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?"