Ministry on Campus

I’m writing this in the midst of what I think of as our 3rd “High Holy Week,” of each year at University United Methodist Church, when the energy on campus begins to swell, and it feels like new life is abundant. It’s a very busy week, marked with the International Student Ministry hosting their successful annual “furniture fest” on our parking lot, this year also including a back to school bbq and party hosted by Wesley foundation in con11918955_10153549804890480_7946791057698652650_njunction with a boatload of volunteers helping International Student Ministry, and also our yearly Frisbee giveaway at the Student Activity fair—this year hosted with fireworks at the new Hardesty dorm and student activity center.
I have gotten a chance to meet some of the incoming freshmen already, and am excited about their talents and interest in the church. I am thankful for such an ever present source of influx of new people and ideas into our “parish.” It’s one reason I’ve always been drawn to campus based ministry. We are in a bit of a time of transition as well, as long time Wesley director Charlie Spears has announced his intention to retire. The Wesley board has expressed their confidence in Ron Gentry’s leadership as the director—an arrangement (since Ron is a layperson) that would put a bit more assumed leadership and oversight on the appointed pastor at University UMC to assist with pastoral functions and sacraments. These arrangements are just beginning to take shape, but are so far the direction we seem headed. It wouldn’t mean any more involvement for me necessarily, since I participate in functions weekly at the Wesley Foundation anyway—pretty much it is just taking that close connection into account when making decisions about Wesley’s future.
I’ve also been working pretty hard on outlining the agenda for our 4th annual University Church Network gathering along with the hosting pastors of Belmont UMC in Nashville, General Board of Discipleship and Higher Education and Ministry support staff, as well as the District Superintendent of Baton Rouge—a former University Church pastor at UUMC Baton Rouge who attended our first gathering in Tulsa. We’re developing a program that takes into consideration that several conferences around the connection are de-funding or significantly cutting funding for stand alone campus ministry (as we are in Oklahoma) and putting more of the expectation for campus ministries on the shoulders of the churches serving those communities. Fortunately, our TU Wesley foundation is not slated to lose funding—after a couple years of reduced funding, TU Wesley will actually see an increase down the road from the Conference as other campus ministries around the state are shuttered. This is bittersweet. The end result though, is that churches in our kinds of contexts are going to have to learn to be more creative and purposeful in providing engaging ministry for student communities. As the student population is ever replenishing, so should our stream of ideas for engagement. How? By involving students in significant areas of leadership, and listening seriously to their ideas. For the average layperson, that means a large dose of humility. (Which is good medicine for any Christian, but certainly for those more fully formed in their faith).
I hope you share with me any ideas you might have for engaging our campus community in fresh ways. We have a location and context that most churches only dream about. Let’s make the most of it.