What is This?

3 Jul

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome back to the NCMA blog.  It’s our first day back and with the holiday tomorrow, it will be a big celebration.  We’re moving to a 3x a week format (tuesday-thursday) for the remainder of the summer and we’ll poll you requesting your input in the coming weeks.  We want to make sure you don’t get overwhelmed with the blog but still want to provide you with inspiration and information on the field of higher education ministry.  You should be looking forward to hearing from more chaplains, more diverse voices of our campus ministers, and now a total of 30 different voices in the field.  As always, if you are interested in becoming a regular blogger or if you have a special blog you would like to post, please contact j.cody.nielsen@gmail.com and he will get you a date.

And now….for something completely different…..


A recurring conversation with my board at the moment involves understanding what our ministry actually is now that we have lost all of our office space. Yes, Agape House at UIC went completely physical space-less this past semester, and we look much more like a para-church ministry than we did before (that’s not necessarily a bad thing). The main concern with board members now is: How can we explain to churches and other individuals what Agape House is without being too vague?

Personally, I get super excited just by the words, family without walls, ministry of presence, it’s all about relationships! Whoever the Agape community has relationships with is Agape! Perhaps some of you will not be surprised that my board didn’t quite latch on to that feeling the same way I did. So we are still groping for a way to communicate what Agape is to potential funders. One of my board members actually dropped an idea into the mix that I was hesitant to follow, but I find myself coming back to it quite often…the campus ministry as a mission, and the campus minister as a missionary.  At first I wondered if the focus would be too much on the campus minister, and would take energy away from leadership building among the few students that are willing to come around. Why would a ministry without walls need an individual on which to focus in order to attract investment?

A little while after my conversation with my board member, the Rev. Mark Shaefer went an wrote a wonderful article about this very notion:
Missions Needs a Missionary
John 20:19-31

That article got me thinking yet again about a campus minister more as a mission co-worker (what Presbyterians call our missionaries). He makes a number of great points that I won’t rehash here because you should surely read it for yourself.

What might it look like if our denomination took up the mantle of communicating to congregations that our campus ministers are mission co-workers (who, in the PC(USA) have to individually fundraise around 50% of their income)? If we all took up this image for campus ministry could we succeed at changing the assumption within congregations that campus ministries are fully funded by denominational structures? Perhaps congregations and individuals would finally be willing to step into the funding void?

Then it might be easier to fit a recent experience of mine into the vision of campus ministry as mission. A student asked me to be a reference for her application to Americorps and a placement within an Episcopalian Church in New York City. I was surprised because she had never come to worship or Bible study, and I had never had a conversation with her that was pastoral. In fact, most of our interaction was indirect as she participated in one sexuality and spirituality discussion, came ice skating with us twice, and heard me whenever I hung out at the Gender and Sexuality Center. I agreed to meet her for coffee to finally have that conversation. It turns out, she came to UIC with distrust for Christianity based on general history and her personally being burned by the way some Christians have treated certain sexual orientations. After being around me those few times,she actually came to understand me as her pastor!All it took was a welcoming presence, an example of the way Christianity could look, and she began to reconsider her relationship with religion and with God. Now, she is hoping to work for justice within the context of a faith community. My heart melted.

Still, it is not so easy to quantify how many others may have been transformed in such a way by the Agape House community. It is not so simple to wrap up all these miracles known and unknown into an annual report.  It wasn’t numbers at worship or at Bible study or anyone who would consider themselves a member of Agape House. I am thinking more and more that campus ministry as mission may be the way to get there.


Rev. Kurt Esslinger is Director and Campus Minister of Agape House Christian Ministry on the campus of the University of Illinois in Chicago. He is an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., and Agape House was his first call in the fall of 2009. Agape is an ecumenical campus ministry that began in the 60′s when UIC resided at Navy Pier in Chicago. He received his M. Div. at McCormick Theological Seminary and his BA in Classics at Austin College in Sherman, TX. During seminary, he spent one year studying at Hanshin Univeristy in Seoul, Korea. Before seminary, he spent one year as a PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer in Burnley, England.



3 Responses to “What is This?”

  1. Mark Forrester July 3, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    A provocative metaphor that, after prayerful consideration, evokes the core theological rationale for why, and how, we engage the world of higher education!

  2. ecm10kstate July 4, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

    Thanks, Kurt. Well done!

  3. ecm10kstate July 4, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

    Thanks, Kurt. Well stated!–D. Jones

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