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School's in session: Conference Table studies campus ministry

School's in session: Conference Table studies campus ministry

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

School's in session: Conference Table studies campus ministry

March 24, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0462}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

OVIEDO — The race to claim and reclaim college students for the Christian faith across the many colleges and universities throughout the Florida Conference is a challenge the conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry takes very seriously.

OVIEDO — Dr. Steve G.W. Moore, scholar-in-residence at A Foundation for Theological Education and a campus ministry consultant, left, talks with the Rev. Vance Rains of the Wesley Foundation at Florida State University during the 13th Conference Table on campus ministry Feb. 25 at University Carillon United Methodist Church. Moore, a former vice-president of Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, was a keynote speaker at the event. He said the conference needs to find ways to embrace younger generations. Photo by J.A. Buchholz, Photo #06-0326.

Board members, campus ministers, college students, pastors and parents came together Feb. 25 at University Carillon United Methodist Church in Oviedo for the 13th Conference Table on campus ministry.

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker set the stage for the day's discussion by opening the meeting with a reflection about running a relay race in his youth. He said he fell right before he was able to hand the baton to the next runner and still bears the scar from his fall and failure to complete his task.

"This was the best sport I could have participated in to prepare me for ministry in the church," Whitaker said. "After all, the Christian life is a race, and more than that, it's a relay race. It's a race in which we hand the baton to another. In the Christian race what is handed on is the tradition of Christian faith."

Passing on the faith is personal, communal and generational, Whitaker said, adding shaping the next generation is a command given to God's people.

"The handing of the baton from generation to generation is part of God's providential governance of the word," he said. "It's the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us."

If United Methodists today are prepared to pass on their faith, Whitaker said we must first ask ourselves if the institutions created in the past are in the right form to reach the present generation.

"We also need to look at ourselves critically as a church," he said. "Are we really committed to a mission of the church on a campus or are local congregations involved and supportive of the campus ministries in their communities?"

Whitaker said the conference may miss passing on the baton if it isn't prepared to answer those questions. "Let's not fall and fail to hand on the baton to the next generation," he said.

Dr. Steve G.W. Moore, scholar-in-residence with A Foundation for Theological Education and a campus ministry consultant, believes the conference is in an excellent position to reach the current generation and those to come.

Throughout his travels to many college and university campuses, Moore said the hunger for spirituality is "rampant." "Spirituality as a designer religion - put it together the way that you want," he said. "I'm not talking about being Christian."

Citing various national collegiate studies Moore said 75 percent of incoming freshmen reported their top priority is to find meaning and purpose in their lives; 80 percent said God is one subject they hope to explore; two-thirds want to learn more about praying, worshipping and the regular studying of religious texts; and 91 percent of women and 84 percent of men wanted to learn more about forgiveness.

While surveying annual conferences in preparation for a campus ministry summit at Duke University Moore said he found that of 15 annual conferences throughout five jurisdictions, nine have reduced funding for campus ministry, five are providing the same level, two reported slight increases of less than 2 percent and all apologized and expressed remorse at not being able to do more.

"What we have in the church is not a failure of good intentions. Everyone is kind and well intended," Moore said. "What we have is a failure of nerve. Everyone wants something good to happen on campus. We have a failure of imagination and dreams and courage and vision and action."

Part of that vision and action may be tied directly to how the church defines campus ministry. Moore said campus ministry is not youth ministry and there is a fundamental difference between the two. "Campus ministry is truly the church at the frontline of the culture," he said. "It's an investment in our future."

CrossRoad United Methodist Church in Jacksonville is less than 1.5 miles from that frontline and it's called the University of North Florida.

The Rev. George Sprague, senior pastor at the church, said the passion of a church to reach out to college students is the most important factor in ministering to a college community, not proximity to a campus. He emphasized that churches have to take the initiative and be willing to see college students as potential church leaders and a vital part of the church's future as current church members age.

The Rev. Dennis Heiberg has seen his church at both ends of the spectrum. The senior pastor at Grace at Fort Clarke United Methodist Church in Gainesville said 12 years ago the church had no college students. Gradually, as the church has reached out to students at the University of Florida, that number has grown to between 200 and 350 students visiting the church during a single weekend.

Heiberg encouraged churches near college campuses to pair students with professionals in their major, either retired or active, and adopt students who are far from home.

"There is a window of opportunity that pretty soon is not going to be there," he said. "You need to be proactive. Eternity is at stake. If God has planted you in a university community, there is a reason you are there. For God's sake, for the Kingdom's sake, take it seriously. We can't fail in passing the baton. The stakes are too high."

OVIEDO — (Left to right) Julie McCoy, Jamie Harrison, Nicky Brown and University of North Florida campus minister Derrick Scott talk during the lunch break at the 13th Conference Table on campus ministry. All are active in Access218, a thriving ministry of 18-year-olds to twentysomethings connected to CrossRoad United Methodist Church in Jacksonville. Harrison said being a part of Acess218 has increased her faith. “I’m a new Christian, and my faith has become stronger,” she said. Photo by J.A. Buchholz, Photo #06-0327.

During the lunch break Derrick Scott, a 25-year-old campus minister at the University of North Florida, said his generation will not be left behind because the majority of college students are eager to get connected.

Scott said Access218, a ministry of CrossRoad United Methodist Church that takes it names from Ephesians 2:18, is thriving because college students have been plugged into the church in a variety of ways. About 100 students participate in the ministry's Tuesday night program, and at least 25 attend its Wednesday meeting and other weekly events, according to Scott.
"If you ignore the college community and the need to minister to it, I believe we sign the death certificate for the church," he said.
After the session resumed Bill Sak, a father of two University of Florida students, said it makes him feel good to know his children are surrounded by the United Methodist faith community and are so warmly welcomed. "Everybody needs to work together as a community," he said.

During his closing remarks Moore said making faith-based decisions while attending college is equally as important as obtaining a degree. He said statistics from the Barna Research Group show three potentially life-changing decisions will be made during the college years: choosing a vocation, life partner and faith orientation.

"Will my faith go by the wayside? Will it be recreation, a part-time amusement, or seep into the very DNA of who I am?" he said. "Will I have faith? Will the church be present at the frontline?"

Cory Cotter said he was saved at the frontline five years ago. Now a freshman at Asbury Theological Seminary in Orlando, he was a non-believer in God until he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior while on campus. He was 18.

Cotter addressed the group during an open-microphone, roundtable discussion. "I'm a new man, and I'm exactly the target that we're talking about here," he said. "I've benefited a lot from campus ministry, and I wouldn't be who I am today without it."

Josh Bell, also an Asbury Theological Seminary student in Orlando and an active participant in its Wesley Foundation, said the potential for campus ministry is unlimited. He said he experienced his call to ministry on campus.

"I know what can happen on campus. I have seen what has happened on campus when we are present," he said after the meeting. "I think the conference really cares about campus ministry."


This article relates to Conference Table/Campus Ministry.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.