Friday, December 11, 2009

Annos Inturruptus

For those engaged in campus worshipping communities, this season has its liturgical tensions. The worshipping year includes Advent, but not Christmas; Lent, but not Easter. The students are off campus / at home. Especially for those liturgically inclined, how can we allow the community to participate in the full range of the church year?

The culture has been celebrating Christmas since October, and the rest of campus since the return from Thanksgiving Break. How to seriously address Advent? Many have the largest worship service of the year, some sort of Christmas and candle-lighting event, a pseudo- Christmas Eve, this weekend. (Some had it last week.)  Perhaps a couple of weeks with Advent themes and hymns, then the last week on campus could be Christmas? Perhaps a recognition of Advent and its themes with the acknowledgement that the community wants to celebrate Christmas together before everyone goes their separate ways? Any suggestions?

Lent and Easter seem a little different. With Lent and Easter, the campus isn't celebrating Easter, but when will the campus worshipers celebrate Easter? Prematurely, during Lent, or during Eastertide, when students have already celebrated Easter at home (or on the beach)?

Is this an "in the world, but not of it" issue?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Where is Our Theology?

I am thinking about all the professional books released this fall which I have read. They are:
Souls in Transition, Christian Smith with Patricia Snell
It's All About Jesus! Faith as as Oppositional Collegiate Subculture, Peter Magolda and Kelsey Ebben Gross
To Transform the World: Vital United Methodist Campus Ministries, edited by Alice G. Knotts
College Ministry 101: A Guide to Working With 18 -25 Year Olds, Chuck Bomar
Reaching the Campus Tribes  (An Opening Inquiry), Benson Hines

Each, in a different way, is bringing something to the collegiate ministry discussion. But they highlight a deficiency in current collegiate ministry thinking.

Who is doing the hard work of theology of collegiate ministry? Where is serious thought about "why" going on?  There are an increasing number of "how" and "who" books about this student generation, but when it comes to theology they are light. That characterizes the above books. I'm not slamming them for their theology. I just want more meat! Is anyone working on the theology of collegiate ministry from a Reformed perspective?

Where is the face of theoretical collegiate ministry in the PC(USA)? For that matter, is there any face / name recognition the denomination has for collegiate, comparable to Roger Nishioka or Kenda Creasy Dean for youth ministry?

Maybe the denomination isn't taking collegiate ministry seriously enough because we have not taken our profession and calling seriously enough to write, wrestle, publish, and publically discuss it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Already, not yet

The beginning of this school year feels a bit like this sign -I'm not always sure which way things are heading. Make no mistake, I love what I do - I get to walk alongside young adults who are trying to figure out a lot of stuff. Things like what they want to study, who they want to date, what they believe about God. It is an honor and privilege to be allowed to participate in those conversations, to listen as some big questions are asked. But there are some tricky parts about ministry at a university. For one thing, people are ALWAYS coming and going. There is the normal, expected graduation of many - usually those who have become over time the group's leaders. There are the students who drop out of the campus ministry group for awhile because their class schedule is particularly grueling or they have to take on another job. There are those who decide they fit in better with a different group of folks. There are those who transfer to a different school. There are those who decide college is not for them. On the flip side, there are lots of folks who don't start looking for a ministry group till they have been in school for a year or two or four. It makes for an interesting dynamic. I recently learned that you need 17 hours of time with a group for them to develop "group-ness". They don't have to be continuous, but it does have to be the exact same people - so anytime someone leaves or someone new joins you are back at hour number one. Seventeen hours . . that is next to impossible in this context. So we already have a group, but they are not yet a group.

I feel like I am coming and going a bit these days as well. We are looking into ways we can become more sustainable for the long term - so in addition to the everyday, much of my time has been focused on a project that won't really begin to affect us until 2011 or 2012. So I'm working with today's students while spending lots of time dreaming about what this ministry could be for students who haven't even taken their SATs yet! The already and the not yet are struggling for my attention.

So how do you stay fully present to the people who are here now while looking forward? How do you foster community and group cohesiveness when you are never working with the same group twice?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Research and Development

The United Methodist Church's General Board of Higher Education and Ministry recently published a book, To Transform the World: Vital United Methodist Campus Ministries. In it, ten United Methodist campus ministers address some aspect of campus ministry from the lens of their own situation, and in the process develop what vital campus ministries contribute as well as need from the denomination.

