By Joe Isenhower Jr.
ST. LOUIS – The Synod’s Jan. 3-5 ‘UNWRAPPED’ campus-ministry conference here Jan. 3-5 got high marks from those attending it, and planners said that the final registration count of some 425 participants from more than 90 campuses was beyond their expectations.
The event included at least eight worship opportunities; a major presentation on apologetics by attorney and Lutheran Craig Parton of Santa Barbara, Calif.; a Bible study by LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison on the Synod’s Witness, Mercy, Life Together emphasis; sectional workshops spread over six sessions; exhibits, including a Concordia Publishing House bookstore; fellowship opportunities like the one at a pizza restaurant with interactive games and activities; and the launch of the Synod’s new “LCMS U” approach to campus ministry. (Click here to read a related story, ” ‘LCMS U’ launches to boost campus ministry synodwide.”)
“The conference was a wonderful blessing to all who attended,” the Rev. Bart Day, executive director of the Office of National Mission (ONM) for the Synod, wrote in an email to Reporter. That office sponsored and hosted the conference — the first in more than 10 years for the national Synod.
Day added that its attendance “far surpassed any of our expectations. We were so pleased.”
The Rev. Marcus Zill, the ONM’s coordinator of campus ministry and chairman of the conference planning committee, said that all but 20 percent of those registered were students.
Services of Morning Praise, Prayer for Others and Evening Prayer took place in the Gothic splendor of Saint Louis University’s St. Francis Xavier College Church – with special service music from a volunteer choir and instrumentalists made up of conference registrants. Compline services were held each night at the registrants’ hotel. And devotions in the Busch Student Center — the site of plenary sessions — closed the conference.
The scriptural “theme” verse for UNWRAPPED was 1 Peter 3:15 – “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
As Parton explained in the first of four sessions of his presentation, that is the Scripture verse out of which apologetics comes, as he pointed out that “defense” is “apologia” in the Greek text.
Zill further explained the UNWRAPPED theme and its relevance to the students’ time at the conference in his sermon at the first day’s Morning Prayer service.
“On Christmas, God the Father gave His Son as a gift to the world,” he said. “And His Word unwraps that gift and holds Christ up for the entire world to see. … In our time together here over the next couple of days, may you celebrate that gift of God’s Word that binds us together … that you might be richly blessed in that which you hear, in that which you learn, in that which you sing, and that which you share and confess – that your joy may be complete in Jesus.”
Others delivering sermons at conference worship included Harrison; the Rev. Jay Winters of Tallahassee, Fla.; the Rev. Kent Pierce of Columbia, Mo.; and the Rev. Steven Smith of Mequon, Wis.
Parton is the United States Director of the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism and Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, which “meets for two weeks each summer in Strasbourg to provide advanced studies in apologetics to laymen and pastors,” according to a bio page in the UNWRAPPED program booklet. The author of three books on apologetics, he has spoken on scores of college and university campuses. He also served as host on Lutheran Hour Ministries’ (LHM) award-winning DVD series titled “Bible on Trial: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.”
Parton gave his UNWRAPPED presentation in four parts, titled “Defending the Defense of the Faith,” “Apologetics and the Holy Spirit,” “The Case for Christianity” and “Apologetics for the Tender Minded.”
“Never before has an objective presentation of the evidence for Christianity been more necessary and never before have fewer people been involved in any interest, knowledge, application or production of apologetical material,” he said in his first session.
“If you aren’t involved in the apologetical task on a secular campus today, you aren’t involved in missions,” he said. “Missionary activity today has to recognize the fact that we are inheriting three centuries of secularism.”
“Apologetics is giving people a reason for the hope within and it’s keeping Law and Gospel clear,” Parton added.
He also said that “historic, confessional Lutheranism” offers the best theology for apologetics. “It has solid incarnational theology that is Christocentric at every turn,” he explained.
In his “Apologetics and the Holy Spirit” section, Parton said, “When apologetics is done properly, it has two functions – to eliminate roadblocks [to Christian faith] and it also establishes and generates [positive] evidence for Christian faith.”
“When people are being convinced of the fact of the work of Jesus Christ – His Crucifixion and Resurrection – you’re in the middle of the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit can use that to bring down barriers and establish the affirmative evidence. … It is impossible to come to Christ without the work of the Holy Spirit. You can never take the credit for it.
In the “Case for Christianity” session, Parton detailed how to go about making that case “from the perspective of persuasion and evidence – how it was done in the apostolic days, and opportunities for us to present that evidence today,” he explained.
And in the “Apologetics for the Tender Minded” section, he laid out ways to reach out to that segment of the population.
“Tough-minded [people] are concerned with questions of truth,” he told the audience. “Tender-minded people look for a philosophy that seems to fit – people who are appealed to in ways other than straight, rational evidence.”
As he began his Bible study, Harrison displayed the logo for the Synod’s emphasis of Witness, Mercy, Life Together, with visual treatment of each element reaching toward a cross at the center.
“Notice how all this intersects in the cross,” he pointed out.
Before leading the assembly in the Bible study, Harrison made several other observations about the three emphases.
“If the church does not bear witness to Christ, if preachers are not preaching Christ, if laypeople are not sharing Christ in the context of their vocations, if you’re not bearing witness to Christ as the Savior of the world, then what’s it all for?” he asked.
‘The Church cares’
Concerning mercy, he pointed out that “the Church cares for people in need. It’s part and parcel of the church’s life, as we see in the New Testament. … This applies exactly to campus ministry.”
