One Name Fits All? The Issue of Naming in PC(USA) Campus Ministry

Hypothetical conversation

Student: Hey, I’m headed to State this fall. Really excited about it, but was wondering if you knew anything about campus ministry there?

Presby Pastor: Well, no, I don’t really know.

Student: Really? Hmmm… do you know where I could look to find out?

Presby Pastor: I reckon I’d start at I’m pretty sure, though, that State’s campus ministry is called… what is it called again… PSF. That’s it.

Student: Oh, well that’s helpf…

Presby Pastor: Or is it Westminster Fellowship? Or Westminster House? Or Celtic Cross?

Student: Huh?

Presby Pastor: Or The Inn? Or PCM? Maybe it’s The House. Or FOCUS. Or Predestiny. Or Calvin’s Collegiates. Or could it be something else with the word “The” in it? Anyway, good luck!

Okay, I’ll be honest. I don’t know of anything out there called Predestiny or Calvin’s Collegiates. Wouldn’t surprise me if it did exist. Everything else, though… accurate.

When it comes to the PC(USA) and its campus ministry, we’re having a bit of an identity crisis. So many different names and acronyms out there for us. Imagine being a rising freshmen or a college student trying to figure out where a PC(USA) campus ministry meets and who it is. How do they know what name to look out for?ruf

Compare that with our sister denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). On the front page of their website,, you see a link for Reformed University Ministries, or as many people know it, RUF. Boom, there it is. Front and center. Click on that link and you’ll proceed to a slick-looking website with a logo and a campus ministry locator and on and on. One name for the entire denomination.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been working the table at Bama Bound, which are the orientations for incoming freshmen here in Tuscaloosa, and people say to me, “Oh, so you’re Presbyterian. Isn’t that affiliated with RUF?” And I think to myself, “Man, must be nice to have that kind of name recognition.”

Listen, I understand the arguments against one name for our denomination’s campus ministries. Some people are really devoted to their name. For others, a denomination’s name might not fit the identity of their campus ministry. That’s cool… I can gel with that. And I think if the PC(USA) ever moves towards branding its campus ministries, it shouldn’t be mandatory for each ministry to adapt whatever name is chosen.

However, I also think that there are huge advantages to bearing a common name. A student from Ohio attending college in California can ask somebody, “Hey, do you know where [insert name here] meets?” Or, in our hypothetical conversation from earlier, the pastor can say to her student that she may not know much about a specific campus ministry, but ask around about [insert name here].

There are so many ways that we Presbyterians can improve the way we do campus ministry, from issues pertaining to website work to continuing education opportunities for campus ministry workers. But what if we bore a common name? What if, from that, we started to work together more intentionally towards a common vision? What if we actually made things a bit easier for our students to track down our ministries?

Hey, it’s just a thought. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a start.


~ by presbytide on October 26, 2009.

6 Responses to “One Name Fits All? The Issue of Naming in PC(USA) Campus Ministry”

  1. Heck yeah James! We need one common name! I’m all for it!

  2. So… Rev. Goodlet…
    I don’t know if you write these looking to create a “forum” for discussion, or…
    if you write them to get your students to think…

    But… apparently you don’t have privacy set to PREVENT me from commenting, so…
    I know… you love it!

    So… I totally can feel it, in fact, I think I may have the most struggling identity crisis in the denomination when it comes to “naming”

    Our organization, the non-profit that I work for, which I go out and try to recruit support for from the local community of churches, is called “United Christian Campus Ministry”
    – this says nothing about us other than that we’re Christian and that we’re United (whatever that means)
    which – makes some sense because we’re ecumenical (Presbyterian, Methodist, and Disciples of Christ)- so… I guess there’s some solidarity – but… try talking to church members about this completely GENERIC NAME, and they don’t understand that I’m representing their denomination – I could be any other non-denominational/para-church organization like Intervarsity or Campus Crusade for all they know, and… oftentimes that’s what they think…

    THEN…as if we weren’t struggling w/ an identity crisis enough, we apparently also suffer from “Multiple-Personality-Disorder” because… the student group is called something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT, and BOTH are a mouthful, and again – tell the people in the church the name, and they’re confused, as are incoming students…

    Yeah… that’s right… we’re the aformentioned “FOCUS” an acronym for “Fellowship Of Christian University Students” – why do we have both – well – apparently to register w/ the school it had to be a student organization that has a separate name from the outside entity…
    Anyway, this name only communicates that we’re Christian, and that we’re a “Fellowship” group (whatever that means)- it’s also completely generic, and sometimes people say – hey – is that kinda like FCA (Fellowship Of Christian Athletes) – and I’m like… Well… it’s kinda like it in that it has 3 of the same words in it, and sorta sounds the same, but… NO, not exactly (NO I don’t ACTUALLY say that outloud!)

