Friday, March 20, 2015

"What's the Purpose of Campus Ministry?"

"Why is campus ministry important in this day and age? What's the purpose?" 

This question came across my inbox via my campus ministry google group today. The group is a collection of campus ministers, mostly - but not all - from the Episcopal tradition, and the question is the second in a survey series from a reporter. 

The first question concerned funding campus ministry. Nut and bolts. Essential. "How is your ministry funded?" You have to ask this question. 

The essential-ness of the other question - the question of 'why' - is not as universally appreciated, so the 'why' question gets asked less often. Also, there's a little bit of necessary challenge in the question. Richard Rohr has suggested that mainline Protestants may have a bit of the conflict avoider in us, so it's good to name that we may ask 'why' less because we are afraid others will find the question threatening. When asked in the spirit of truth telling, clarity, and the desire to flourish and grow, however, there are few more helpful things to ask. As I've watched the answers of my colleagues come across via 'reply all' today, I have been inspired. As helpful as their answers are, they are even more beautiful.

Without further rambling, then, what follows is my answer to the question that found my inbox today: "Why is campus ministry important in this day and age? What's the purpose?" 

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I love this question! I hope my answer is worthy of it.

The purpose of campus ministry - all ministry - is to be present to those God also loves. In the case of Episcopalians our tradition has raised, we are acting with and on behalf of the larger church to keep the promise we make at each one's baptism to "do all in our power to support these persons in their life in Christ." I love becoming friends of the churches whose young people go off to college and find our ministry, because our communities discover how we need one another to keep the promises we make, especially to our children.

Many times, campus ministry - uniquely - is a student's first time to experience the Christian community in a) the absence of parents, family, etc. and b) the presence of many peers. Campus ministry oftentimes offers, therefore, a first opportunity to lean more fully into the love and trusting of the community of belonging God's love for us makes possible.

In the case of those who would self-identify as outside of our tradition, campus ministry lives out the vocation of presence primarily through the example of its own community and the conviction that God is active and interested in the life and work of the university, faculty, students, and staff. Here, the connection is to the baptismal promise to "seek and serve Christ in all persons," with the promise's remarkable assertion that Christ is there, in each one, to be found.

It is not a small thing to witness that God is active and interested in the work of those around you - specifically, in the special case of campus ministry, that God is active and interested in the work of the university. Such a witness is necessarily marked by generosity and humility, which combine to help make possible reconciliation and new friendships. 

The witness that God is active and interested in the work of the university is also a challenge to Christians - students, facility, and staff - who might otherwise compartmentalize their work and subsequently view the work of the student/university/department as fundamentally separate and disconnected from the life of faith. Such a challenge asks how every aspect of the Christian's life might be reimagined as a part of living and actively responding life with God.

It is significant that the purpose of the campus ministry, to both those within and without the tradition, is grounded in the baptismal promises of the Christian community. That baptism is the foundation of our purpose, even to those not baptized, is the reminder to campus ministries and the whole church that mission is not just about good news for the others: Christians seek and serve others through mission to proclaim the good news of Christ crucified and risen; seek and serve Christ in each person; strive for justice for all people; eat, pray, and grow in the apostle's teaching and fellowship; forgive and discover our own need for forgiveness; and subsequently to discover that our own salvation's flourishing requires the presence of the "other" ones God also loves. 

As the desert fathers remind/warn/promise us: "Our life and death is with our neighbor."

Peace.
Jonathan

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