By Sue Sprang
SYNOD – For many of us, campus ministry is one of those things that is on the fringe. Unless we’re involved with or connected to it in some way, we really don’t think about. We might give it a nod and say “that’s nice” – but all-in-all, it’s probably not something most of us think about on a regular basis.
There are some folks, though, who find campus ministry to be a priority.
For ordained and lay persons doing campus ministry, it is about introducing or keeping students connected to God. It is a compassionate and passionate ministry. They are out there connecting face-to-face with students, listening, welcoming, counseling, worshiping, breaking bread, doing service projects and mission trips, going on retreats, studying the Bible study, and other activities with them.
For those university students, it can be a place for community in God’s name while they are away from their home congregations. For some it is their only church. And for many it can be the one place where they can find the affirmation, hope, and reassurance that they desperately need.
The COVID-19 crisis has impacted all of us and college students have not been exempt from its uncertainties and frustrations. Our synod’s campus ministers have been finding ways to stay connected with their students, in spite of them being dispersed throughout Michigan and beyond.
Pastor Haley Vay Beaman serves University Lutheran Church, East Lansing and does campus ministry – “One Community” – at Michigan State University:
“We have weekly Zoom check-ins, just like we would have our weekly ‘Friday at Five’ meal and fellowship ministry,” she said. “We also have ongoing Bible study and game nights on a weekly basis.
“We are also keeping students connected through video ministry, our ‘youtube’ channel that features student-made videos. At April 26 worship, we are celebrating our graduates with a virtual quilt wrapping”
Pastor Dana Hendershot serves Immanuel Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, along with Craig Torgerson, Director of Faith Formation. One of Torgerson’s tasks is ministry to Central Michigan University students through “Immanuel on Campus”:
“As we have spent most of our time trying to figure out online church [at Immanuel], we’re finally getting into a rhythm,” Hendershot said.
The plan is to use Zoom and other resources to stay connected with students.
“There is no doubt this crisis is affecting our college students deeply and it is important for the church to be there for them. Not only did they get stuck home, unable to return to campus, and moving to online classes, but now for many their summer plans to work have vanished, too. We look forward to the students return and we miss our interns deeply.”
Pastors Rachel Laughlin, along with Megan Floyd, Youth Ministry Director, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Portage; Jennifer Michael, St. Peter Lutheran Church, Battle Creek; Kjersten Sullivan, Trinity Lutheran Church, Battle Creek; and Ken Johnson and Jake Lehman, Trinity Lutheran Church, Kalamazoo serve congregations that make up “Matrix”, a campus ministry directed at Western Michigan University:
“Matrix has been setting up Zoom supper gatherings in place of our normal twice a month gatherings,” Sullivan said. “There were some concerns the students would be ‘zoomed’ out, and what was discovered is they were tired of internet school but the stress is definitely building rather than receding – so Zoom checks are appreciated.”
“We’re also working to arrange summer internships for our students to continue growing in faith and connecting with their ministry sites, even if it’s digitally,” Laughlin said. “Like every other expression of the church, we’re trying to do what we always do – in our case, give students a place to connect, grow, and lead in faith – in brand new ways. We’re learning fast and doing our best – All while all of our leadership is doing the same in our individual congregations.
“Specific ministry site aside,” she continued, “campus ministry has an opportunity to be the church – the community of faith for those in need – for our students in the midst of all of this. We may be the only connection to the community of faith that they have.”
This brings to mind some lyrics from “The Church Song”, written by Lutheran musician Jay Beech:
“The church is not a business, a committee, or a board; It’s not a corporation for the business of the Lord.
The church, it is the people living out their lives, Called, enlightened, sanctified for the work of Jesus Christ.
We are the church, the body of our Lord. We are all his children, we have been restored.”