The Transforming Power of Campus Ministry
“Campus Ministry has brought out qualities in myself that I never thought were in me. I have shared my testimony to hundreds of strangers, I perform in a worship band every week, and I have led people in Ecclesia every month. These are just a few examples of how I have been pushed out of my comfort zone through encouragement and feeling God’s love through everyone at my campus ministry. It is because of the support I have found in campus ministry that I was able to grow into the person I am, which has then carried over into other areas of my life.” - Student at Wesley at Virginia Tech
“The ministry has saved my life. I am so lucky to have been a part of the worship team and have the support of my peers. It really gave me a safe space to challenge my social anxiety and to learn and to grow. It was great that I had a place I could go when I felt scared, lonely, or anxious, and I knew someone would be there. Wesley made me feel safe.” – Student (who identifies as a-sexual) at Wesley at Virginia Tech
These two statements from students exemplify why Campus Ministry is so vital to the lives of our young adults. At a basic level it is transformative, and at its highest level it is a matter of life and death. We have young people who are leaving the safe confines of a youth group, church home, friends, and family who yearn for a place and a community to develop, grow, learn, and question aspects of their faith and life. In the midst of this already challenging and critical time of their lives, many of these students struggle with their identity (Who am I?) and their vocation (What do I want to do with my life?).
Part of the “Who am I?” question for many students is their struggle to understand their identity around sex, sexuality, and gender expression. Many students who identify, or question if they identify, as LGBTQIA+ seek places where they can be themselves and understand themselves in safe, healthy environments. There are too many campus ministry groups that either make this more challenging or more damaging for these students. As students engage in the discernment of “Who they are” it is important for them to have campus ministries (like our Wesley Foundations, Ecumenical Campus Ministries, Colleges, and Universities) that provide spaces where that work can be done in healthy and loving ways. Our Campus Ministries in Virginia are those places, and it is imperative that our youth find these places when they leave for school.
As they discern “Who they are,” they are also discerning “What do they want to do with their lives?” There is not a better arena for this vocational discernment than in the loving pastoral care of campus ministries. Students are able to question, doubt, and struggle with what is next through the lens of call. Campus Ministries provide space for students to learn leadership skills, develop a sense of ownership, and be empowered to use their gifts in ministry to the world.
But all of this is also combined with the fact that mental health struggles are climbing to an all-time high. These two questions are difficult in and of themselves, but higher education is more strenuous, competitive, and challenging than ever before. There are pressures in every aspect of students’ lives to be more, do more, and have more. Attending a college or university is incredibly expensive and students bear that burden now and into the future. All of this is on top of the pressures from society, friends, and family around relationships and vocation. More and more students are coming to college with anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, self-harm, and stress. And our queer students deal with these issues while struggling to find a place that accepts them for who they are. This graph in the picture was done at an orientation at Virginia Tech.
When this is the reality that our students are facing, it is critical that we connect them to healthy, vibrant, loving, and safe ministries where they can engage in the work of discerning identity and vocation regardless of who they are and whom they love. Campus Ministries are one of the most critical ministry arenas and it is crucial that our young people are being nurtured, developed and, most importantly, loved at this stage in their lives.
It is not just important; it is a matter of life and death!
It is imperative that our pastors, youth pastors, church members, staff people, family members, and friends connect our young people into our United Methodist Campus Ministries so that they can thrive in environments that promote inclusivity, connectedness, and grace. And don’t just send in names! Contact the campus ministers and chaplains where your youth are headed, tell them their stories, or get lunch with them so you can connect with them face to face.
This is important for any student, but even more so for our queer students. There are so many places where they can be harmed by corrosive theologies and veiled love. Your queer youth need to have a place where love is not questioned and their spiritual, emotional, and physical health are handled with grace and care.
Click here for a list of our Virginia Conference campus ministers and chaplains.
Click here to submit your college student’s information to the campus ministries team.
Click here to learn more about the Wesley campus ministry at Virginia Teach from the perspective of a recent student, Alexis Gillmore.
Bret Gresham (He/Him/His) is the campus minister at Wesley at Virginia Tech. He has been at Tech with Wesley for 10 years. He is passionate about ministry with young adults. He and his partner, Erin, have two girls ages 9 and 6.