It's that time of year again. The time when graduates and transfers depart campus for good, while others depart just for the summer. The time when campus ministers give thanks for the way God showed up in the passed year and look forward to what new beginnings God's got in store for the year to come.
I was blessed that God called me to work with two groups this year. The picture to the left shows Highlander Lutherans with some of our friends from UKirk (PC-USA) and Canterbury (Episcopalian) ministries on Radford University's campus. The blessing of this ministry is that we just began meeting in 2014, and now serve fifteen undergraduate and graduate students at RU. We've found a monthly rhythm of worship, Bible study, service, and fellowship, each beginning with a meal cooked by local congregations, which helps us to live our discipleship. These different experiences stretch us outside of our comfort zones, and as God's promised, we still find the Holy Spirit already at work far beyond our expectations. This Spring, we began meeting with UKirk on a weekly basis to provide a larger critical mass for our life together, with responsibilities for food, programming, and funding spread between the two ministries.
Detailing growth is about much more than numbers. It's about seeing a willingness to take risks that bless our campus community. For instance, we received an Action Team grant from Thrivent Financial to produce "Finals Survival Kits" that included snacks, a prayer to guide their study, and information on how to get involved with Highlander Lutherans. We produced 80 of them in hopes that students would share with their friends. Three of our students, however, took this challenge to the next level. While Lutherans aren't known for their evangelism, Marta, Kyle, and Katie took three boxes into high traffic areas of campus and shared them with students walking to and from their latest exams. They reported back to me that the joyful surprise on students faces when they received the kits was enough to make them want to do more to tangibly bless RU. What a blessing to be in ministry with these people! They've grown from individuals who happened to be Lutheran to an ecumenical expression of Christ's Body wanting to share God's love with more and more of our campus.
This second picture shows The Well, the Lutheran Campus Ministry at Virginia Tech. I served as their interim Campus Pastor while Luther Memorial Lutheran Church, their parent organization, reorganized their staff structure. They're an incredible group of young women and men that showed a willingness to welcome a new leader mid-year and continue on their spiritual journeys.
There's an invigorating pool of leadership within this group. Students becoming nurses and engineers, leaving to work alongside Jesus in areas as different as the ELCA's Young Adults in Global Mission and for AMD. Students following Jesus to work as leaders in the local Lutheran camps like Caroline Furnace and as leaders in VT's student political organizations. They express their love for Jesus as artists, as educators, and as friends. Perhaps the most exciting part of their growth together was seen in their sharing of milestones, our weekly time of sharing something that we faced, whether a challenge to overcome or a joy to share. The willingness to bear one another's burdens in this way showed a growing maturity for which I'm grateful. This shows more than just a compassionate group of students; it reveals the kind of leaders we'll have for our church and world in the coming years. Thank God for that!
What I wish people could comprehend about campus ministry is just that: the vast opportunity we have for discipleship and leadership in ways that benefit the church in present and future forms. When we relegate to another form of youth group or consider it an expendable outreach ministry, we separate ourselves from God's active work in the lives of students, faculty, and staff on our campuses. More fundamentally, we lop off a fundamental portion of Christ's body.
This is a desperate mistake, especially in an age where the dominant ministry voices on campus are evangelical and Roman Catholic. I don't mean these ministries shouldn't exist; far from it! Rather, we as ELCA Lutherans provide a via media that incorporates the Reformation tradition with a theological commitment to social justice and an ever-present trust that God's Spirit is moving in ways of justice and inclusion far beyond even our most creative imaginations. We're able to let students know that, even if they feel unsafe in those traditions, there's a Christian tent big enough even for those with questions and doubts.
I was fortunate enough to walk alongside two groups of students that lived this, and I'd love for you to see the ways our campus ministries across the ELCA provide avenues for young leaders to grow in God's image. Get in touch with your local campus ministry to learn more by visiting lumin-network.com. If your local campus doesn't have a ministry and you're interested in starting one, reach out to me! I'd love to get you in touch with nearby ministers who have the skill and experience to develop new ministries on campus.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.