Pushing for More

29 Mar

I spend much of my time on campus, talking with administrators, going to meetings with student affairs, GLBTA programs, admissions, etc.  I have rarely talked with my donors about this work except for a short sidebar to explain some of the other things I’m doing.  I talk to them about my students, my leaders, and my programming activities that encompass the life of the community.  I believe all of these things are extremely important.  My donors write out checks when they hear about these students.

But I’m not sure that’s all my job is.  In fact, I think I’m getting more and more nervous about framing financial appeals around this community of students without talking about my work on campus.  If I tumble down this rabbit hole and later have to introduce this topic, donors will probably struggle to find equal appeal in these other activities .  And if I simply abide by the donors and the denominations, focusing squarely on students and dropping the ball on the university at large, I believe we are not doing our job as defined by our position as “campus” minister.

I hope that we as campus ministers might go deeper.  I hope that we might take part in the dialogues that happen on campus. 40-50 years ago, campus ministers were embedded on campus, were right there in the conversations with administration and presidents on the issues of the higher education institution.  But we’ve retracted from that, not just through redefinitions of the field by our higher structures,  but also because within our organizational groups we mostly talk about this ministry as a student ministry and don’t bring in higher education professionals who can bring the dialogue of the institution  We have taken the idea that we are not officially part of the campus and turned it into the message that the campus is not officially a part of our ministry.

But we can turn this around.   I think the first place that we can look is to our chaplain colleagues.  Their very job descriptions are illustrative of where I believe this field is headed, where chaplaincy and campus ministry blend and our goals unite.  This unification is not just our call to work with administrators and provide a better university environment but also with our interfaith work.

I believe we should be talking with our higher education professionals and working to attend the NASPA conferences.  I also would encourage all of us to read the Journal of College & Character and the Chronicle of Higher Education.  What else should we do? Tell us what you are doing to define the field of college chaplaincy and campus ministry further.  I believe we have to push ourselves for more and I hope that as we move forward, our funding appeals might come to be more than just about the number of students we have in our communities, but about our influence in positive ways throughout the whole of campus.

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Cody Nielsen is the United Methodist Campus Minister at the University of Minnesota and president-elect of the National Campus Ministry Association.  Over the past six years, Cody has worked to understand the the field of higher education ministry including its origins and trajectory toward the future.  He is passionate about an age of reconstruction of the field, and hopes to help launch and relaunch campus ministries across the country over the next several years.  In his spare time Cody likes to read and is trying to take up running, which his wife Erin has encouraged him to try. He also enjoys biking and gardening.

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One Response to “Pushing for More”

  1. Thad Holcombe March 29, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    Cody, I think you are “right on”…there are different models of campus or ministry with higher education and strengths in each, but my preference is similar to what you are doing. I have found and suggested to those new to the ministry with higher education, to pick 10 – 15 faculty/administrators on campus. Many of them could be identified with denomination(s) that support the ministry and it is always good to identify those faculty who are known as respected by students. While using a similar set of questions, visit these folk in their office. My experience is that I learn much of what they perceive are the major issues for faculty, students and administration. Also, you may have to excuse yourself after an hour because they may want to talk more since they seldom seem to have an opportunity to share their deep convictions/passion about their career as a vocation. By keeping a journal of the conversations, you can begin to discern a pattern and share with board and others.It is also a way to make priorities of time/effort in the ministry when addressing the university culture.

    Keep it up, along with your busy schedule of NCMA “blogging” management!

    Grace and Peace, Thad Holcombe, Ecumenical Campus Ministries, University of Kansas

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