Order for the Benefit of College Students

A society or religious order focused on ministry to college students. Chaplains would be the monastics devoting their lives to the spiritual formation/direction and maturation of college students. There needs to be a vital presence of a Christian expression other than fundamentalism and cultic groups that sow and reap and minister to students during the most open and vulnerable period of their lives. There needs to be an Anglican presence in academe! Since the resources are not being committed to such ministry, maybe we need to approach this in a different way – perhaps to take things into our own hands for the time being. I wonder what this would look like?
I have been pulled for a long time in the direction of monasticism. I really don’t know where it comes from or what it may entail, but that desire for complete devotion and surrender to prayer, worship, service, and relationship between brothers/sisters of like commitment has always been present – and seems to be growing. It has taken different shapes during different periods of my life – as a college student, as a campus pastor and missionary, as a seminarian, and now as I begin my life as a priest the pull is only getting stronger.
In many ways, the intense experience of college student ministry mirrors a form of monastic living. Students involved in campus ministries are often the most “sold-out” they will ever be in their lives. The fellowship and the intense spiritual dynamic are profoundly experienced. Chi Alpha at the time of my involvement had a four-fold philosophy of ministry – Discipleship, Worship, Prayer, and Witness. A good foundation, I think.
Now as an Anglican, I understand far more of the history and contributions of monastics to the experience of the Church and for ministry to God and people. I want it all the more.
Ministry to college students, while rarified, is of vital importance for the Church and for the cause of Christ in the world. This focused period of students’ lives opens them to discovering their own faith for perhaps the first time. They are open and willing to newly investigate all manner of things, and these people will be the leaders in politics, science, religions, and business. How will they form their lives, their faith, their philosophies, and so on? Who will influence them?
Fundamentalist religious groups are all over college campuses, as are the cults. They are forming future leaders in their own narrow form and these people will be leading us – to where I don’t know. There are obviously many good ministries, too. So much of the current culture wars and ascendancy of Religious-Right fundamentalism can be directly attributed to the success of their campus ministries during the later part of the 20th century. I know, I was there and was one of them! The Episcopal Church abandoned campus in the 1970’s.
Now, where is the presence on campuses of a Christian expression that allows for open investigation and questioning, that has an ancient pedigree, which values the transformative powers of the liturgy and sacraments, that takes Scripture seriously, and allows for great mystery and experience? Where is Anglicanism on our campuses?
Since the Episcopal Church in general seems unwilling or unable to focus resources for ministry to college students, why not develop a religious order focused on ministry to college students? Men and women who have a passion for and a calling for ministry to college students can devote either part of or all their lives to this purpose. Chaplains will be the monastics (monks or nuns in some form) of such an order. They can live into this calling in a supportive and challenging fellowship that pools resources so that chaplains can be placed and supported in their ministries. Those who do not wish to live in such community full-time can financially and prayerfully (and a myriad of other ways) support the order/society. And so on…
Who knows? Anyone interested? College students of faith and those who are seeking need such a presence! They just do, and until the Church returns money and resources to our colleges and universities, perhaps we can take things into our own hands and begin the work in those places where chaplains and chaplaincies are missing. I’ll do it!