In the spirit of academia, the new EPA Conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry had a lot of questions and got a lot of answers when it convened its inaugural meeting July 9. And while the excitement of learning has just begun, the excitement of doing campus ministry seems sure to follow. The board–organized for the first time, reportedly, in over a decade –looked back at the conference’s past involvement in this ministry arena. It then assessed the current status and challenges, and looked forward to new possibilities and potential partnerships with higher learning institutions, as well as districts and churches.
There to help the board in its assessment were representatives from three campus ministries, who shared candidly about what’s happening and what’s needed in their respective settings. Ed Weber is the new campus minister at Millersville University and a lay pastor to young adults at Grace UMC in Lancaster. He described the need for stronger ecumenical ministry relationships at Millersville, where, he said, about 250 of the 8,000 students are involved at some level. He also cited a need to “connect or reconnect more students with the Christian faith as a meaningful part of their life-orientation … in mind, body and heart.”
The Rev. Monica Guepet, a board member of the Wesley Foundation at Drexel University in Philadelphia, described the work of its ecumenical Open Door Christian Community, run by the Rev. Sarah Colwill, a Presbyterian, along with student leaders. The foundation is trying to survive and continue its creative ministries–for example, serving popular midnight pancakes during final exams period–while adjusting its staffing due to its declining endowment funds. Representing United Methodist-related Albright College’s campus minister, the Rev. Paul Clark, was his former student aide Megan Mosier. She described Bible studies and United Methodist worship held at the Reading campus, along with student-run religious organizations, inter-faith relationships and challenges in connecting students with area churches for volunteer efforts. All three cited highly stressful academic demands, the need for more United Methodist student involvement, and the need for churches to provide students with fellowship, meals, mission opportunities, transportation, participation in their on-campus worship and other ministries of presence. Guepet and Weber also said their students would participate in Campus Ministry Sunday on Aug. 24, welcoming invitations from churches to come share in their observances.
The seven-member board hopes to hear from the Rev. Paul Fullmer, campus minister at United Methodist-related Lebanon Valley College, in Annville, at its next meeting, Aug. 13. It also hopes to facilitate supportive networking among campus ministers and EPA Conference churches. The board, which will research best practices for doing effective campus ministry, wants to encourage local church outreach to other higher learning institutions as well, possibly including West Chester, Lincoln, Lehigh and East Stroudsburg universities. The goal is to help churches foster strategic relationships with at least one institution in each district, led by district superintendents and facilitated by Mission Connections or other district leaders. “This first meeting helped us to understand the real need for a new, dynamic campus ministry initiative in the EPA Conference,” said the Rev. Jason Perkowski, board chairman. “We will learn ways to forge effective, creative partnerships so we can support students attending colleges in Eastern Pennsylvania, as well as students from our churches attending institutions around the globe.”
Representing the Cabinet, the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, Southeast District Superintendent, said, “Our hope is that local churches will take seriously the call to begin intentional ministries with college campuses and to support the Campus Ministry Sunday offering. There is a deep need for people to serve alongside our college students and to bless them as they bless us.”