I was struck by a phrase Kristin Stoneking used in her chapter, "Our Heart and Our Treasure: Strategies for Healthy Partnerships for Campus Ministries and Annual Conferences." In it she writes, "... campus ministries are to the church much like 'research and development' departments are to corporations." (p.78)

R&D departments are funded by the corporation expecting results in the future, not necessarily in the present. And since there might not be a perceived benefit in the present, short-sighted leaders and other departments, jealous of resources being allocated for R&D, are eager to have R&D funds reduced or eliminated. The members of R&D departments are a different breed, because they invariably think in terms of future possibilities, and need to think "outside the box" in order to be successful.

What group sends more people to seminary? What group plants seeds which grow into congregational leaders? What group is living out the issues which the denomination is currently struggling or which it hasn't yet begun to seriously address?

Is there any successful corporation without a vital R&D Department? How can the PC(USA) be so short-sighted as to be reducing its Research and Development though its collegiate ministries?

...And if there is anyone who ought to be publishing a book on "transforming the world", shouldn't it be the Presbyterians?

Monday, October 12, 2009

College is Good for Your Faith

Prevailing wisdom is that going to college weakens your faith. That apparently held true until the 1990s. Now there has been a shift, so that going to college will more likely strengthen your faith than weaken it!

Christian Smith, from the University of Notre Dame, is the Director of their Center for the Study of Religion and Society. He has been engaged in a study of emerging adults,first when they were teenagers (published in 2005 as Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers), and now the follow-up as they became traditionally aged college students, Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults. His conclusion is that, " for contemporary emerging adults, going to college does not increase the "risk" of religious decline or apostasy as it did in the not-to-distant past. Some evidence now even suggests that it may actually decrease that risk, compared to not attending college." (p.251)

Campus Ministry critics may need to re-formulate some of their their arguments.

Additional studies:
"Losing My Religion:The Social Sources of Religious Decline in Early Adulthood"
"Religion and College Attendance: Change Among Students"

Friday, October 02, 2009

Not Just a Ministry to Presbyterians

Appropriating a slogan from an ELCA colleague, "Presbyterian Campus Ministry: a Presbyterian ministry on campus, not just a ministry to Presbyterians." I really like that. I wish we could get that thought down to local congregations (and even up to denominational leaders). Too often discussions about campus ministry turn towards the number of Presbyterian students served. Usually this means PC(USA) students.
Most campus ministries of which I am acquainted have participants over the entire spectrum of belief. Many student leaders in PC(USA) campus ministries are not Presbyterian.
We should be celebrating this witness!
The Presbyterian presence in higher education has always been open to all. John Calvin wanted education for everyone, believer or not. While Roman Catholic institutions were founded primarily for Roman Catholics, Presbyterian Colleges were never just for Presbyterians. In the same way, Presbyterian campus ministries should never be just for Presbyterians.
So - congregations and leaders ask- "Why should we support ministry to students other denominations?"
Why not?
Aren't we to "Love God with all our minds?"

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What's Different?

In the past few of weeks I have had a couple of discussions with folks wanting to know how college students and campus ministry is different now than when they were in college. They were almost all Boomers, and either on boards or just interested in collegiate ministry. Here are some of what I remember telling them:

1.It's not what, but who. They were interested in apologetics, was Christianity true, what proof is there, etc. Now student want relationships first- who are you, how do you live, what dives you, gives you meaning. Only later do they want to know about facts, doctrines, and beliefs.

2. College does not cause a loss of faith. While that was true of Boomers (the questioning, challenging authority,etc,), this generation of students does not have a reduction of religious participation because of college. A Southern baptist survey a few years ago found that dropping out of church attendance was no different whether the students were in or out of college or even whether they were Baptist. In fact, there are some studies showing that since the 1990s, religious faith is strengthened by college attendance.

3. There is more competition for time. The number of extra-curricular organizations on campus has exploded. The number and diversity of religious organizations and options is also much greater. More students have cars, more routinely go home on the weekend.

4. There is more competition for programming. A witness to the success of collegiate ministry in the past 30 years has been that the higher education institutions have duplicated many of programs originated in campus ministry: international student hospitality, welcoming of diversity, service spring breaks, community involvement and service, and substance free alternative programs.

5. Students today are more indifferent to religion. Denominations mean less. There are fewer "religious" discussions late night. Boomers looked to higher education to find a meaning in life (a religious issue), while current students are more interested in having a good job and money to have the life they imagine (in their minds, religion has no connection with this goal).

6. Fewer college students are Presbyterian. A smaller percentage of the US attended college when the Boomers were students. Presbyterians, always valuing education, comprised a disproportionally higher percentage of undergraduates. Now, many more people attend more institutions, so the percentage of Presbyterians has decreased. Even in most PC(USA)-related colleges, Presbyterians are currently a minority on campus.

What have I forgotten?

