Reviving Ministry on America’s College Campuses

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The Rev. Daniel Burhop, left, and graduate student Thomas Currey hand out coffee outside of University Lutheran Chapel in Boulder, Colo. (Photo courtesy of University Lutheran Chapel)

by Megan K. Mertz

According to the Pew Research Center, the number of “nones,” Americans who do not identify with any religion, is on the rise, especially among young people.

Despite this, the Rev. Marcus Zill, coordinator of LCMS Campus Ministry, said the future is bright for Lutheran outreach to university students.

“It is vital to not only support campus ministry where it is already taking place, but the challenge is to help congregations care for their own students who are away at college,” he said. It is also important to “reach out to those who are in their midst at a neighboring school.”

In January 2013, LCMS Campus Ministry rolled out LCMS U, an initiative to expand and support ministry on America’s college campuses.

Currently, there are 175 LCMS U chapters around the country, one of which is University Lutheran Chapel (ULC) in Boulder, Colo.

Of Students for Students

The Rev. Daniel Burhop was called to ULC in Boulder, Colo., in 2007 because of the dedication of the LCMS Rocky Mountain District, four vicars and several Lutheran graduate students at the University of Colorado.

Their efforts resulted in a mission society — originally comprised of three area churches — committed to supporting ULC and its full-time pastor.

Since its founding, the mission society has grown, adding an eighth congregation last year.

During spring break, students from University Lutheran Chapel helped with flood-recovery efforts in Estes Park, Colo.

During spring break, students from University Lutheran Chapel helped with flood-recovery efforts in Estes Park, Colo. (Photo courtesy of University Lutheran Chapel)

The churches provide financial support. But their backing of ULC doesn’t end there. They also send members to cook meals and mentor students.

The students, in return, give back to the churches through service.

Unlike many other campus ministries, ULC is not a “town-and-gown” congregation, where a congregation reaches out to students of a nearby college or university.

It is a congregation of students for students.

The students serve on the church council and determine outreach opportunities.

In September 2013 when heavy rains and flooding severely damaged ULC’s roof and building, the student leaders took ownership of the renovation.

“Our students are trying to figure out how to make this building better for the next 20 years,” Burhop said.

“When I joined ULC, it was the first time that the church I went to was ‘mine,’” wrote Kyle Lampe, a 2009 graduate of the University of Colorado, in ULC’s newsletter. “What I mean is that it was no longer my parent’s church or just a church I went to on Sundays. If there were decisions to be made, communion to be ushered, paraments to be changed, windows to be replaced or flowers to be planted, we did it.”

Thomas Currey, a graduate student in the university’s law school, also is grateful for the involvement of the mission society’s congregations.

“Although our congregation is primarily comprised of students, it is also truly a blessing to see how ‘conventional’ area congregations care enough to actually engage us in fellowship,” Currey said. “It is nice to know we are not alone in our desire to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ .”

Thanks to the support of the district and area congregations, ULC is a place where students are equipped to move into leadership positions at other congregations after they graduate.

It Takes a Synod

America’s college campuses can be difficult places for Lutheran students. And the Synod’s campus ministries face great challenges, financial and otherwise.

But Zill said campus ministries also have amazing opportunities to support and shape young people during a time of great personal growth.

As ULC demonstrates, when congregations, districts and dedicated people work together, they can make a difference in the lives of college students — whether those students are Lutheran or non-Lutheran, from down the street or around the world.

“We not only need to maintain and build upon our traditional town-and-gown campus ministries, but also help everyone — parents, pastors, congregations, students — see the part that they all play in campus ministry.” — the Rev. Marcus Zill, coordinator of LCMS Campus Ministry

In addition to helping revitalize current campus ministries, Zill sees a great opportunity for the LCMS to be a “trailblazer” in two new fertile mission fields: urban college communities and community colleges.

During the next few years, he’d like to see the number of LCMS U chapters expand from 175 to 300.

“We not only need to maintain and build upon our traditional town-and-gown campus ministries but we also need to help everyone — parents, pastors, congregations, students — see the part that they all play in campus ministry,” Zill said.

“The opportunity for mission is breathtaking,” he said, “and the Church needs to have a place at the table of ideas in the academic square.”

Megan K. Mertz is staff writer for LCMS Communications.

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