“And then life together — how do we live together in this church? … It’s a challenge, but it’s also a gift,” Harrison said.
“I know you love the people around you,” Harrison said at the end of his presentation. “You bear witness to Christ. You should know that the Word is living and powerful and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. And it will do its business. And your job is to be one sinner loving another sinner.
“Thank you for everything you do,” he told the students, campus ministers and others, adding, “I’m so excited to see what’s going to happen as [LCMS campus ministry] continues to unfold.”
Sectional workshops addressed aspects of apologetics and campus ministry, with titles like “Is America a Christian Nation?” led by the Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast, president of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.; “Y4Life: Defending Life in Your Church, School, Community and Beyond,” by Laura Davis, who is development counselor and director of Y4Life for Lutherans For Life; and “Can a Christian Survive Secular U?” with the Rev. Daniel Burhop, campus pastor at University Lutheran Chapel, Boulder, Colo.
Most of the sectionals were on the Saint Louis University campus. Two were offsite at locations elsewhere in St. Louis — Christ in the City Lutheran Church/CRAVE coffee house and Concordia Seminary.
Campus pastors and others shared via email their positive impressions of UNWRAPPED.
The Rev. Tom Park is associate pastor of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Moorhead, Minn., who says he “reach[es] out with the Word of God” to students at two campuses there — Concordia College (affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) and Minnesota State University–Moorhead, with plans to add a third campus location in partnership with the LCMS North Dakota District. Two students came along with him to St. Louis.
Park indicated that “UNWRAPPED helped me to realize that I am not alone and [that] there are other brothers and sisters who are also striving to let Christ [be] known on campuses.” He added that the conference “helped my students to see that they, too, are not alone.”
Making Christ known
“I feel that UNWRAPPED was the evidence of our Synod moving into the right direction,” Park wrote. “I am very excited that the leaders of the Synod are recognizing the importance of campus ministry and … are doing something about this important mission field. I hope and pray that … UNWRAPPED would re-ignite the zeal for campus ministry in our Synod.”
The Rev. Kurt Lantz said that “as far as I know there are only two recognized campus chaplains in Lutheran Church–Canada” (LCC). As one of those, he is an associate chaplain at Brock University and pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church in St. Catharines, Ontario. Working mainly with Lutheran Student Fellowship, he provides weekly Bible study and Vespers for students. In addition, Resurrection — located next to the university, “is open for students to join in our congregational life or drop in for private spiritual reflection and counsel,” he wrote, adding that many of them are international students.
“As somewhat of a lone gunman in campus ministry in [the] LCC East District, I went to UNWRAPPED to learn what other campus ministries are doing and how I might encourage LCC to become more intentional in campus ministry,” he indicated.
“UNWRAPPED revealed to me the potential of our Lutheran college and university students to be powerful Christian leaders in their homes, churches and communities,” Lantz told Reporter, “and, therefore, why our church body should make campus ministry an intentional component of its mission.”
A senior at Indiana University–Bloomington, Ind., Andrew Rusch is from Kokomo, Ind., where Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer is his home congregation.
Rusch was among the corps of 14 support workers at UNWRAPPED who are members of Beta Sigma Psi, the national Lutheran fraternity which he says “stands unique among college fraternities in its dedication to supporting the Lutheran community and true Christian faith.” He added that “each chapter has [at least]one … Lutheran pastors that serves as a pastoral adviser for the organization and that [chapters] always seek to have close ties with Lutheran ministries on their campus.”
“The spiritual discussions were enlightening,” Rusch said of UNWRAPPED. “I would most definitely attend another LCMS campus-ministry conference.” He also said that he was “immensely impressed” with worship, finding liturgy and sermons “superb” and “can still vividly remember” singing hymns “with 400 other college students.
“I am very excited about the new direction the Synod is going in support of campus ministry,” Rusch told Reporter. “I was very pleased with how the [conference] turned out and was glad to be a part of it.”
Rusch also said he “look[s] forward to seeing LCMS U spread to many college campuses, so that every student has the opportunity to stay connected or become acquainted with the Lutheran faith. I hope congregations realize the tremendous ministry opportunities that exist on our campuses and work together to maintain and expand this aspect of … LCMS ministry.”
Lauren Hammond is an alumnus of the University of Missouri–Columbia, who works as a government contractor in Washington, D.C., managing the digital portfolio and supporting congressional and partner outreach for INTERPOL Washington, the U.S. National Central Bureau to the International Criminal Police Organization. She is a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Va.
“Through my line of work and in my personal life, I am in contact with many nonbelievers who seek truth and answers,” she said. “I attended the UINWRAPPED conference to become better equipped and to defend Christ and Christianity to them, to deepen my own personal defense of what I have always known to be true and to share with those whom I encounter.”
She was at UNWRAPPED with three other members of her family — all of whom she said are “studying apologetics because we believe there is a great need to be able to understand objective truths and evidence for our faith in Christ and be able to explain it to others.”
Hammond wrote, “Craig Parton was fantastic. It was great to hear why and how to defend Christ, Christianity and Lutheran from a legal perspective. His candor captured the attention of college students,” she added, “and he very clearly articulated why Christ is the answer and how we can defend that truth to others.”
“We also enjoyed worshiping together and prayer,” she wrote. “The services were beautiful.” Hammond indicated that she also “very much enjoyed” the Rev. Joshua Gale’s sectional on urban ministry in Philadelphia. Gale is mission developer for Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries (PLM).
At the end of the conference, Gale called to the stage Jason Mercado, who was formerly homeless and will soon occupy one of PLM’s residences. He participates in PLM as part of its