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On campus

New energy bubbling up around ministry with college students, ‘ECG 2012’ told

August 1, 2012

ST. PETE BEACH, Fla.

“I think we’re in a special window right now. There’s a lot of energy around collegiate ministry,” Adrian McMullen, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s associate for collegiate ministries, told about two dozen people attending the Collegiate Ministries Conference here.

The event is part of the 2012 National Evangelism and Church Growth Conferences (ECG 2012), which also includes conferences on church transformation, evangelism, youth ministry and new church development.

A new initiative called “UKIRK” is contributing to the current “energy” around PC(USA) ministry with college students, McMullen said. He and the Rev. James Goodlet, campus pastor at the University of Alabama, introduced UKIRK (meaning University Church) a network of ministries that engage congregations in reaching out to students.

“Absolutely it’s ambitious,” Goodlet said. But that’s the intention, he added, because “it’s time for things to happen in campus ministry in the PC(USA).”

The goal of UKIRK, Goodlet said, is to help congregations fulfill the vows they make to children at their baptisms: to be “a church that reaches, loves and teaches college students so that they may be lifelong followers of Jesus Christ.”

For decades the PC(USA) has seen young people grow up actively engaged in the church and growing in their Christian faith, only to drift away once they go to college.  Meanwhile budgets for campus ministry have shrunk or disappeared, and task forces have tried to find different ways of reaching out to students.

“We’ve had four task forces in the past 20 years re-imagining collegiate ministries,” Goodlet said.

The UKIRK initiative has grown out of the work of the most recent of those task forces, called for by the 219th General Assembly (2010). The Collegiate Ministries Task Force, which reported to this year’s General Assembly, began its work by looking at what was already happening in ministry with college students.

“It seemed like you had pockets of good stuff happening here and there,” said Goodlet, a member of the task force, “but there wasn’t much connection, not much going on in terms of sharing resources and supporting one another.”

In an earlier session of the Collegiate Ministries Conference, participants had voiced the need for more connection. They also illustrated the wide variety of Presbyterians involved in collegiate ministries: from ordained campus pastors and chaplains to volunteers, with ministries supported by congregations, presbyteries and ecumenical groups.

Goodlet pointed to ministries of other denominations, such as the Wesley Foundation (United Methodist), and parachurch organizations, such as InterVarsity, to illustrate the power of having a common vision and recognizable brand.

In contrast, he said, there was no common vision among the various PC(USA) campus ministries. Also lacking were things like training and networking opportunities for campus ministers and an infrastructure for raising awareness and support for collegiate ministries.

UKIRK aims to create those vital missing pieces, Goodlet said. Another goal is to identify 101 university communities with potential for collegiate ministry and start new worshiping communities in those locations — a tie in with the PC(USA) initiative seeking to establish 1,001 new worshiping communities in the next decade.

Network organizers are seeking to identify 25 congregations with strong collegiate ministry programs that can serve as a resource to other churches in their region. Some of these have already been identified, McMullen said. Conversations about partnering with seminaries to offer training in ministry with students are also underway.

The four hallmarks of UKIRK ministries will be “worship, Bible study, service and fellowship,” McMullen said. But each ministry may decide how to carry out those activities in their particular context.

A “Readiness Assessment Tool” is available to help congregations decide whether to commit to ministry with college students. More information is available at www.ukirk.org.

Eva Stimson is editor of “Presbyterians Today” magazine.

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