Many Forms of Collegiate Ministry Reach Young Adults
Editor’s note: This is the first story in a two-part series examining the different kinds of ministries on campus that involve United Methodists.
For many United Methodist college students, fall is both a time to return to classes and also to renew friendships and reengage spiritually through involvement in campus ministries.
Collegiate ministries fall into one of several categories in The United Methodist Church: Wesley Foundation, chaplaincy, local church-based, or ecumenical, said the Rev. Bridgette D. Young Ross, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s assistant general secretary for Campus Ministry and College Chaplaincy.
“Collegiate ministries are our way of serving college-age church members and keeping them connected to their faith during this most formative part of life,” Young Ross said. “We need to be the place where they can be disciples – growing as disciples and serving as disciples.”
“Students want to see faith in action,” she added.
That was true of University of Hawaii graduate Chase Walseth, 23, who was initially drawn to the Wesley Foundation by the promise of a mission trip to Costa Rica in 2010.
“It was an amazing experience,” he said of the trip, adding that it was not just travel to an exotic place. It was seeing “other young people doing Christian acts, dedicating their time and money toward helping others, and doing for the sake of being good people” that kept him involved in the group.
“I have made some lifelong friendships, learned leadership skills, and bettered myself spiritually as a direct result of being a part of campus ministry,” Walseth said.
The United Methodist Church is affiliated with college programs in 520 locations throughout the U.S. Several generations have connected with the church through Wesley Foundations, the first of which was founded in 1913 as a place where students could not only explore Christian leadership opportunities and find fellowship but seek answers to tough theological questions, as well.
While many campuses still support the traditional Wesley model, others are partnering with similar denominations, forging strong ties with local churches, and even expanding their target audience from merely “college students” to everyone in a certain age bracket.
Traditional Wesley Foundation Known for Mission Outreach
In Honolulu, the Rev. Charlene Zuill serves as director of the Wesley Foundation that serves students at the University of Hawaii, Hawaii Pacific University, and Kapiolani Community College. She works in a building constructed 55 years ago as a Wesley Foundation headquarters and also oversees a cooperative residence where up to 10 students live together as a community of faith.
Activities throughout the week may involve movie nights, speakers, and Bible study or service projects, such as cooking meals for residents of the nearby Ronald McDonald House. The students also assist with programs for the homeless as well as serve hot meals at a downtown location each week.
“We live in a tourist economy and there is a high cost of living, so that factors into a larger-than-average homeless population,” Zuill said. “This also leads into issues of justice and mercy. We discuss how we can work toward a society that doesn’t have so many homeless, undernourished and malnourished people.”
Zuill, an Oregon native, says her job also involves spending as much time as possible visiting United Methodist churches to spread the word about the ministry. For rising college freshmen, the foundation offers College 101, a workshop where students can tour campus and learn about the activities and advantages of becoming active in the Wesley Foundation.
“We think it’s important for college students to be part of local congregations and attend church there on Sundays,” she said.
It was Zuill’s own faith experience as a college student in Seattle that strengthened her call into campus ministry, she said.
“I had a good experience at my college, and then I interned with the Wesley Foundation at UCLA,” she said. “I just love working with young adults and seeing the spiritual transformation they go through in that four to six years. They change so much. I see vulnerable 18-year-olds develop into beautiful, spiritually strong adults.”
Young Ross said helping college students who believe they are hearing God’s call to ordained ministry is one of the central purposes of collegiate ministry.
Zuill is especially proud of the summer camp that the college students organize and run each summer for younger students. She also oversees a peer ministry program that provides a $500 stipend to several students for specific services to the Wesley Foundation, such as technical help in the computer lounge.
“We welcome students of any faith background who are interested in our outreach. We try to be as inclusive as we can.”
Zuill clearly loves her work and enjoys planting the seeds of faith that may one day blossom into mature lives of service and ministry.
“I work with the cream of the crop,” she says of her students. “Not only are they motivated to advance themselves intellectually and academically, they are also forming themselves spiritually – and balancing their time well enough to be part of a Christian community that gives back!”
Keeping Young People in Church
The Rev. Karen Hayden, director of Pastoral Excellence for the Missouri Annual Conference, is a proponent of keeping young people in the church by helping them stay connected through congregational activities as well as campus-directed ministries.
Hayden said many Missouri United Methodist leaders now conceive their audience in a broader context, a concept inspired in part by Reggie Joiner, whose book Slow Fade: Why You Matter in the Story of Twentysomethings explores reasons why some young adult Christians lose touch with their faith communities. “Savvy organizations look for ways to harness the energy of twentysomethings,” Joiner writes. “Any entity that ignores this age group’s potential is at risk of becoming outdated and irrelevant.”
“Our goal is to expand outreach to 18- to 25- year-olds, no matter what it takes,” Hayden said.
Hayden stresses the need to integrate young adults into the life of the church and forge relationships between people of various age brackets, from mid-life couples to the kids in Sunday school. It’s a way for them to become more comfortable members of the church family and stay connected after their years of campus ministry participation have passed, she said.
The Missouri Conference believes emphasizing the church-based model is working, Hayden said. “Overall, we have more young, college-age adults involved in our programs than before, and those people are more likely to be retained in the church throughout their lives.”
*Elder is a freelance writer in Raleigh, N.C.
Next: Chaplaincy serves the whole campus; multidenominational ministry brings diverse faiths together on campus.