It’s that time of year in campus ministry world when we’re enjoying Orientation. What that means at Winthrop is that we as all of the campus ministries (WCCM – Winthrop Cooperative Campus Ministries) come together and greet people at one table and provide brochures and info about all the groups. We also let students know about the campus ministry open house and worship service for freshmen that we do right after they move in. Good times. A great way for people to get connected and meet other people of faith.
What is always amusing to me is the interactions with the students. As soon as they read the sign on the placard behind me that says “Campus Ministries” some quickly look away and move quickly to the Greek Life table or the Study Abroad table or the DSU (Campus Entertainment/Activities/Awesomeness) table. As parents read the sign though it’s funny to watch them often nudge their child and say, “Look campus ministries. We should go over there.” And the students that then pull them in another direction or say Mo-om or Da-ad, in that lovely two syllable exasperated way many of us Southerners have. I can tell you that 9 times out of 10, that when a parent walks up to our table and signs their student up and the student is no where to be found or the student is standing impatiently behind the parent or grandparent hoping that they’ll just sign them up and be done with it – we’ll never see that student. Sometimes it happens. Rarely. But that’s the thing about college – it’s on the student/young adult/person making their way on their own.
Two things happened today that were thought-provoking for me. The first was a lady who stopped and got a card. Her child wasn’t with her but she said that she wanted her to be involved with campus ministry. She said that her daughter had never been involved in church and hadn’t ever really been inside one except for funerals and she really wished she would get involved. She then said that the girl was dating a nice Christian boy that goes to church and she was hoping that maybe she would start going.
The other was a guy who walked up to the table and I smiled at home and he’s reaching his hand out to shake mine and I’m about to give him a WCCM card that has our website info with all of the campus ministries listed, and he reads the placard above my head that says “Campus Ministries” and then quickly jerks his hand back and says that’s okay. I don’t need one of those cards. Ouch, dude.
It’s just really funny dynamics. Some are super excited to hear about campus ministry on campus and this new church experience. Some of our strongest leaders at Wesley are people I met at Orientation or at the beginning of the year Open House. But I do wonder about all of the ones that cringe and walk away.
I ate lunch in the student center yesterday with the Dean of Students who is also our Board Chairperson. She stopped to talk to some of the Orientation Assistants and I joined her. At the end of the conversation she introduced me as the United Methodist Campus Minister. As we were walking away afterwards, she asked if I had noticed how they blinked and paused. She’s a campus minister? Who knows what they were thinking? I had seen a few of them before but didn’t know any of them.
There’s so much rich ground to cover here – what is the perception of the Church today? What do these young adults think of when they hear campus ministry? I have the feeling that some of them think I’m going to make them walk over to the West Center and jump in the pool so I can baptize them right there. The mixed bag of looks from relief and joy and hope at finding a community to apprehension, mistrust and all sorts of things. It’s interesting.
I’m curious whether more or less students would stop at religious affiliated tables in different parts of the country. It’s always fun to see which denominational affiliation stops by or the increase in how many people check non-denominational.
My primary question today though, in the midst of the news covering Koran burnings, church trials, and the like – what does this new class think of when they hear the word “Christian”? What do they think of in the importance of finding a community of faith while in college? Are they going to stay connected to their churches back home and just take a break for awhile? What does it mean to be Church? What are the differences and similarities in how we would define that?