Annual Conferences, Churches See Campus Ministry as Vital
From a community living with a rule of life at the University of Alaska-Anchorage to a more traditional Wesley Foundation at the University of Minnesota, annual conferences are supporting new efforts to reach college students. And, the Florida Annual Conference has an ambitious five-year plan to start three new campus ministries in the next five years.
New campus ministries are also being started at the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh and Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. A mission-based campus ministry is underway at Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich.
The Rev. Jenny Smith, who is appointed half-time to a new campus ministry at the University Alaska-Anchorage, said she was amazed at how little spiritual presence she found on a campus of 14,000 students.
“Many students arrive from the lower 48 and have great difficulty finding other Christians. I know many students would enjoy an inclusive, mainline ministry option. Our job is to make sure they know about it on such a big campus. . . . We’ll give out free lunch every first Monday of the month, and churches will take turns supplying the food. The other strategy is personal invitation. We’ll put up posters in high traffic areas, but we firmly believe personal invitation is the way,” said Smith, who is also a part-time associate pastor at Anchor Park UMC, one of the churches involved in funding and starting the ministry on campus.
Many of those involved in new ministries are clear about the importance of being on campus for The United Methodist Church.
Bishop Sally Dyck, episcopal leader of the Minnesota Annual Conference, believes campus ministry plays a vital role in providing an opportunity for worship, study, and outreach that can help shape the critical decisions made during college years. “We can and must play a part in helping to shape the questions and the answers to the big decisions in their lives. There may be many voices helping young adults think about what their career might be, but who is helping them respond to the deeper question of what God is calling them to be and do?” she asked.
The Rev. David Fuquay, director of the Gator Wesley Foundation at the University of Florida and director of the Florida Annual Conference Board of Higher Education and Ministry, agrees.
“With fewer and fewer students coming to campus with a religious background, Wesley Foundations are best stationed as mission organizations focused on reaching a new, more diverse generation with whom our local United Methodist congregations are struggling to connect,” Fuquay said.
The Florida International University/Miami-Dade College Wesley Foundation launched in 2009 as a sort of pilot project using the model of a new church start is thriving, he said. Under that model, the campus ministry gets full funding the first year. At the end of three years, the campus ministry must apply for funding to the conference just as all Florida campus ministries do. A campus ministry at Florida Gulf Coast University will launch in 2012, while Florida Atlantic University, Nova Southeastern University, and the University of Tampa are being considered for future starts.
Funding Comes From Many Sources
Many of the new campus ministries have a mix of funding, although most are getting some money from the annual conference. Several of the Wesley Foundations expect their Boards of Directors to help with fundraising.
Pastors involved in starting new campus ministries said the members of their churches understand that while such ministries can benefit the church and the world, their own churches are not likely to be filled with young adult college students.
“This is not some thinly veiled church growth idea,” said the Rev. Tom Gildemeister, chair of the Tennessee Annual Conference Board of Higher Education and Ministry and one of the pastors involved in starting a campus ministry at Belmont University in Nashville. Two years ago, discussions began about starting a campus ministry at Belmont, formerly affiliated with the Southern Baptist Church, and the largest campus in Tennessee with no United Methodist ministry.
“People kept saying it was a good idea, but there wasn’t any money,” he said. But there were 250 to 400 self-identified United Methodists on the campus and West End UMC and Belmont UMC both had significant ministries with Belmont students already. This year, the Tennessee Conference approved $30,000 for half-time staff and full-time ministry—a 5 percent increase in the higher education budget. While full approval from Belmont’s Student Organization Board is pending, the two half-time campus ministers are already working with students and planning events for the fall.
Catherine Phelps, a Belmont senior involved in the new ministry, said she wanted to help create an organization that provided a distinctly United Methodist presence for the students who come after her.
The Rev. Jon Disburg, senior pastor at Anchor Park UMC in Anchorage, Alaska, said he realized The United Methodist Church had no presence on the University of Alaska-Anchorage campus and that Smith was passionate about working with young adults. “We thought this was the time, and we had the right person with the right gifts,” he said. The church agreed to contribute $40,000 toward the new campus ministry.
“I think it was a great benefit to our church to put ourselves out there to do mission with young adults at a time when we were struggling economically. We see this as a ministry that provides a nurturing presence at an important time in the lives of young adults,” he said. Disburg added that community model grew out of the fact that many students come to the campus from villages and towns which are isolated and “off the grid.” The student leaders have agreed to live by a rule of life based on the five United Methodist membership vows. The rule will be optional for others.
The conference is giving $3,000 toward the ministry and seven other churches are involved and considering what they can contribute in funding.
The Rev. J. Cody Nielsen, the campus minister for the brand-new Wesley Foundation at the University of Minnesota, believes campus ministry is in a new age.
“While I personally believe we need to be supporting our campus ministries with apportionment dollars, I also believe we are in an age of professional fundraising. This campus ministry is provided by a variety of sources, including local giving, individuals making financial commitments, grants, apportionment dollars, and other opportunities as they become available,” he said.
Donna M. Dempewolf, a member of the new Wesley Foundation’s Board of Directors, said the Minnesota Annual Conference appropriated more than $90,000 for the new ministry, money that came from the long-ago sale of Wesley Foundation buildings when the campus ministry was shut down.
The Rev. Bridgette Young, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s assistant general secretary for Campus Ministry and College Chaplaincy, said she thinks it is encouraging to have new campus ministry starts. “District superintendents, annual conferences, local churches are seeing themselves as instrumental in the start-ups. It’s encouraging that these churches and conferences are finding new and different ways of doing ministry with students and are seeing those ministries as part of the work of the church of making disciples for Jesus Christ.”
“It’s about having the church connected to ministry with and for young adults, particularly college students,” Young said.
Churches, Conferences Experiment With New Models
The approach at the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh is to have student peer ministers who work under the supervision of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of American campus minister, said the Rev. John Hobbins, pastor of Oshkosh First United Methodist Church. “The ministry has seven or eight peer ministers, and four of them are United Methodist,” he said. Other churches involved are Wesley UMC, Algoma Boulevard UMC, and Waukau UMC.
Rachel Basel, a junior who is one of the peer ministers, said she was involved with Campus Crusade for Christ her freshman year, but found that ministry was not the right fit for her. But the joint UMC/ECLA ministry has been great for her.
“We are a very involved group that is doing things on campus,” Basel said, adding that she feels the work is making the group really visible to students. “We are targeting students at a time when they wander away from church.”
The Rev. Carl Gladstone, director of the Young Leaders Initiative in Detroit, said Catalyst, a ministry at Wayne State University, is a pilot program working with a small group of students. The students spend some time learning about the strengths and weaknesses of Detroit and volunteering at nonprofit or church programs.
Then, each student gets $100 to start a new project or work with an existing one. “It’s completely student led. Some will show real leadership; others just want to be connected,” Gladstone said. Funds were left over from a now-defunct Wesley Foundation. The group, which consists of a core group of 12 to 15 and up to 50 students who have been involved in projects, meets at coffeehouses. Lydia Lanni, a senior who helps organize speakers, projects, and meetings, said
the group is looking at incorporating worship and Bible study into their meetings. But she said Catalyst is really about “Christians doing good things for the city.”
*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.