Disclaimer: This post is part of my participation in the Presbyterian Bloggers Unite project that will take place the first day of each month. The topic for April 1st – Campus Ministry. Yes, I know that I’m a day late… I hope that you will enjoy what I have to share about this subject. – Katie
I was not involved in Campus Ministry much at all during my four years at USC. I am sad to say this because I was very involved in youth ministry at my church – the church that basically hosts the campus ministry for the University. And to make matters even worse, I was very involved with the campus ministry program at the university where I studied abroad in Australia – Newcastle Christian Students. For lots of reasons, though, I was not involved while I was on campus at USC.
It saddens me to say that I was not involved. Partly because I was selfish and didn’t want to go…at first. But then when I grew out of my “first-semester-of-college-life-funk” and decided that I wanted to go to Presbyterian Student Association and participate, several things happened:
1. I didn’t feel welcomed. I went for the first time on the Seminary night because I was considering Seminary, AND they actually had a discussion topic that I was interested in. So I ventured off…boyfriend in tow because he had been before and knew some of the people. Now, if you know me I’m pretty quiet at first until I feel comfortable…then I don’t shut up. I sat in the corner all night long…I didn’t feel like I fit in at PSA. Everyone knew each other and only talked to each other. Not too many people wanted to
2. The programs were not interesting to me. I was your typical college student. I went to school to truly get away from home. When I did finally get over myself and decide that I wanted to return to my “religious” roots, I had to go searching for something that interested me. The format of PSA was less than thrilling, and the topics were never that great. I mean, what college student wants to go on a Tuesday night after being in classes all day and hear a Biology professor talk about the scientific involvement in Creation? Really?!?!
3. I didn’t like the people. I know, I know…shallow! Heck, I was a selfish college student. I was in a sorority and was used to hanging out with fraternity boys. The people at PSA, from leadership down to the students, were no fun. In fact, I might even go as far as saying…lame. I’ve noticed over my time working with youth and young adults, and as a presenter for University 101 and other college courses, that the personality of the group/class takes after the personality of the leadership. When the leadership is bland, the group/class is going to be bland. And maybe I’m just crazy, but when you’re trying to grow a ministry to college students, the last thing that you want is for it to be bland. Bring on the E-N-E-R-G-Y!
4. Theological discussions. Need I say more? I mean, do you know a lot of 18, 19, 20, 21 year olds that really want to discuss theology on a regular basis? Nope…they all want to know what “this church stuff means for me and my life,” not what some “old theological dudes” had to say about it all. And they really don’t want to have to think THAT much more on a night when they’ve had a full day of classes. I’m in seminary right now as a 26 year old and sometimes…lots of times…after classes I don’t want to have theological discussions. (Don’t sit near me, I might be struck by lightning…)
5. Connectionless. One thing that lacked was a way to connect the students with “host families” in a church family for their time at USC. While I was from Columbia and had a home church and didn’t personally need that, I needed that exact think while I was in Australia. I can only imagine about the thousands of Presbyterians at USC from across the country…no family, no church home…no connections available.
When our current campus minister came into his position, he was brought in to basically rescue a dying program. The leadership before him had been even worse than what I described above, and when I was in college he was brand new at his position. As I understand now, PSA has had fairly steady growth, but it is still relatively small compared to other campus ministries at a large state public university with over 26,000 students.
I have seen too many students from local churches who grew up very active in their youth groups and church life go off to college and never once step foot in the campus ministry programs. When I visited colleges trying to make my decision, I always asked about religious organizations on campus because I wanted to be involved. I was able to visit meetings/events of one or two of those organizations at various universities and was very excited about the opportunities available to me when going off to college. While there I experienced enlivening and engaging worship, energy, large numbers, fun…everything you want in a CM program. What I experienced at my school was quite the opposite.
I mentioned that I was actively involved in Newcastle Christian Students at the University of Newcastle. It was a phenomenal experience for me and I’m convinced to this day that God was working on me and my future ministry plans while I was there. NCS was tied into a local church, Hunter Bible Church. I don’t remember exactly how I found out about NCS or HBC, but either way I found it…or, God found me there…and I was immediately connected to host families, Sunday morning worship, Sunday night UniChurch (worship on campus for college students), and small group Bible Studies. The campus minister was constantly a presence, he invited me to his home to get to know him and his family, and he connected me with other families who were interested in acting as a host family to me. These families would take us to and from church on Sundays, we’d all eat lunch after worship, we’d be invited over for random meals at random times, we’d go out for coffee, shopping and movies, and we’d all spend time in fellowship and worship together. THAT is what I needed as a college student…and that’s what Campus Ministry should be all about.
While I’m sad that I was not active at PSA, whether for my own personal selfish reasons or whatnot, I am blessed that God placed me within the loving arms of the Hunter Bible Church congregation during my time in Newcastle. That time has shaped me as a person and a minister. Ministry is at its root about relationships…and that’s what college students need most. Programming is nice, but if the relationships aren’t there – or worse, if the participatns are welcoming new people into the relationships – then the programming is not being effective.
It is my ultimate prayer, after having worked for a few years with middle and high school students, that we work to develop effective and engaging Presbyterian campus ministry programs. Our teens and young adults are up against some pretty nasty stuff in this world…and we need to be the safe, sheltering, nurturing, loving, relational source to which they can turn while they continue on the journey of life in college.