The leadership (middle governing body staff and committees, session members, and board members) are from a different generation. Their experience of college and therefore their expectations of ministry to and with college students is different. How can we help them understand this?

Monday, August 24, 2009

What are we really feeling?

I am a college junior transferring into a new college, and I’ve been thinking a lot about change. Change is something we have all experienced at some point in our lives. For most the major change happens when we graduate from High School and we move to a new school, usually some distance from home. With this type of change comes many different emotions; nervousness, anxiousness, excitement, uneasiness and the list continues. Having gone through this change once I figured the second time I had to go through it would be easier but I was wrong . I actually feel more anxious then the first time.

Growing up as a PK (Pastor’s Kid) I have always had a faith centered up bringing. In many ways the church was my second family and I became very close and dependent on both my parents and my church family. Leaving the comforts of my home and families was extremely hard in the fall of 2007. I really didn’t know how I would be able to survive without them and their constant support. I haven’t ever gone “church shopping” in my life and I have never had to look for other Christians to hang out with; they were always just there and around. Walking on to Le Moyne College campus my first day as a freshman was terrifying. I didn’t know who to reach out to, to gain that small comfort of home. Being a Roman Catholic college they catered to that denomination. I remember talking to my advisor about finding a church to go to since I was spiritually being drained and she told me there was only one Presbyterian Church near by. Since I didn’t have a car she said she would get me in contact with someone that went there so I could get a ride but unfortunately I had fallen through the cracks and was forgotten until it was too late. It was just past mid semester and I hadn’t been involved in any type of religious activity and I was at my breaking point. I remember calling home in tears to my father who was ready to call the campus minister to come to my rescue and begging him to let me come home and not to call her. At that point the campus minister and I just didn’t connect. She seemed more concerned with those who went to chapel, which was like a Roman Catholic service, and wasn’t as interested in those who didn’t and strived for something different. That night I decided to not return for the spring semester and after finals I went home spiritually broken and started to pick up the pieces. My church family was excellent and all helped me gain my spirituality back.

Now it’s been a year and half since Le Moyne and I have graduated from my community college (where I connected with a college group at a local church) and have to go through change again. I am not going to sit here and lie and say I am not anxious. I actually really scared and uneasy for the fear of the past repeating itself. I am afraid of falling through the cracks and not finding “Where I belong” at SUNY Brockport. My prayer is that the campus minister is open minded to all denominations and is willing make an effort to make me feel a part of their religious group gatherings. Many think the students should and will come to them if they want to but in reality many students don’t know where they belong. They don’t know where to seek help or who to go to gain that sense of home. I wish when I was getting ready to go to Le Moyne the Campus ministry office sent me something or made themselves present during meal times. I would have been more prone to talk if they approached me. I was already overwhelmed with so many new things that I wanted someone to find me and show interest in my involvement. Since it has been year and half I have grown up and matured into a deeper Christian. I am prepared now to look for the campus ministry the first week and get myself involved. I have already scouted out a couple churches I want to look into and see if they fit my needs and if none do I will rely on my campus ministry to help me out. Even though I have a plan set this time I am still nervous and wish I had someone to “hold my hand” and tell me where to go. I recently heard a statistic that 3 out of 4 Christian students fall through the cracks when they get to school. That is ridiculous if you ask me and I wonder how it can be changed. This semester I am determined to find ways to get the number to zero. Someone isn’t doing there job and I want to be one that help pull those who have fallen through the cracks out. It’s hard to go through change, especially alone. I think campus ministries needs to put themselves out there and be noticeable. Be the group they run to, to find home, strength, peace and love. You could be the answer to an anxious student’s prayer.

Friday, August 21, 2009

What Do We Call Ourselves?

Campus Ministers. Ministry on, to, and with a campus is a good description of what we do. In usual PC(USA) circles, a campus minister is someone who is engaged in ministry on a college or university campus. Campus Ministers are usually further designated as an organization-based campus minister or a congregation-based campus ministry, depending on the source of funding. College students acting as peer ministers can also be called Campus Ministers. Sometimes high school ministry is classified as campus ministry, so there could be some confusion as well as devaluation of the term.

In congregational structure, the campus minister might be called the Associate or Assistant (Pastor) for Campus Ministry. If the title is Young Adult Ministry or Student Ministry, the congregation’s mission to college students is not clearly indicated.

Chaplains. Chaplains exercise ministry from within a higher education institution. That is, they are an employee and being paid by the institution. Some denominations also call folks serving as campus ministers “chaplains.” Chaplains are engaged in campus ministry. The official title for some chaplains is Campus Minister, Minister to the Campus, Minister to Students, Director of Religious Life, or Dean of the Chapel.

