The following is another conversation in the College Ministry: Conversations and Context series. For more information about this series click here.
It’s a bummer that many church communities need to advocate supporting an intentional outreach to college (undergrad, grad, university and college) students. Reasons like, “they’re not financially viable,” to “the college students are too inconsistent/temporary/busy/etc.” are often the unspoken sentiments to justify not doing anything beyond a general mailing.
Specifically, the college students don’t seem to matter.
But, an article on HuffPo awhile back reiterates what I feel is a no-brainer for why campus ministry should be a huge priority for churches. And why exactly college students do matter.
The bottom line is that change is not happening in Washington no matter the seeming urgency of our never-ending news cycle or a presidential campaign getting into full gear. Real change is happening on the ground in a place ironically considered by much of America to be a universe apart: college.
While it is well documented that Americans have become increasingly apathetic toward community involvement, a quiet but steady national movement is underway to send armies of undergraduate students out into the fields of their colleges’ neighborhoods to volunteer and create social change based on local needs. This is bipartisan, it is on the street, and it is happening in practical ways every single day.
Our students are making a genuine difference. They and the neighborhood together are becoming a seamless force for social change block by block, issue by issue. On top of this people-driven force area agencies are meeting regularly to think through Port Richmond’s basic needs and develop synergistic agendas for implementation of their own programs. An emergent “Port Richmond Partnership” is now a coalition that can, in a strategically unified way, speak to local government and foundations.
College students are engaged, energetic, and enthusiastic. I could come up with more words that start with e- but I think you get the drift. My point in bringing this up isn’t about harnessing their energy so they end up doing work at the church whether for soup kitchens or Saturday morning clean-up (though this is well and good). I really believe they have something to teach us. Show us. Lead us. The article goes on to talk about Interfaith Youth Core, an organization that I admire for its intentionality in connecting people across belief systems to work for real and positive change:
Eboo Patel and Mary Gross of Interfaith Youth Core write that “Americans are living in a civic recession.” We are a fragmented, uninvolved nation. What’s the cure? Caring, involved citizens working on political, social and economic problems collaboratively. How do we do that? By immersing our young in the American tradition of an engaged civic life as they embark upon their own independent citizenship. And by having them help to realize the ambitions and needs of their communities’ own neighborhood assets.
This is not about ideology. It is about democracy being lived out on our sidewalks. It is about the great project of American citizenship that fundamentally speaks out against institutionalized influence and stands up for local empowerment.
I know it’s a tricky line – this whole state vs. religion thing. But, I continue to be impressed with the need to integrate all areas of our lives. Faithfulness to God means faithfulness in everything in our life especially where we have influence and voice. It’s not easy. And there’s much to disagree about in terms of what to do and how to do it. Yet, we are called to much more than sitting in the pews. Our college students are already doing the work. So how can we support and engage them theologically? That’s where the churches and college ministry can truly make an impact.
I’m excited for a new joint and collaborative venture between the two Presbyterian churches in town. To me it speaks volumes about how much college students matter to these churches. I’m being hired as part-time staff to facilitate outreach and gatherings with IU students. It’s something that has been in the works for about a year, and both churches had worked together on a task force in 2009 with a really wonderful report and some recommendations. Much of that is coming to fruition for this fall.
I’d love to hear some words of wisdom from you – whether you’re directly involved in college student outreach or not – on how you explain that college students matter. And, if you remember please keep this ministry in your prayers as we start out!