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Commentary: Campus ministry claims God's call

A UMNS Commentary

Jen Heald

By Jen Heald*

June 18, 2008

Good campus ministers ask the best questions of anyone I know. And I know a lot of people—just count my friends on Facebook.

The campus ministers I encountered during my undergraduate years have discovered some of the secrets of communicating effectively with college students: we want to discover, we want to encounter, we want to be taken out of our boxes and told to stretch.

The act of asking empowers us to seek with the expectation that there is something to be found, to engage the questions because then the answers are more a part of us. Lately, I’ve felt the act of seeking might sometimes be the answer itself, but that’s another story.

It would be easy to make up a statistic right now about the number of senses the "average church member" uses to experience God. I will, however, take a page out of the Wise Campus Minister book and substitute some questions instead.

Do you hear passion in your worship services? When was the last time you used finger paint to create something blobby and beautifully imperfect that reminds you of your favorite psalm? Have you recently danced with the uninhibited joy warranted by the realization that Christ claims us? Have you sat in Elijah's silence and felt the still small voice somewhere in the expanse of soul inside you? Does the smell of a potluck meal mean warm and inviting community to you?

Perhaps these things give you an inkling of what it might be like to be a student in a Wesley Foundation. If they don't, just think about what it means to experience good church and you'll get there. There are Wesley Foundations and United Methodist student groups across the United States that do creative and Spirit-led ministry every day—hardworking missionaries and travelers on the front lines of a culture and population that so badly need to see Jesus' relevance to the world today.

I've only personally experienced the joy of the campus ministry at the University of Maryland, but through my work with the National United Methodist Student Movement, I’ve heard the inspiring stories of young adults leading their communities to be the dynamic, energetic, front line of hope that the church is called to be.

“Resourcing a movement that stubbornly refuses to be anything less than transformative is quite a task, but it's one that we welcome.”

Over Memorial Day weekend, almost 400 members of the movement met at American University in Washington for Student Forum 2008. Our theme, "Be the Change," resonated through the event in joyful worship services, thoughtful Bible studies and 11 topical social justice immersion trips assisted by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. As a member of the national steering committee, I had been part of planning this event since last September. It was so affirming and exciting to see students’ commitment to authentic ministry and honest dialogue as they participated in the events.

Perhaps it would not surprise you to hear that we asked some challenging questions derived from our mission and identity as a student movement: What does it mean to be transformative? To drive change? To inspire hope? To embody shalom? In short, to be a movement?

The conversation cultivated from these questions will define the direction of the student movement in years to come. Resourcing a movement that stubbornly refuses to be anything less than transformative is quite a task, but it's one that we welcome. Rest assured that these are the things on the hearts and minds of college students in The United Methodist Church today.

It seems to me that God has given us some fairly loaded questions in Scripture. "Whom shall I send?" comes to mind. When honestly answered by those who have encountered Jesus, that's one of the most transformative questions. It must be answered in a way worthy of the empowerment embodied in the question, with the humble, faithful and oh-so-vulnerable response, "Here I am. Send me."

In campus ministries, people are claiming the call that God places in each heart, and I have come to understand that as the essence of ministry.

Brothers and sisters, the church is perpetually at the intersection of the past and the future. The grace of the present prepares the way for the reconciliation, relationships, movements and ministry that will define what the church becomes. It is this grace that is recognized, celebrated and realized on the nation’s campuses. Ask us about it. We welcome your questions.

*Heald is chairperson of the United Methodist Student Movement Steering Committee.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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