I just returned from the Episcopal Campus Chaplains Conference and the Global Chaplains Conference in Higher Education. At both conferences I was able meet with people from campuses large and small who were engaged in vital mission with students, staff and faculty.
It often seems that folks in the larger church equate ministry on a college campus as an extension of youth ministry - thinking that what we do is have pizza once a week with students during a bible study. Campus ministry may include a few slices of pizza on occasion, but is also far more than that, because college campuses are a diverse and dynamic environment, with all age groups and often with many divergent cultures and world views.
As campus chaplains, we are engaged in pastoral care, interfaith dialog, worship, justice issues, and so much more. Our "congregations" include students, staff and faculty of all ages, and often, particularly in the case of students, facing stresses of life away from home or trying to balance work, home and school. We are able to provide a voice of acceptance and love for those who have been marginalized by the wider church at a time when suicide and substance abuse loom large. And we engage our students in reflection on faith and their role in the larger society.
All of this we often do on a shoestring budget, which in my own denomination, is in danger of being reduced to $0 at our upcoming General Convention in July. It seems that campus ministry is considered an expendable mission of the church, and yet we wonder why young adults don't come inside our doors.
The truth is that this "first contact" on a college campus has rippling effects not only for the student, but for the church. I have heard story after story of people whose return to church was sparked by a college chaplain, and many of those people are now in vibrant lay and ordained ministries.
As Christians, we are called to proclaim the gospel. We are not told it must be within the walls of a church to those who already know the healing power of God's love. There is no better place for mission and ministry than on college campuses today - a place of great need. May we continue to show support for this work in the decisions we make within the larger church.