Campus ministers seek stronger church connections
July 19, 2005
|A web-only photo courtesy of Kelbe Hollrah
Katrina Banker (left) and Hillary Desmond are part of a campus ministry knitting group at Fontbonne University in St. Louis.
A UMNS Feature
By Vicki Brown*
When William Johnston became president of
Iowa Wesleyan College, one of his first actions was finding money to
hire a full-time campus minister, something the college had not had in
“I wanted us to provide an environment
and have an individual on campus who supports church relations,”
Johnston says. “I would hope that person supports the values of — and
helps the college community support the values of — our church.”
Johnston believes hiring the Rev. Robert
Koepcke, initially done in part with a $25,000 annual conference grant,
has already paid off in the enrollment of more United Methodist
students. “We had 40 or 50 United Methodists enrolled, and now we have
about 75,” he says.
He attributes that partly to Koepcke’s practice of visiting area churches and taking students with him.
Such connections between campus
ministries and churches need to be strengthened, says the Rev. Frank
Wulf, campus minister at the University of California, Los Angeles,
“We need to re-establish that sense of
fellowship and sense of being together in the same ministry,” Wulf says.
He is working with other campus ministers and United Methodist Board of
Higher Education and Ministry staff on endorsement proposals and best
practices for campus ministry that will be presented to the 2008 General
Conference, the denomination’s legislative assembly.
With those goals in mind, campus
ministers will meet July 23-27 in Baltimore for workshops, training and
discussion of endorsement requirements.
“We are doing our best to make sure
campus ministers are the best-trained, and evaluating who is qualified
and who can be an effective campus minister,” Wulf says.
The July conference will be a watershed
event for United Methodist campus ministries, says the Rev. Luther
Felder, assistant general secretary of the board’s Campus Ministry
“Some of the heart and soul issues,
fundamental principles on which campus ministry is based, will be
explored and re-examined,” he says. “How can we turn the heart of the
church back toward campus ministry?”
Felder hopes the conference will help clarify for the church what it means to be in campus ministry in the new millennium.
Wulf and the Rev. Melanie Briscoe, who
serves four campuses in St. Louis, say the training and qualifications
that will be required for endorsement are crucial.
“There seems to be a real ignorance among
a lot of individuals as to what campus ministers do, how they do it and
how to do it well,” Briscoe says.
“We need people who are called to be
campus ministers, who have a passion for students and the growth of the
church from the perspective of young adults,” Briscoe says.
Sometimes in the past, campus ministries
were seen as a place to put a minister who had not been successful in
the local church setting, she says. Today, a bishop and cabinet
sometimes see a campus minister doing really well and immediately want
to move the minister into a church.
“Churches can sustain themselves pretty
well if they have turnover every four years, but it’s horribly
handicapping in a campus ministry,” Briscoe says.
The endorsement process will equip campus
ministers to do their job better, and it will enable boards to better
evaluate the ministries, she says.
Campus ministers will also tackle the
thorny issues of funding and lack of curriculum for young adults during
their July meeting.
Most campus ministries struggle with
funding, and many annual conferences see the ministries as a drain that
will never pay off, Wulf says.
“But these are the young people who, when
they leave college, will be the ones who are pledging or becoming
ministers or chairing church committees,” Wulf says.
“I don’t see our being in conflict with
local congregations. I see our training up young leaders who will go
back into local churches when they leave college and be strong and
committed United Methodists,” Wulf continued.
Finding curriculum is another struggle.
“The majority of curriculum is for adults
or youth and children,” Briscoe says, adding that curriculum that does
exist translates poorly to campus.
New federal privacy laws are another
challenge, since campus ministers can no longer find out the religious
affiliation of students. Wulf sends letters each year asking local
pastors in the area if any of their youth are enrolling at UCLA, and
only a couple respond.
The Rev. Sharon Rhodes-Wickett, pastor of
Westwood United Methodist Church near UCLA, says when she led a church
that was not near a campus, her congregation picked a campus ministry to
“We had a line item in our budget. It’s
one more way to help the local church understand what it means to be
part of the connectional church,” she says.
Kelbe Hollrah, a peer minister at
Fontbonne University in St. Louis, one of Briscoe’s campuses, believes
campus ministries are crucial for students, who are usually in a time of
“I grew up in a very conservative, almost
fundamentalist Baptist church ...,” she says. “I eventually realized in
college that it wasn’t working out for me.” Friendship with a peer
minister for the Wesley Foundation led her to get involved with campus
ministry and become United Methodist.
“Your faith is brought into question in
college,” she says. “If students don’t have someone to help, they might
turn away from the church.”
*Brown is an associate editor and writer
in the Office of Interpretation, United Methodist Board of Higher
Education and Ministry.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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