My Facebook newsfeed has been flooded with back-to-school photos from around the country, from rre-K students to professors returning for their umpteenth year. It’s one thing to get ready for that first day as a parent, but we who welcome university students back to our community and congregations also are in high gear this week.
I love working with university students — the energy, the questions, the curiosity, even the skepticism and the angst they bring make being a campus pastor an exciting and continuously changing vocation. It’s a privilege to work with emerging adults, to get to know them, mentor them and learn from them.
Campus ministries have been present on college campuses for over a century, providing a church-home-away-from-home for students, many of whom are attending a different congregation for the first time in their lives. We know students will experience and learn many new things in these university years, perhaps undergoing as many changes as their first years of life. This is exciting and daunting, and campus ministry provides something that is both familiar (for those who’ve grown up in the church) and different from what they’ve known before in a faith community.
Some come to campus ministry because of that familiarity. For others, the challenges of college and living independently are exactly what send them to campus ministry, where a community of caring peers and adults accompany them through the changes and chances of life.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recently completed a comprehensive study of its 240 campus ministry sites (research by Roland Martinson and Jacob Sorenson). Students who were surveyed and interviewed indicated a primary motivation for campus ministry activity is being part of a welcoming, inclusive, safe community where they can grow in their faith and have their gifts used in leadership. The primary event where this community is formed and leadership developed is worship.
While emerging adults (ages 18 to 25) are statistically the least likely to attend worship, in campus ministry sites across the country college students are attending worship five to eight times a month as their primary spiritual practice. This matters! And 89 percent of them said they intend to continue to be active in a church after graduation.
That means that campus ministry is not separate from congregational ministry — it’s a continuation of it. We are the church-home-away-from-home for students across the Midwest and even around the world who come to Eau Claire to study. We accompany them on their faith journey and send them out into the world and into congregations.
University Lutheran and the Newman Parish together provide denominationally-based campus ministry for Protestant and Catholic students, faculty and staff on your behalf. To find out more about campus ministry or to become involved, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I know the traffic patterns are about to change, and neighborhoods will be noisier later into the night, and the line at the coffee shop will be longer. The students are coming back! It’s an exciting time in their lives, including their religious and spiritual lives, as they explore and discover who God has made them to be. And it’s exciting to be part of that as campus ministry!
The Rev. Dr. Lori Ruge-Jones serves as pastor to congregation and campus at University Lutheran Church, Eau Claire.