Higher Education Ministers is also generally correct term, but infrequently used these days. Higher Education ministry connotes a previous time in which the denomination’s resources, staff, and interest in ministry on campus was high(er). “Higher Education” indicates the whole academic enterprise (that is, students, faculty, and staff), while campus ministry seems more focused on students. I don’t know any campus ministers who think that ministry to faculty and staff is NOT also part of their responsibility, though, it’s just that students are their priority.

Collegiate Ministers. This is an umbrella term which encompasses those serving as campus ministers as well as chaplains and higher education ministers. To some it might sound wordy, even academic, but it is inclusive. The denomination replaced the term “Higher Education Ministries” with “Collegiate Ministries” during some reorganization at the end of 2003.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Dispatch from the Ozarks: The Calm and the Storm

The Pre-Orientation Ruminations of a Humble Chaplain

Down the hall from my office in the lower level of the campus chapel is an expanse of concrete floor, peppered with bits and pieces of rubble and threads of old carpet.  For over twenty-five years, the concrete has been blanketed by a sea of dark turquoise wall-to-wall carpeting.  In the span of those years, that carpet has held steadfast under the anxiously pacing feet of graduating seniors preparing for baccalaureate services; the feverish swirling and twirling of blushing brides and busy bridesmaids in heaps of taffeta, lace, and velvet; the scrambling sneakers and snapping flip-flops of thousands of students gathering for prayer services, potluck fellowships, movie nights, and classes.  It has withstood the tests of many floods, held together when the dragging of furniture has threatened to tear it asunder, and endured the vigors of vacuuming and high-concentrate shampooing.  After all of this, at last, the time for change has come: shiny new floor tile—light, less ponderous, and much easier to clean—is being measured, cut, and installed as I type.  

As I prepare for the arrival of new students to campus, and look forward to welcoming the “old” ones back, I can’t help but think about the importance of a good foundation.  Our first-year students are daring to tread new ground by engaging the college experience and newfound independence.  For some, this will be exciting and fun; for others, frightening and threatening; and for most, all of those things combined.  They will choose to walk many different paths as they seek to understand who they are as individuals, and how to live in community.  There will be bumps, bruises, and bad choices in the process.  Taking up the carpet of the past, so to speak, and laying the “new tile” of the college experience can produce tremendous growth, but can also induce a profound sense of trauma.  My prayer this year, as it is every year, is that the foundations on which students lay the tiles of new experiences are as firm, trustworthy, and receptive as our trusty chapel basement flooring has proven itself to be.  Should they not be so firm, however, there is no need to panic,--the “spackle” of God’s grace and mercy is always at hand!

Nancy J. Benson-Nicol is the University Chaplain at the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, AR.  Now a "rising senior," she begins her fourth year in ministry at Ozarks.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Missionary Collegiate Ministry

I want to branch off the previous post that collegiate ministry must be bi-lingual, and take it further.

For at least the last ten years of my chaplaincy I introduced myself at Presbytery and GA committee meetings as the “Presbytery of Muskingum Valley’s missionary to Muskingum College.” The metaphor of missionary is central for collegiate ministry.

Missionaries (collegiate ministry practioners) are sent to a foreign culture. This culture has its own language, customs, and history. To be effective missionaries they must learn the customs and be able to translate the Good News of the Gospel into the language of the peoples with whom they work. Sometimes, faithful Christians back home become confused / perplexed when they hear -out of context- some of those translations.

Each mission is separate and unique. Even missionaries in the same country or city may have very different ministries and use very different skills as well as vocabularies in their work in the mission field. They are united in their love for Christ and the desire to share Christ’s love, but the visible expressions of their ministries may look radically different. They are also trying to share Christ’s love through a particular authorizing denomination.

The support from the home church is both a joy and a concern. People are proud of their missionaries and speak of them as if what they do is important, but tangible support is spotty and minimal at best. This is also true of the “Home Office.”(The PC(USA) thinks some missionary work important enough that they help some missionaries go into congregations to tell their stories. Collegiate ministries is not currently one of them.)

There is one characteristic of missionary work which does not sit well with faithful but unthoughtful church members in the pews, but which almost every missionary with whom I have spoken understands. Those lay people have a mechanical notion of missionary work.; say the right words and heathens become Presbyterians. Missionaries understand the process to be much more complex. The work of the missionary is to the field, not exclusively to Presbyterians, or even exclusively to Christians. Missionaries trust in God’s grace and the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts and lives of those who encounter the Gospel through the work of the ministry. Those back home trust that the missionary is spreading the Gospel. They do not think deeply enough to realize that some medical missionaries, for instance, restore sight to the blind in the context of the saving love of God revealed through Jesus Christ, but do not preach doctrine.

