Saturday, September 17, 2005

Faith & values: On-campus ministries feed needs of students

I thought this article in our local paper had some great insights.

Faith & values: On-campus ministries feed needs of students

For The Gazette

Last year I was invited to do a presentation about young adults and worship for a church-related gathering.

As I prepared, I realized I didn't have enough first-hand knowledge about the topic, so I began conducting some highly unscientific research with students at Montana State University-Billings.

Any time I could create an opportunity, I asked some questions: Do you attend church? Why or why not? When choosing a church, what do you look for? What style of worship is meaningful to you? What helps you connect with God, and what turns you away? What is needed to keep young people active in the church today?

Unfortunately, the answers I received didn't help much with my presentation. Each student described a different expectation for worship and different hopes for the church. However, as I listened, I did hear some common themes that have proved helpful to me in my work with campus ministry.

The first had to do with food. It was something they all mentioned - that, when money is tight, food can be a powerful motivator. For many, food was the determining factor when deciding whether to attend a function.

The second common theme was a need for community or for belonging.

Each student I talked with described a desire to be welcomed. Several mentioned how important it was to be more than noticed, to be known by name. Others highlighted being prayed for or supported in tangible ways. Most acknowledged that they did not need to be friends with others, but they did need to feel companionship and caring.

The third theme was more difficult to pinpoint. Several students specified a need to discuss the new ideas they were learning in the classroom and how they were being affected by them. Many expressed frustration with sermons and identified the desire to ask questions or to talk about issues instead. Others expressed a need for being heard, no matter how radical their beliefs might sound. They were describing a desire to explore knowledge and faith in a safe environment.

A final commonality among students was a desire to be involved with something meaningful. A few students talked with evangelical fervor about saving souls. Many described a connection with social action; they wanted to work to make a difference in the world. Others simply wanted to believe their faith and their actions mattered.

While these results are certainly unreliable, I believe they help to highlight a few of the purposes for ministry in higher education. These include supporting students and providing pastoral care for persons on campus, encouraging intellectual growth that is integrated with spiritual growth and fostering ethical decision-making or faith that is put into action.

When people ask me why chaplains or campus ministers are necessary, I like to mention these common needs. I also like to remind persons that, when Catholic and mainline Protestant denominations moved into frontier lands, they established schools and hospitals alongside churches. Education was recognized as a basic human need, and denominations stepped up to meet this need.

Ministry in higher education remains a place where churches and denominations meet needs. Through campus ministry programs, students are supported as whole persons - body, mind and spirit; they are fed physically, intellectually and spiritually.

In the midst of transition, students are known by name and welcomed into a safe space for exploring faith and connecting with God and others. In a changing world, students are empowered to live in ways that make a difference.

The Rev. Kim Woeste is campus minister at Montana State University-Billings.

The Faith & Values column appears regularly in the Saturday Life section of The Billings Gazette.

Pastors, ethicists, educators or other experts who would like to write a column about faith, ethics or values for the section, should contact: Susan Olp; Billings Gazette; 401 N. Broadway; Billings, Mont. 59101. Or call her at 657-1281; fax to her attention at 657-1208; or e-mail to

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