Tag Archives: PCUSA

on campus ministry

Today is April Fool’s Day, and there are some great things happening on the web, as usual. The best I’ve seen so far is today’s Brian Lehrer Show from WNYC on GM’s New Plan (hopefully audio is coming later).

Presbyterian Bloggers Unite - Campus Ministry

Today is also the first event for Presbyterian Bloggers Unite – on campus ministry. It’s honestly hard for me to write on this right now, as the PCUSA’s support for campus ministry is changing very quickly because of staff cutbacks that merged the campus ministry office with the youth ministry office and cut the staff who had been working in campus ministry. I’ve worked with both offices over the years, and I’m trying to be hopeful about the merger even though I have some concerns.

That said, I’m not going to dwell on the uncertainties of the future here. For me, campus ministry was a time of full engagement with the life of the church. In high school, I was very active in youth ministry programs, but toward the end of those days things changed in my home church and I felt left out. However, when I went to college, I resolved from the beginning that I would try to get involved differently, so I set out for church that first Sunday morning even before classes started. I was alone in the bathroom that morning, even in the Deep South, but I quickly found a home in that wonderful congregation.

Soon I discovered that there was more going on for college students and got involved in the Westminster Fellowship sponsored out of the church. We were never a large group, but something special was happening in our midst that could not be measured by numbers. Through time spent together, Bible study, and special trips, we got to know one another and provided a place for people to gather who were looking for someplace to call home in the midst of a campus filled with Greek letter societies, other religious organizations, and affinity groups that in some way were more about exclusion than inclusion.

During my sophomore year, I was brought on board as a campus peer minister, paid a small stipend simply to maintain the email list, make announcements, help organize events, and show up when we met. My junior year, we welcomed an associate pastor to the church who was responsible in part for campus ministry, and she helped us grow in faith even more. We even organized the first statewide gathering of Presbyterian campus ministries in Mississippi.

I also got involved in campus ministry nationally with the Presbyterian Student Strategy Team, where we organized national gatherings of Presbyterian college students for the first time in a number of years. The numbers were often small, but the things happening across the denomination, in ecumenical ministries and in congregations, always surprised and encouraged me. I also traveled to several regional events across the country to represent the team and engage with other college students about their experiences in the church.

I could write much, much more about my days in campus ministry, but I’m amazed these days by how the connections I made in those four years continue to sustain me in my ministry today. Imagine my surprise three years ago when I walked into my room at an event for new pastors and discovered that my roommate was an old friend who had served with me on PSST! I count others from conferences and events during my college years among my best friends even today.

I believe that the college years were a formative time for my ministry, and I can’t imagine engaging that sense of call without campus ministry. I pray that all of us across the PCUSA will work to meet college students where they are and make a place for them to be welcome in the church during these formative years, not so much out of fear of losing them but because we know that they have gifts to share and need a place where they can feel at home.

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technology and the PCUSA General Assembly

Like many Presbyterians, I won’t ever forget my first General Assembly. The year was 1998. I had just finished my freshman year of college, and somehow I managed to be invited to attend GA as a volunteer with the Office of Communications. I flew to Charlotte a few days before the assembly began, checked into my hotel, and ventured over to the convention center, where I met people in person I had only spoken with online.

I was immediately put to work on the project of the day: helping to set up an Internet “cafe” for those attending the assembly. Although much of the convention center was brand new, we didn’t have a high speed connection (probably because of a high cost to set it up). We set up a local network of ten or so computers, then connected it to a couple special boxes that shared four dialup connections across the network. Even the newsroom and the web editing stations were set up in this way! Most news was posted first on PresbyNet before it made the PCUSA web site. Mountains of paper information never made it on the web, at least not during the assembly.

Flash forward to 2008. I’m on vacation, not at the assembly, but that didn’t matter. From a quiet village on the coast of Maine, I was able to watch live streaming video of the plenary sessions, read along with the committee reports, and chat live with other Presbyterians from around the country. I might as well have been there, if all that mattered was the business done! The chat room Presbyterians even started proposing a new group of “Web Advisory Delegates” to be polled before each vote! Bloggers from among the commissioners, advisory delegates, and observers took time to post often, and some old stalwart publications even brought in people to blog the assembly.

The technology behind GA this year, at least from a distance, was the best I’ve seen it. Everything just worked, almost well enough for me to wonder if we need to spend the time and money to get 1,000 people together to have these kinds of conversations that we could have at home.

But having been there before myself reminds me that there’s something about General Assembly that can’t be recreated on a computer screen. The people we encounter in person show us the breadth of the church that goes far beyond one congregation, and the worship services point us toward a new song of praise that seems beyond belief. Amidst all my memories of five assemblies, the one I can’t put out of my mind was opening worship in Charlotte – 13,000 Presbyterians gathered around the Word and the Table to worship.

The GA Junkie made an interesting point in his reflections on the assembly today:

We polity wonks and GA Junkies have an insight into how God, through the Holy Spirit, works in our covenant communities through these governing body meetings and our connectionalism. We need to recognize that the roughly 2000 people here at the General Assembly represent about 0.1% of the PC(USA).

Will technology help the church to understand this work of the Holy Spirit better? Only time will tell.

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