Morale of missionaries is vitally important to the health of their ministries. Since missionaries are most often acting alone and contact with colleagues in similar ministries is rare, missionaries need support and encouragement from the Home Office. Congregations back home can give some support and encouragement, but this is rare- and since often the congregations don’t really understand the dynamics of missiology- opportunities for mutual support and nurture are lacking. The Home Office must be the enabler of this renewal.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Reflection: Multi-Lingual Christian Living

Two summers ago, I had the same dream twice, and it affected me. I dreamed that I was learning to become multilingual in terms of people. I was learning to speak the various "languages" of the people who surround my life. And I wasn't the only one who was trying to do this. Others were doing it as well. They were intentionally trying to learn how to speak my language too. We were all learning how to converse through one another's dreams, anxieties, hopes, and experiences.

I think this is a huge part of what it means to share in the humanity of one another, and we certainly share in this way as we engage in young adult ministry. We don't necessarily come to a full sharing if we can only hear others through the lens of our own language, even though we certainly bring our own dreams, anxieties, hopes, and experiences to the table. We cannot share fully if we simply define others in our own terms. I think in order to share in the humanity of one another, we have to be willing to enter the world of another, even if this causes us to leave our own comfort zone.

Perhaps this type of sharing is like moving to foreign country. Commonalities between ourselves and others become treasured. We draw upon our common experiences to communicate. But we also move beyond commonalities and begin to treasure the differences in the others as well. We learn to enter a foreign world. We learn to speak the language of the ones who live there. We know that the best way to do this is to get our noses out of the dictionaries and phrase books and to have an immersion experience. This makes our language learning dependant upon the people who actually speak the language. We can know the phrases from the phrase books all day long, but if we confine ourselves to their use, we'll probably put up a wall between ourselves and others, never moving beyond benign trivialities no matter how grammatically correct our phrases may be. We need to learn the slang. We also know that no matter how long we live there, our experience will never be exactly equivalent with those who grew up in the region, but as we continue to live among them and speak their language, we learn how to converse in their world. And their world becomes a part of us too. We don't claim that their experience is our experience, but through immersion, we adopt their experience toward ourselves. It is now a part of us too. And our world will never be the same now. As we go back to our own country, we will have new ways of understanding life, and our language is enriched because we have known theirs.

How willing are we to enter the world of another? How willing are we to learn to speak the language of another, becoming conversant in the person's dreams, anxieties, hopes, and experiences? Won't this require time and focused attention? Won't we make mistakes and faux pas in the process, at times using the wrong word for the wrong situation? As we do, will we and the other both find that even in our blunders, it is worth sharing our humanity? Do we see the worth of entering that world, not only for ourselves, but for others? Isn't it true that one of the most affirming experiences is for others to find out that their world is worth entering?

As others have learned to speak my language, I have found that to be true. I have been affirmed because I have found out that my world is worth entering. And I don't know about you, but I can't imagine missing out on becoming a world traveler. And there are worlds of discovery - right under our noses in campus ministry!

You know, I'm really glad I had those dreams.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Campus Ministry IS and IS Not Congregational

I’ve been thinking about how campus ministries are like congregations. They are communities of faith in a particular context. When students go to college, they are often physically and increasingly emotionally removed from their home congregation. Most students have no regular connection with a church near the campus. Many of our students consider the weekly religious life fellowship meeting / Chapel/ Bible study / worship time to be their “church” and so have no need to be connected to "another" congregation while they are in college. I tried (and know colleagues who have tried) to help the students see that they needed to be part of a multi-generational full spectrum worshiping community, but I don't believe I was ever successful.

What would it mean if the PCUSA considered campus ministries to be part of congregational ministries rather than something different?

At the same time, I recognize that there is much in campus ministry with which congregations (and denomination staff) have little history or skill. The number of agnostics, atheists, denominations and faiths represented in many of our campus ministry groups is not a normal experience of a local congregation. In this respect we are more like missionaries, in a foreign culture, having to learn the language and custom of the people, and having to translate the Gospel into their language. The academic environment, as well as the developmentally appropriate tasks of students, means that questioning and challenging faith traditions and traditionalisms in a safe environment is much more prevalent than in a local congregation. This is evangelism at its core.

What would it mean if the PCUSA considered campus ministries to be the vanguard of the denomination rather than an auxiliary component?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

PACHEM Blog Updates

As a result of the recent YAM Jam Conference, we have re-activated this blog, and hope it will be a way to think collectively about the many aspects of collegiate ministry.

Contributors are welcome!