The following is another conversation in the College Ministry: Conversations and Context series. For more information about this series click here.
“Are you sure you can be our pastor?”
This was one of the first questions I received when I stepped into my role as Chaplain, Director of Spiritual Life and Instructor of Religious Studies at Westminster College this past September.
“Are you sure you can be our pastor?”
The student posing the question had never encountered a young woman in a position of religious leadership before and so, she was honestly asking. She didn’t know women could be ministers and she was struggling to make sense of the young, female “Reverend” being introduced as her new chaplain.
It’s a question I have carried with me since my first day on campus. Not because of gender or age—I obviously believe young women can and do serve as amazing pastors—but because, honestly, I wasn’t sure I could be their pastor. My position at Westminster College is my first in the world of higher education; much of my previous ministry experience was rooted in the world of congregational ministry. I wasn’t sure how my experience would translate from the congregation to the campus.
In the process of serving as chaplain during one academic year I, by no means, have all the answers regarding successful college ministry. I do, however, have some initial suspicions and I am led to believe that the campus and the congregation are not as far apart as we sometimes understand them to be.
Our denominational institutions continue to seek the allusive young adult population. 18-35 year olds tend to be a rare breed within the walls of our traditional churches. At least within my own tradition, we have spent a lot of our time worrying about the decrease in numbers, particularly within the young adult population. After a year on a college campus I no longer have anxiety about our “dying” or “shrinking” church. It turns out that college students are curious. They’re engaged with God; they are asking big questions about calling, vocation and how they can live their lives faithfully. They just aren’t asking them within the walls of our churches.
We are tempted to distance college ministry from the larger work of the church because it doesn’t happen within the walls of our church buildings. However, I am learning that ministry on campus and ministry within the congregation have the same essential core. They’re about the same things: reaching people where they are, engaging in authentic relationships, and helping one another grow in our faith with God.
At every college and university there are students who are doing this work; there are students asking what it means to be faithful followers of Christ. The challenge for those of us in the institutional church is to figure out what it looks like for each of our communities to get out of the pews, walk outside our doors, and find them.
The distance between the congregation and the campus isn’t nearly as far as it sometimes feels. We can be their pastors; we can offer community; we can be church together. It just means that, sometimes, church happens outside of our walls.
Rev. Jamie Haskins currently serves Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri as Chaplain, Director of Spiritual Life and Instructor of Religious Studies. She is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She earned her MDiv from Vanderbilt Divinity School in 2009. From 2009 to 2011, she served University Christian Church (DOC) in Seattle, Washington as Minister of Faith Formation and Social Justice through the Disciples Divinity House’s Congregational Immersion Project. In addition to her ministry at Westminster College, Jamie serves on the Community Board of the Young Clergy Women Project. She can be reached at: jamie dot l dot haskins at gmail dot com.