    And, just like the Parent Organization – this name doesn’t communicate to students that we ARE the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Disciples ministry – specifically…
    Which is good for some people because some of today’s generation could care less about that anyway (and so I don’t wanna turn those people off) but… for those that DO CARE, that DO HAVE SOME LOYALTY that most of their generation does not hold…I want them to know…

    So, my solution was a logo – a combination of the Trinity Logo – with each of the three denominational logos inside one of the 3 hoops (by Adam Walker Cleaveland – we’re the “Trinity” of Denominations I suppose…

    But man… that’s a whole lotta trouble…

    So… it seems clear to me that for those that are exclusively Presbyterian, it would be a GIFT to have some Name/Brand Recognition – much like RUF for the PCA churches, or the Wesley Foundation for the United Methodists (they’ve got it pretty well down too!!!)
    But… then, the next question is what about the interdenominational ministries?

    Well… clearly we couldn’t call ourselves whatever the Presbyterian Church (USA) decided to “Brand” the entire denominations Campus Ministry…
    Why, because we rely on several denominations, and so it wouldn’t make those other ones happy…

    I went through this whole nonsensical rambling to illustrate a point…
    And the point is beyond just the PCA being intentional to put a uniform name…

    Sure, it’s great that the PCA has made it a priority to publicize campus ministry and make it a huge priority for their denomination – as James mentioned, and others have too:

    But… what it ALL COMES DOWN TO IS MONEY!!!
    The reason WHY the PCA emphasizes RUF SOO MUCH, isn’t just because they believe in it…
    it’s because they put their money where their mouth is…
    Or… maybe they put their mouth where their money already is…

    That is – THEY’VE INVESTED in Campus Ministry – sooooo much more than we have, that… OF COURSE they’re gonna work to emphasize/publicize/uniform-name-ize their campus ministry…

    And if WE – the PCUSA did the same, maybe the question of what to name our interdenominational campus ministry wouldn’t be an issue – Because we wouldn’t have to rely on a group effort to fund our campus ministries – we’d be INVESTING IN THE FUTURE all over this country!

    Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, and I think there’s value in being interdenominatonal, but… I think the root of why we do it this way has very little to do w/ being ecumenical and has everything to do with being practical, as beautiful as it is to have several denominations working together and not being so “tribalistic” – that’s not the true motive for doing so…

  3. Keep in mind that at one time the denomination’s campus ministry entity was called the Presbyerian Student Strategy Team or PSST. YES–it is true. I once went to a PSST meeting and yes it was pronounce “pissed.” Which describes much of my emotion about PC(USA) support of campus ministry back in my day.

  4. Kevin… this blog is definitely an open forum for people to talk about things… especially campus ministry. So your thoughts are welcomed. In fact, I think they’re important ones.

    Really interesting response. I think you’re right about the inter/multidenominational ministries. What would the solution be there? Don’t know, but it’s certainly something to consider.

    I was also struck by this comment: why do we have both – well – apparently to register w/ the school it had to be a student organization that has a separate name from the outside entity…

    What the heck is that about? So, what you’re saying is that if the Methodists were to have a ministry at UNCW, it couldn’t be called Wesley Foundation? What’s the logic behind that?

    I also thought your comments relating to denominational loyalty were interesting. Are today’s students drawn to particular denominations? Are they loyal? Tough to say. There’s definitely some of that, but you also have to counter that argument with the fact that para-church, non-denom campus ministries are thriving. So, what’s the answer there?

    That being said, I think there are some loyal PC(USA)ers out there who have a difficult time knowing where to start. They don’t know who to look for, whereas I hear parents and pre-froshes saying at our orientations, “Do y’all have Wesley? Do y’all have RUF?” We’ve got to make it easier for them to track us down.

  5. I’m not sure about the common naming, although I know it would help in the hypothetical conversation above. I do wish that the PC(USA) were doing more to point students to campus ministries – it could start with something as simple as creating a useful online interface for finding PC(USA)-affiliated ministries. This would help students and parents who may want to seek out these organizations, but would also give pastors, youth ministers, etc a good way to get this information to their graduating seniors or current college students. Wouldn’t it be great if pastors were at least familiar with the campus groups and campus pastors where their kids attend college? And for an interdenominational case such as Kevin’s, the site could point to FOCUS, noting that it is “hybrid” group.

    Of course, a website is only a website, but it would be a start in the right direction. And I know that doesn’t answer the question of naming and the larger issue of how and whether our name reflects who we are or says anything distinctive about what we are seeking to do in campus ministry. But my experience is that the name doesn’t matter nearly so much as being visible and accessible to students, and then following through by actually ministering to and with and among students.

    • I agree with a lot of what you say, Betsy. You’re right… an online interface, easy to use, would be helpful. And I think is making strides in that direction. I also agree with you that being present and visible and accessible are all huge things. Naturally, those include a follow-through on the part of the ministry.

      However, at a big school like Bama, when we had our orientations during the summer and I’d say I was Presbyterian, people might say, “Oh… so you’re RUF.” Or, in the case of the Methodists, they knew they needed to find Wesley Foundation. So, I think we’re just making it more difficult for students to track us down if they don’t know what name to look for… or, put another way, it’s just another step in the way of finding us, which, for an overwhelmed incoming freshman and all the things he/she faces, might seem like yet another thing to do. We have to make things simpler.

      I don’t think this is necessarily the case for every PCUSA campus ministry out there… but I think it sure would help a lot of us and a lot of students who can get lost in the flood of fliers and packets and the like at the beginning of the year.

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