For many students on United Methodist-related college campuses, choosing a major is just one part of looking forward. They question how they can mesh a career with a passion for service and the church.
Campus ministers and chaplains are uniquely suited to help guide these young adults through this process. They have been in the same position themselves.
Collegiate ministry leaders at church-related institutions use varied approaches to reach students and lead them to a point of wise decision-making about how they can best serve God after graduation.
Open their eyes
The Rev. Tim Harrison has been campus chaplain and director of church relations at McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois, for 19 years. He has found immersion trips to be an eye-opening experience for many of his students. Destinations have included Central America, the southwestern United States and, locally, the St. Louis area near the school.
These trips introduce students to a different world and culture, he said. "Many of the students have never been outside the country, or really, outside of their own areas. They have no context about the lives other people lead. They learn that their own ‘normal' is very different from someone else's."
Students who went to Guatemala, for example, learned about immigration issues from Central Americans who are desperate to escape violence and poverty. They also learned about fair trade and how the choices they make as consumers affect people in Central America.
Like other schools, McKendree offers testing and career studies to help students narrow their choices.
Harrison also works with students and other staff "to help students determine what vocation might be the best fit," he said. "If a student is sensing a call to ministry, I help walk them through what that means. They may find that the call is to vocational ministry. They may also find God is leading them into a secular career and wants them to be a powerful lay leader."
God calls all
Mentoring students is the most rewarding part of the job for the Rev. Elizabeth Horton-Ware, director of religious life at Oklahoma City University.
Horton-Ware is beginning her second year at OCU, but is no novice at working with collegians. She previously directed the Wesley Foundation at Southwestern Oklahoma State for seven years.
"I believe God has called all of us," she said. "My first conversation with the students is that God calls us to serve God's people. That happens through the local church, but it doesn't have to be by way of ordained ministry."
Horton-Ware shares her own call journey as part of the mentoring process. Including her call story in a Bible study or a sermon can help students work through what they are thinking.
Involve students in local churches
Overseeing the campus ministry at Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina, Kansas, the Rev. Scott Jagodzinske is able to deal directly with students as they question what it means to grow into adults who will serve God.
"We talk through this idea of ‘a call' to ministry," he said.
One of the first things Jagodzinske does is suggest the student get involved in a local congregation as a volunteer. He helps students look at their gifts and strengths and determine what areas ignite passion. He helps students see that a calling can come out of anywhere.
"I want them to understand voices of mentors can be God speaking into their lives," he said. "I was fortunate to have mentors in my life who helped me explore my call. I had the chance to explore if my calling was for vocational ministry. Mine was, but it might not have been. I tell the student to try different things. Get out there and see what feeds your soul."
Integrate faith, career
The Rev. Tim Drum, campus chaplain and director of church relations at Spartanburg Methodist College, is brand new to his position. He has some big dreams for the students.
"Part of my goal is to help them figure out how to integrate their faith into their career choices," he said. "You don't have to be a vocational minister to serve God. If your passion is to love Jesus, you can do that in any career. Many students don't know that."
SMC is a two-year college, with about 75 percent of their student body coming from the Greenville-Spartanburg area of South Carolina. About a third are commuters. Many, Drum added, come from what he called "difficult high school or financial situations."
"In orientation, students take aptitude and placement tests," he said. "It helps them figure out what classes to take. We offer ongoing academic and career counseling."
Drum said he will be on the lookout for students who have a calling and work with them to put that into practice.
"I'll involve them in chapel, outreach into the community and other avenues of service," he said. "I want to encourage them in their calling, since it's normal to feel like ‘God couldn't really have meant that.'"
Passions link faiths, students
The Rev. Nancy Victorin-Vangerud has been campus chaplain and director of The Wesley Center for Spirituality, Service and Social Justice at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, for 10 years. The Center's motto — "Do all the good!" — reflects its commitment. She said the Hamline Wesley Center differs from a typical Wesley Foundation because it is open to and relates to students of all faiths on the campus.
The shared values of passion for the world, social transformation and care for future generations link the students and faiths.
When she talks with students who are considering a call into ordained ministry, Victorin-Vangerud encourages them to take advantage of opportunities to open up to the world in ways that will break their hearts.
"We want them to see they can do something," she said. "This gives them hope."
She often suggests reflection and journaling as ways to help discern a call.
"I want them to tap into that heartache they feel for the world and then believe what they choose to follow will make the world a different place," she said. "You want students to go into careers with the notion that they will make a difference. This may be vocational ministry, but it may not. They have to make that determination. A career path and a good paycheck are important, of course, but we want them to discover more."
Just ‘do ministry'
Connecting the students at Dillard University in New Orleans with local churches is a priority for the Rev. Earnest Salsberry. He has been university chaplain and director of religious life at the school since 2014.
"I think at least 95 percent of my dealing with the students is pastoral care and student engagement," he said.
Dillard has a program called Vision Quest, a vocational ministry they use to help guide students in using their gifts in ministry.
"They dance. They sing. They mime," he said. "We don't just talk about ministry; we let them participate on campus and in the local churches."
Salsberry believes his age (he's 32) helps as he shares his call story with the students.
"I work with students who are mostly 18-25," he said. "They appreciate that it wasn't that long ago I was dealing with the same things they are. When I talk about my calling into ministry, I use scripture. I talk about Jonah and other passages. They want to understand how they can be young and in college and still be faithful to their calling."
Salsberry said he reminds them a calling doesn't just have to be to a church staff. "A calling can just be to do ministry."
Polly House is a freelance writer and editor in Nashville, Tennessee, who currently serves as editorial assistant for Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine.
Originally pubished in Interpreter magazine, September-October 2017