Saturday, February 27, 2010

Inter-Faith Collegiate Ministry

This week I'm especially appreciative of a subset of collegiate ministers: those who work calls them into serious, on-going, inter-faith dialogue. To be fully present on campus today already means to be engaged in some sort of inter faith work, but I'm thinking specifically of those whose context or job description highlights that activity.

It's what our students face. The Hindu down the hall is a kind, loving, peace-filled person whose life seems to make sense for him or her. Some of the Christians on the hall may try to convert her, a few may be aware of differences and try to understand them, but almost all will "live and let live."

Inter-faith folks try to move beyond tolerance to a place where each person can celebrate and pursue their own faith in a mutually supportive environment. This almost invariably means that the institution supports and encourages the activities of these collegiate ministers. Most congregations or ecumenical funding groups or para-church organizations would not be as open. They might want to be tolerant (civil) towards other faiths, but there is a hierarchical understanding of other faiths inherent in their self-understanding.

Imagine a campus minister asking a congregation for financial support of the ministry, and highlighting activities and lives changed as a result of the ministry. As part of the ministry activities, said campus minister discusses how the efforts to renovate the prayer space and kitchen have invigorated the Muslim students and they have become better organized and vocal on campus - thanks to the past financial support of that particular congregation. So please give us more money next year.

These Directors of Spiritual Life or Directors of Interfaith Campus Ministries learn from experience that their own particular faith is deepened and enriched by open and honest encounters with those of other faiths. And they are also made acutely aware of how most incoming college students have no knowledge of other traditions, and very little knowledge of their own family's faith.

So blessings on those folks in their important work, and a challenge to the rest of us that we can send students to them who know the rudiments of their own tradition. (And yes, I am advocating for a "No Christian Left Behind" educational assessment. George Bush left behind, not Hal Lindsey.)

Monday, February 08, 2010

Evangelism's Step Child

I read that Louisville has hired a new Associate in the Evangelism Area. Since Collegiate Ministries is part of the Evangelism and Church Growth Ministry Area, that got me to thinking about the relationship with Collegiate Ministries and the Ministry Area of which is a part.

If you go to the Evangelism and Church Growth Ministry Area portion of the PC(USA)'s website, you won't find anything connecting Collegiate Ministries to the goals or directions of the Area. There is now a link to "Youth AND Collegiate Ministry." Just a link. On the same line. The same sort of link one can find on the "US and World Missions" page. (There Collegiate Ministries is listed under "Mission Through Education" while ministries to Youth, Men, Women, and Older Adults are listed under Ministry In Your Community.)

While little staffing, money and apparently no connective theology ties collegiate ministry with its parent area, evangelism and church growth, what area of the national church has more efficient evangelism? Most campus ministries are a de facto congregation - a faith community. Within that campus community will be a higher proportion of non-churched, un-churched, disaffected churched, atheists, and agnostics than in ANY established congregation. Maybe even MOST new church developments. Is that not effective evangelism?

The PC(USA)’s evangelism interest translates to spending money and hiring staff to “growth the church deep and wide.” But by all but ignoring collegiate ministries as evangelism and church growth, I’m afraid we’re growing the church shallow and narrow!

To clarify: The reduction in staff and operating budget from the Office of Collegiate Ministries and the increased staff and budget for the Office of Evangelism is all under the same management directorate for budget and control in the GMAC's Evangelism and Church Growth Ministry Area.