I’m Leaving the Campus

16 Apr

In one month’s time, I will no longer be a campus minister.  I am taking up the call to serve as an interim minister of a local congregation.  While I am very exciting about the church to which I am going, I am really sad about leaving the campus, our amazing students, and the incredible ways in which God lives and moves and comes alive in such pure and genuine ways.

It has been a twenty-four year ride. I remember sitting in the cafeteria at Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and telling someone that I wanted to be a campus minister, then wondering however that would be possible given how rare the opportunity was. I’ve served at four different universities, and to tell you the truth, I am amazing that I’ve been able to do this as long as I have.

It helps to have married an academic. That often put me in the right place at the right time.  It isn’t easy being a campus minister: one foot in the world of the church, the other in the world of academia, always navigating two complex systems, often alone to rebuild something yet again, always initiating and reaching out to ever-changing students and always-busy board members, community turning over all the time, always interpreting the ministry to build a stronger base, always raising more money. And the, it is exhilarating to be a campus ministry: being with young adults as they think critically about themselves, their gifts, God and God’s world, witnessing their minds opening up, traveling with them to far places to experience another facet of Christian life, opening up doors to financial aid, to other adults who can lend a hand, listening to young adults grow in their authority and speaking out, sending them off as they pursue big dreams.

One of my peer ministers wondered aloud yesterday how it will go from me in the local church: on campus, students come to campus ministry because they are simply and genuinely hungry for a Christian community; in the local church, many people come for many different reasons.

I’ve moderated session of a neighboring church for two years now, and it has given me that glimpse into the local congregation, of its life together, its struggle to be financially solvent, this one’s nursery school yanking it in a different direction, illness and death an ever present factor among the people every month. Every once in a while I could get a word in about campus ministry, and they gladly brought dinners over each semester to share a meal with students or help us to hand out hotdogs at the beginning of the semester. They were happy to be among us, invigorated really.

I will never leave campus ministry. I think my job of advocating for it is about to get a lot harder.  There will be other competing agendas, other worthy ministries, the bigger picture to hold out. While I am eager to move into a multi-generational community, I wonder: How will I get across the urgency that the Church needs to embrace and welcome students and emerging adults, those who are missing from our life together? Vitality for church growth is found when we commit to the mission of engaging the very population that is vital: students embracing a Christian life of faith, service and compassion. Their curiosity, passion, and inquiry is such an inspiration and a tremendous gift to us all.

I’ve decided to start by taking a deacon with me to visit our college students on the nearby campuses where they study. And one of my graduating university students is also a member of my new church, so I will ask him to join me where I always start: over a delicious dinner, trusting that Jesus will do as he always does, show up at a guest, make himself known in the breaking of bread, and lead us forward.

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Barbara serves as the campus minister for Rutgers Protestant Campus Ministries in New Brunswick, NJ. She has served the Protestant Cooperative Ministry at Cornell, as Interfaith Coordinator at Occidental College, and assisted the Westminster Foundation at Princeton University. She received her Bachelor of Arts with Honors in German from University of Wisconsin-Madison, writing a honors thesis on peace activities in East Germany and the role of the Lutheran Church.  When she isn’t working at Rutgers, she rows with the Carnegie Lake Association or is found painting in oils with her teacher, Gregory Perkel and a beloved community of students..

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2 Responses to “I’m Leaving the Campus”

  1. Bob Turner April 16, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    Heck, (and darn!)
    You will be missed by those who have worked with you over the last 2 1/2 decades.
    your thoughtful ponderings and awaited hesitancies at meetings, meetings and more meetings over the ages;
    your persistent grasp of realities in the midst of others wanderings;
    your faith, hope and glimpse of renewal when all about you and yours came crashing down on 9/11.
    In your answer to your call to collegiate ministry you certainly kept the faith, did the job and gave help to me and many.
    Thanks.
    Bob Turner

  2. Barbara Heck April 22, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    Thank you, dear Bob. If I was any good in the field, it was because I learned from the likes of you and Clyde. I count myself amazingly blessed to learn what I did from my early years with Presbyterian Ministers in Higher Education and our meetings of NCMA. THANK YOU!!

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