“My entire worldview has been shaped and transformed by my involvement at the parish near campus.”
A junior in college wrote this sentence about the life and work he’s found hanging around the upstairs choir room in the church he attends two blocks from his university campus.
Last year, he was confirmed there when he was a sophomore. He had stumbled in as a freshman, looking for somewhere to belong as he navigated a new city and state. Next year, he’ll launch himself into the world; what will he take with him from the four short years he spent at a church he entered in his twenties?
Do you remember where you went to church as you moved from being a teen to an adult? Where was your worldview shaped when you were in your early twenties? What communities were transforming you?
Another student from the same campus reflected, “I’ve joined a business fraternity. They’re nice guys and it’ll be great for networking, but there’s something missing from their lives.” (His not-so-subtle campus minister may have prompted: “You mean, they’re hedonists?”)
In this world which moves at the speed of a keystroke, when are college students encouraged to pause and reflect on the experiences, communities, and habits that make up their lives? Wisdom is built not from experience itself, not from gathering up myriad experiences to fill up the lines of one’s resume, but from reflection upon those experiences. To “waste time” stopping to think before diving into the next activity is actually the wisest investment: How can we learn from mistakes unless we understand what went wrong? How can we benefit from success unless we discern the recipe used?
Where are college students taught to stop and think?
College students experience a crucible during their education. A recent issue of The Living Church explored the external stresses which students often face in an article entitled “Campus Ministers Handle Crises.” The article also witnessed to the challenges of ministry in such a demanding context. The high cost of education motivates students to prioritize academics while allowing pursuits with a less tangible payout to fall off the radar.
As evidenced by the quotations above, availability does not equal curiosity. Students are hungry for truth, for hope, and for life. They’re not sated by the promise of big paychecks or easy careers. Students are seeking wisdom; they’re seeking vocation more than just a job.
Campus ministries are poised to guide students toward a lifestyle of wisdom-seeking. Those ministries — many referred to in the article — which are paired with parishes are especially equipped to join students on their journey of vocational discernment, filled with wise parishioners who have made the mistakes and enjoyed the successes of a life lived while seeking God’s call at every crossroads.
One method employed by a church I know well was to establish a scholarship program, constructed to invite students into the midst of parish life, intentionally engage their rigor and curiosity, and to elicit challenges from these students — keeping the community just as accountable as the students who received stipends.
The Vernon Scholars Program was made possible at Trinity Cathedral by a generous bequest of a deceased parishioner who found his vocation in walking alongside high school students during mission trips, weekly social events, and worship services. In addition to requiring regular worship attendance, Scholars are asked to complete a project to further their vocational discernment, and to be in monthly conversation with a group of parishioners convened as mentors for the Scholar’s tenure.
Aside from providing a few University of South Carolina college students with an opportunity for income, the program has offered students and parishioners alike a different perspective on the purpose of college, and indeed, of Christian life.
Mentors have conceived of their wage-earning work in a new way, as a tool to enable their even more deeply held vocations; observing parishioners have been energized by the optimism of younger generations; programming influenced by these young adults has enjoyed new levels of excellence through their diligent devotion. In short, the parish’s life has been transformed by the involvement of students from the nearby campus.
As a pastor to many young parents in my parish, who often apologize for their children’s demands, noise, and seemingly inappropriate vivacity, I always remind them — often holding the “offending” babe in my arms as I do so — of the unique ministry which little children provide. College students, likewise, in their crucible of identity, vocation, and life meaning, offer a unique ministry to parishes fortunate enough to be nearby.
The images were supplied by the author.