By John W. Coleman
Millersville University, Lebanon Valley College, Albright College and Drexel University. Campus ministers at these four institutions of higher learning are helping students also find a higher purpose by offering worship, mission activities, outreach, fellowship, personal guidance and soul-searching discussions about life, faith, justice and other essential concerns.
While campus ministries exist to serve students at thousands of colleges and universities around the nation—indeed, the world—these four are affiliated with the Eastern PA Conference. They are supported by our special offerings received on Campus Ministry Sunday, which churches will observe August 21 (or on a more convenient date).
Lebanon Valley College offers student-led worship services weekly at its newly renovated Frederic K. Miller Chapel. But that’s not all. This fall the serenely beautiful chapel will also host monthly interfaith dialogues (for example, “The Nature of Humanity” on Sept. 13), talks by noted authors and leaders, concerts, recitals, and other special events.
The Rev. Paul Fullmer, Chaplain, who heads the campus’ Office of Spiritual Life, Community Service and Volunteerism, will welcome new students to the chapel for worship to begin their orientation on Sunday, August 28. He will also introduce them to worship opportunities in the area, Christian service organizations, and weekly Bible studies. The Rev. Dan Lebo, pastor of Annville UMC, hosts students for one Bible study in his home, part of the church’s ongoing partnership to support campus ministry.
On Orientation Day, from 2 to 5 PM, Fullmer, “in the Wesleyan tradition,” will also send forth about 400 incoming students and peer mentors to do service projects throughout Lebanon County. Some will assemble care kits at two UMCOR Mission Central Hubs, while others will visit residents in local retirement communities.
Millersville University’s United Campus Ministry will welcome students back to The Hub and the Campus Cupboard this month, two places where they can find two essential needs of campus life: fellowship and food.
The Campus Cupboard, a low-cost food pantry, has been saving money for grateful, cash-strapped students since 2013. Located in the basement of Millersville Community UMC, the pantry is stocked with not fancy but nutritious food items provided by the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and local vendors. Ed Weber directs the ecumenical United Campus Ministry (UCM) and also serves as minister to young adults at Millersville Community UMC.
“We receive both food and cash donations and have been the recipient of food drives run by local churches and scouting organizations,” Weber said. Thanks to his promotion efforts, referrals by university staff and word of mouth, usage has grown to over 50 students a week.
One trip there can provide them with enough food for two to three meals. That’s a big help to a growing population of students who are dealing with what is a national problem: food insecurity.
Learn more about the Campus Cupboard in a recent Lancaster Online article and video, “Campus Cupboard food pantry helps Millersville students make ends meet.” The ministry is part of The Hub, UCM’s busy multipurpose student center. It’s where many students hang out to do homework or play games, to plan activities, forge friendships and build community.
Faith UMC in Manheim has been giving care packages to the Millersville University students through The Hub just before each fall and spring semester exams week, reports the Rev. Jason Perkowski, pastor and chair of the conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry.
Church members donate over 40 packages of snacks, drinks and school supplies, along with hand-written notes of encouragement and a Faith UMC coffee mug. Ed Weber gives them out at the Campus Cupboard.
Chaplain Paul Clark directs Albright College’s Multifaith Center, which nurtures the spiritual life of all groups on campus and supports the diverse religious communities there. His involvement also reaches beyond the campus to address justice issues and other concerns in the community. In the wake of recent national events, Albright College “offered our large chapel to the local branch of the NAACP for a town hall meeting between police and citizens in order to discuss race and violence in our nation,” Clark reports. “It seems likely that we will continue to build on that event.”
This summer he also created The Berrigan Freedom School, named for Catholic priest and peace activist Father Daniel Berrigan and his brothers Philip and Jerry Berrigan, to help churches and schools learn about the theory and practice of nonviolence. Clark also represented local clergy at recent justice demonstrations protesting and calling for its closure of the controversial Berks County Detention Center, which detains undocumented immigrant families.
David Piltz, a Certified Lay Minister and Coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the conference, serves as part-time campus minister for Drexel University’s Open Door Christian Community. He and newly commissioned Deacon Diana Esposito, work as a team to provide “opportunities for students to share their ideas, thoughts and feelings regarding faith.”
They meet weekly on Tuesday evenings for a fellowship meal and worship. During this summer semester they have gathered instead for thought provoking, faith-based conversations over beverages at Saxby’s Drexel, the only completely student-run café in the country.
Piltz and Esposito are trying to build student leadership in promoting and operating the ministry, while also playing a more influential role in campus events and activities. Constant promotion—including a campus-wide cookout that served over 100 people— has increased weekly attendance at their fellowship dinners to over 40 people, but only some stay for worship. Yet, interest is growing, and several students, including non-Christians, have come seeking help with struggles over their faith, sense of purpose and identity.
“Our presence is being known and we are being sought out by students for faith discussions. That is an amazing blessing!” said Piltz. “We are making disciples for Jesus Christ by ensuring that the first step–knowing who Jesus is–is happening.” Piltz is working on his doctorate degree in marriage and family counseling and teaches the conference Laity Academy course in Emotional Intelligence.
All of these campus ministers and their student participants are helping fellow students seek not only higher learning but also a higher purpose grounded in faith, discipleship and supportive community. These are the lives we help nurture when we give to the offering that supports their ministries and when we celebrate students and church-campus relationships on Campus Ministry Sunday. Please give generously and remit half of your church’s special offering to the conference Treasurer’s office.