God Without Borders… College Ministry With Them.

God Without Borders. That was the theme of this year’s College Conference @ Montreat. Heard some mighty good stuff there, especially when it came to addressing the notion that we Presbyterians have the market cornered when it comes to “selling” the Divine. God, as it were, doesn’t conform to our guidelines. God doesn’t operate on our schedule… doesn’t come in the neatly wrapped packages to which we often confine the Holy One.

800+ people– mostly college students– came to this Presbyterian conference center nestled in the Appalachians to hear a good Word, and I don’t think they returned home to California, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Texas, Alabama, or the Carolinas disappointed.

Yet, I gotta be honest with ya. I came away from this conference with a funny feeling. Not so much about what we saw and heard at Montreat, but more about college ministry in our denomination. Twice I attended meetings about what’s going on with PC(USA) college ministry. Twice I left discouraged. Twice I came away feeling like college ministry, in so many ways, is bordered. Why? I’m trying to figure that out.

Here’s the thing: college ministry in the Presbyterian Church is such a hodgepodge. You’ve got your chaplains, your interfaith pastors, your congregationally-based ministries, your board-driven groups, and on and on and on. There’s no ONE way to skin a cat. Every context is different… not just because each group has different people, but also because each group adheres to a different model.

Put simply, when it comes to college ministry in the PC(USA), there is no consistency in approach. Add onto that the fact that so many of our ministries are in flux because the pastors/professionals who staff them are so dang busy trying to raise funds that they lose valuable time with their students and/or faculty/staff, and you’ve got yourself a bunch of questions. A bunch.

I’m not even scratching the surface here, either.

I wrote in an earlier blogpost about the issue of branding when it comes to PC(USA) college ministry. Look at our brothers and sisters who work with RUF (the Presbyterian Church in America’s version of collegiate ministry)… they are a known entity. Here at Bama, for instance, when I say I’m a Presbyterian campus minister, students respond, “Oh, so you’re with RUF.” Um, no.

But what I found interesting during one of our meetings was that branding PC(USA) collegiate ministries means nothing if we don’t have an infrastructure in place to support these ministries. Or, in other words, our fair denomination needs to find ways to support better what we do before we even consider branding it all.

And who’s to say that we should brand? How would that work when the way you do things is different for any and everyone… when there’s no sense of uniformity? Granted, uniformity in approach is probably unrealistic. Yet I do wonder if there’s a way to embrace the diversity in approach while also promoting solidarity and support among us college ministers.

Speaking of… what would a conference for Presbyterian (USA) college ministry professionals look like if one were to exist? Should we even have one? Because, according to some, less and less of us are attending these ConEd events when/if they’re offered. And if we were to have one, how would one pull it off when you’ve got so many different models out there (again, no uniformity) and different approaches and this, that, and the other? Not to mention the fact that to attend such a conference means that college ministry pros would have to pay for it… which means they’d probably have to fundraise just to attend. And how could we ask that of them when so many collegiate ministers can only afford to work part-time while other ministries are folding because of a lack of funds?

I don’t know what the future holds for us college ministers and our students. I don’t know if there’s much of one… at least as it pertains to denominational support and guidance. Ironically enough, I came away from College Conference feeling more isolated as a campus minister. Feeling like everything I/we do will be grassroots. Like everything will be an uphill battle. Like everything will be met with skepticism and cynicism and an attitude of “this has never worked before, so why try now?”.

I came away thinking about God without borders… and a Presbyterian collegiate ministry that feels anything but.

God I hope I’m wrong.

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~ by presbytide on January 7, 2010.

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