I’ve done some research… In the Diocese of Ohio, according to the latest attendance figures of all the four-year colleges and universities, there is a total student population of 178,651 within the boarders of the Diocese (the northern half of the state, above and not including Columbus). In the zip-code areas of current parish churches in the diocese of Ohio, there are approximately 165,829 students. There are 79,720 students in “college towns” with Episcopal parishes. In the personal, leadership, and spiritual development of students, this is a critical time in their lives. They are our future, they are becoming the movers and shakers of society, of business, of media, of politics, of war and peace, of the Church. It is tremendously important to provide them opportunities for discovery of the Gospel for the first time and for their faith development and Christian formation. That’s a lot of people at a very strategic and important time in their lives.
Campus Ministry: It is a fact, whether some want to face it or admit to it, that the future of this world rests in the hands of the students living and learning right now in our colleges and universities.
It is also a fact that for most mainline denominations, the support for campus ministry continues to wain and fail. Again and again I read of the ending of a college chaplaincy of The Episcopal Church, let alone all the other denominations. I wonder whether too many of those in leadership of mainline denominations have simply written off student ministry as a lost cause (even though giving lip service to its importance)? Among American-Evangelicals, it really is a funding issue, since they well realize that to influence the academy is to influence the world.
If we want to advocate for justice, say, or the precepts of the Christian Life (if we believe in them, that is, as being the way to honest freedom, peace, and inner joy), if we truly want to have an influence on the course of human events, then we must be involved in the lives of students, professors, and university staff. The majority of students entering the university these days are unchurched. In most cases, they have not been given a foundation upon which to make ethical or moral judgments beyond their own feelings or self-interest. They have not been given a foundation upon which to make judgments about legitimate religious expressions and cultic (in the venacular sense) groups. This is quickly becoming the common state of affairs, and student services staff fight against such things all the time (even though the underpinnings of the fight they wage is based on secular and often anti-religious positions).
“The World” has no problem asserting its influences on the lives, well being, and future direction of students lives. I worked with students for 20 years, I can attest to all kinds of “others” that simply want to exploit and manipulate students and turn them into consuming machines.
We should not continue to ignore the vital nature of university ministry by simply relinquishing the positive influence of the Gospel in academe and give students over to the deleterious effects of the negative influences they face every day. This is a vital time in human development, a strategic time to influence for the good, but we pull away and give over to the “principalities and powers of the air” our students, their future, and our own future well being.
Again, I have said that if we recognize the trends of our times (revealed repeatedly in study after study), we should realize that the historic traditions of Anglicanism play into the current “sense” of today’s students. Yet, it is not being realized.
There must be a way to reinvigorate campus ministry within The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Christian tradition in this country. It will not be upon the model in place for so many years – this is a big reason why so many ministries are failing and being closed. If the World looks at us and sees nothing much different from itself (themselves), then what’s the point? Why should people give a listen and consideration to the Gospel, since in their eyes those who claim it are just like them. Does not this Gospel change us fundamentally into a different kind of person… if we allow it, yield to it, and take it as our own? This doesn’t necessitate an Us vs Them dynamic if we remain in humility… the kind that is realized when we “love our neighbors as ourselves.”
Focusing on justice issues and good works without the transformation that happens within individual students by the life-changing experience of the Gospel is in the long run of little importance, IMHO. Re-formation (out of the Systems of this World and into a Life in Christ) must happen within individual students so to propel them to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humble with their God.
As we continue on in a Post-Christian environment, the idea of establishing living-forming communities and residences with students among our campuses can be a model that gives us both a financial and non-political/ideological means of engaging students in their faith development and Christian formation. As we give ourselves to the Christian Disciplines, God works within us to build within us the means of changing the world for the good.
It is my desire and quest to be engaged in the re-development of campus chaplaincies / ministries within the Anglican tradition. I think it is vitally important for the future of this Church and for the well being of not only the students, but for academe and our society.