Missing Links: The transition (or lack-there-of) from Campus Ministry to Congregation

9 May

This post is very timely, in my opinion. It is graduation season and thousands of college graduates across the country are moving onto new and exciting life endeavors. Some of these students may have been involved in campus ministries, some may have not have ever heard of a campus ministry, some may be somewhere in between. We all have diverse faith journeys, we all have different experiences with community and the need for it in our lives, and that is a given fact. I am thinking right now about the students who have explored their faith journeys and found a community, a home, in campus ministries on their college campuses. I know from experience and from witnessing people close to and special to me that finding this home in a campus ministry is a unique and transformative experience for many. At the Ecumenical Campus Ministries at the University of Kansas, students enter a place where people meet them where they are at, that is a space specifically for them, and that is a venue for open minded and honest dialogue about issues affecting their lives and the lives of their peers. Campus Ministers are trained to answer their vocational calling to minister to the lives of these young people. Activities are specifically for people of college age, and (in my opinion) most importantly, faith/spiritual journeys exist on a continuum, and manifest themselves in diverse forms. The activities and approach of campus ministries is something unique – campus ministry is able to both cater to the diversity of spiritual and faith journeys of young people but also specifically focus on issues important to young adults who are at a specific place in their lives. As students previously involved in campus ministry move into the “real world”, they might be seeking a spiritual home, a faith community of which to be a part. I recently read Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation by Carol Howard Meritt and it was incredibly thought provoking. I had already been thinking “what happens to us when we leave college and enter congregations, how does that transition work?” From my experience, how it worked was that I felt like I took a giant leap from college to middle age in a year. I found myself at dinner parties being the youngest by a long shot, saw very few young faces that I wasn’t already friends with, and found myself wishing there were more things for people without kids. At my job where I am fairly new, (as director of religious education at a UU fellowship) I see a thriving congregation and more young people than usual, but I don’t see what we offer that is specifically for them. I don’t see where the young people without kids fit in, where they can find that same open and affirming space they had in campus ministries. In a conversation with lay-leader this morning we discussed (as does Howard-Merritt in her book), how often young people are approached with too much vigor when they enter; they are seen as people with energy capable of doing the leg work of an already set agenda. They are not engaged in dialogue, they do not have affinity with people their own age to discern pressing issues (whether social or personal, etc) that they would like to address. They are not given space, they just need to slide in, and so often, as Howard-Meritt points out, we slip through the cracks we slide into. We must find ways to minister to this generation of young people with diverse values and convictions while simultaneously bringing them and their voices into the fabric of our congregations. But we cannot be afraid to let their voices change us. Campus Ministry is unique in how it is specifically for young people. Congregations must minister to and create opportunities for people from cradle to grave. I don’t think I have been in this world of ministry long enough to offer the answers (maybe someday I will!), but right now I simply want to offer a prayer that the young people leaving college (campus ministry-ers or not) that are looking for a spiritual home find one that embraces them who they are, offers them opportunities to be heard, offers programming that appeals to them, encourages peer groups AND intergenerational opportunities, and find ways to minister to this “missing generation.”

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Teresa Zaffiro is the Director of Religious Education at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship  (UUFT) in Topeka, KS. She is the former development coordinator at the Ecumenical Campus Ministries at the University of Kansas and continues to serve on the “Envision ECM” committee for long-term campus ministry vision and planning as well as has continued involvement in ECM programming and Leadership Team

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One Response to “Missing Links: The transition (or lack-there-of) from Campus Ministry to Congregation”

  1. Lisa May 9, 2012 at 9:33 pm #

    This is all so true and i couldn’t agree more. I am so proud of you.

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