Collegiate ministries help students find meaning, make choices
|Students from the Baker University Ministry in Baldwin City, Kan., and the United Methodist Campus Ministry at Emporia State University, also in Kansas, cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., during a spring break trip.|
|REED GALIN/UMNS File Photo|
By Emily Snell
As college campuses expand, technology advances and young adult culture changes, United Methodist collegiate ministries are changing, too. And for clergy and lay leaders who work with college students, adapting to the changing face of collegiate ministry can be a challenging and exciting task.
"I think that, as people working in collegiate ministry, we need to see ourselves as interpreters of a more complex world," said the Rev. Tanya Linn Bennett, university chaplain at United Methodist-related Drew University.
Linn Bennett noted that technology, among other things, is transforming how society â€” especially young people â€” functions. "I think that's added some layers of complexity for young people who are trying to grow up to be responsible adults."
Linn Bennett said she sees "collegiate ministry as offering a toolbox to young adults as a means of making meaning out of this world."
The Rev. Nathan Mattox, pastor at University United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Okla., agreed with Linn Bennett, saying that collegiate ministries offer meaning to students during "a unique time in life when people are beginning to hone their ideas and beliefs."
Mattox, whose church is located on the campus of the University of Tulsa, said collegiate ministries are necessary "to preserve faith in the midst of the religious marketplace by helping students see things in a new light."
|(From left) Dan Call, the Rev. Nathan Mattox and Ben Buchanan staff the Common Grounds Coffee Ministry stand, a part of University United Methodist Church's collegiate ministry.|
|COURTESY UNIVERSITY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH|
Provide skills, tools
The Rev. Bridgette Young Ross, assistant general secretary for collegiate ministries at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, said collegiate ministries should support college students as they make life-changing decisions about "their value systems, their vocations and about how their faith will impact their lives.
"We want to be able to give them the skill set and the tools to be able to make those choices," Young Ross said.
Beyond having skills to make wise choices, Young Ross said students also need a safe place to express "their doubts, their concerns, their disappointments with their experiences with organized religion or the Christian faith.
"They need a place where they are accepted and loved in community," she said, "and they need a place that will help them understand what their strengths and their gifts are and how God may be speaking to them and using those gifts in the world."
Mattox echoed Young Ross' emphasis on students having room to share their thoughts honestly.
"They need space to talk about it and a safe, judgment-free zone where they can try out ideas and develop their own faith life," Mattox said.
Journey with young people
As collegiate ministries change to meet students' needs, Linn Bennett advised those who work with students to have an open mind.
|The Rev. Bridgette Young Ross|
|GENERAL BOARD OF HIGHER EDUCATION & MINISTRY|
"Be willing to be on the journey with young people as they seek and claim a faith for themselves," she said. "I think that we need to start listening more carefully to our youth and young adults. ... My experience is that there is a desire for expansiveness and inclusivity that has a passion behind it, and I think that we, as a church, need to understand that."
Young Ross said collegiate ministries will look different on each campus, and she encouraged those in congregations with collegiate ministries to be open to new ideas.
"There are all kinds of models and ways that we probably haven't even thought of about how to do ministry with college students," she said.
For ministries based in a campus setting rather than in a church congregation, Young Ross said it is important to remember that campus organizations aren't a totally separate entity but are "extensions" of the church.
"There should always be that sense of connection," she said.
Mattox expressed concern about how some churches view collegiate ministries as something easily cut during economically trying times.
"I think the whole notion of campus ministry should be redefined as a mission agency," he said. "It's solely mission. If you want to provide, you have to expect that you'll be spending money on it and maybe planting seeds that will bear fruit down the road."
Young Ross agreed with Mattox and said financial concerns should not lead churches to cut collegiate ministries, even though they don't generate funding for the congregation.
"More importantly, collegiate ministries are raising leaders to come back to the church, so we have to invest in our collegiate ministries," she said. Young Ross added that many current clergy and lay leaders heard their calling while involved in a collegiate ministry. "We have to continue to make spaces available for students to hear from God."
Mattox said churches could support collegiate ministries by making their church life engaging for students.
"I think the best way to do that is to convey open-mindedness to the community around us, by being generous in your orthodoxy, to not be surprised when people show up, to not act out of sorts when you have young people in your midst that don't fit your preconceived notions of what a churchgoer should look like or act like," he said.
Churches should remember to pray for collegiate ministries as well, Mattox said.
Pray, ask, act
"Don't forget prayer. Lives are changed every day; lives are set on a good course by our churches' involvement through collegiate ministries," he said. "It is necessary for us to be mindful of it in our prayer life."
|Cheers greeted the cutting of the ribbon to open the new Wesley Foundation faith-based residence hall and campus center at the University of California at Berkley. Similar residences where students can live in a covenant community are part of the collegiate ministry at a growing number of state universities.|
|MATTHEW SHIMIZU/UMNS File Photo|
Young Ross offered practical advice for church members wondering how to support collegiate ministries. She advised them to start by asking university chaplains and campus ministers how to join what's already taking place.
"The church and the campus ministry have great opportunities to collaborate, and often we don't take full advantage of that," she said.
Young Ross also encouraged churches to be creative in helping collegiate ministries by hosting "United Methodist Student Day" or setting up a congregational scholarship fund for students.
Drew's Linn Bennett said she also thinks that it is important for The United Methodist Church to consider how to train clergy and lay leaders to do collegiate ministry in the future as society continues to change.
"I don't think you can assume that we know enough about the young people who are becoming adults in this generation to adequately serve them," she said. "I definitely think that training and preparing people for this ministry with an eye to the future is going to be critical."
Called to collegiate ministry?
Collegiate ministry is now among the specialized ministries for which the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry offers certification. Among the requirements are completing coursework and having experience working in a collegiate ministry setting. To learn more, contact the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry by calling (615) 340-7375, emailing [email protected] or visiting www.gbhem.org/certification.