology-a set of ideas-that we are supposed to cram our lives into," he said. "But I believe that the biblical way theology arises is through the stories of our lives, through what has happened to us and through where we see God in those stories."
Discipleship can be found among young men who come together each Saturday for fellowship, worship, prayer, testimony and discussions on spiritual matters at historically black Howard University in Washington.
"This excites me because when you look at the lack of men in the church and the lack of young men involved in campus ministry, I am bursting with pride because I am blessed to serve as advisor to them," said the Rev. Malcolm Frazier, United Methodist chaplain at the school.
The Rev. Malcolm Frazier
"What these men are doing is how Methodism began. This is how movements began," he said.
Frazier noted that many of the students partner with local churches and a coalition to help address homelessness in Washington. "They are thinking critically about some of the social ills of society and that I thank God for," he said.
Responsibility and power
The Rev. Laura Kirkpatrick, chaplain at United Methodist-related Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn., called it a great responsibility to help students respond to God's call upon their lives.
"(Comic superhero) Spiderman says that with great power comes great responsibility. The church exercises great power by baptizing people in the name our Triune God and … the body of Christ responds with a vow of responsibility."
The church, she said, "cuddles and coos" over newly baptized children and provides formation experiences for them, cheering and shepherding them through confirmation and graduation.
"Then the church's vow of responsibility tends to wane until the once youth comes back with their own children," she said, noting that campus ministers work to "answer God's call in helping the church live out our baptismal vow of responsibility during these in-between years."
Campus ministers, she said, walk alongside students mentoring future pastors, bishops, elders, deacons and lay leaders of The United Methodist Church.
A global community
An example of the global nature of the church can be found within the Wesley Foundation on the campus of San Diego State University, where the Rev. Beth Cooper serves a university community of nearly 40,000 people.
The Rev. Beth Cooper
"We are a multicultural, global community with students from all over the world," Cooper said of the school's nearly 75-year-old Wesley Foundation. "In a sense we are kind of like our own little city."
Cooper said San Diego State has a reputation as a party school and noted that a convenience store two blocks from campus sells more alcohol than any other store in that U.S. chain.
"Being two blocks away, we are the only recovery group that offers recovery every day … and we have anywhere from 15 to 50 students a day working on their 12 steps," Cooper said. "We minister not only to traditional students but to nontraditional students; students that have been hurt and wounded. Open doors are what it is about."
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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