This past week I was in Minneapolis for a conference on Catholic campus ministry. In my decision to go, I decided that it would be more cost effective to drive out than fly (I would’ve been flying on Memorial day). So, I made the 700 mile trip from Northeast Ohio to Minneapolis all by myself, and stayed in various Air Bnb rooms along the way. I called it a little pilgrimage. More to it, I love agriculture, so I enjoyed driving through the heartland and getting to observe the farmers at work. It’s a way for me to be in solidarity with those who work hard to grow our food and fiber, and who are stewards of creation. It’s amazing to me how much land a modern farmer can manage today–some of those fields go for miles!
The conference was four days long, and it included a myriad of different speakers, breakout sessions, and Catholic organizations to speak with. In all, there was said to be over 300 campus ministers present. I could sense a spirit of camaraderie in the air. It’s unfortunate that we don’t share that more often. Below, I have listed a few reflection pieces that I think might be relevant for any Catholic looking to dive deeper into their faith.
1) There are a lot of pretty women who do campus ministry 🙂
2) At this conference, there was a global perspective represented, as I met people not only from all parts of the United States, but the Philippines and Kenya as well. I had a particularly good conversation with the priest from Kenya, as he was dressed in a vibrant, cultural outfit. I was curious as to why he wasn’t in the typical Roman collar and all black. He told me that he does this to combat the sin of clericalism. You go, bro!
More deeply, with all the diversity represented, inevitably, there are people that you meet that you just don’t like or agree with. One of the campus ministers from a particular university kept complaining at every little thing that was said that wasn’t culturally sensitive. And instead of correcting with a gentle touch, it was more instructive. I wasn’t annoyed so much that she was speaking up, but precisely that she couldn’t see the forest from the trees. I was like, “Give it a rest, lady!”
And yet, you can’t discard anyone–they represent some level of the body of Christ. It’s a tough lesson to swallow when we always believe that our way is the right way.
3) One of the keynote speakers was my hero, Sherry Weddell. Sherry is famous for popularizing “intentional discipleship” with her 2012 book, “Forming Intentional Disciples” (I highly recommend you read this if you haven’t already). Key to Sherry’s talk was the idea of moving from a church of Christendom to “Missiondom.” Christendom refers to an era in which overwhelmingly, the society is marked by Christianity. This is harmful to assume today, and even more harmful to think that we can correct society and “return” to this golden age. It ain’t happening. We must move forward and accept life on life’s terms.
“Missiondom” is a loosely defined term, but it means an entrepreneurial church in a society which is largely secular, if not anti-Christian. Think of the Acts of the Apostles and the early Church. Without using the term “Missiondom,” Pope Francis speaks of the need to open up to the world around us in his encyclical, “The Joy of the Gospel”.
Sherry said that when we start making disciples, we don’t run out of work, but that the work we do changes. I think that is a great insight. Largely, I think that we are just at the beginning stages of understanding what it means to be a missional church. There is still so much creativity that is yet to be unleashed. Largely, most of the Catholic Church in the United States realizes that we have a problem, but understands very little about what to do.
4) There is a great need to be effective in the digital space. I never quite realized it, but the generation below me (Gen Z) is largely uninterested in Facebook. Not sure about websites, but their social media platforms are Instagram and Snapchat. I’ve used Snapchat, but I’m not very good at it. Never used Instagram before.
When I was in college, when I would promote my programs, I would create flyers and knock on doors to tell people about it. I think that could still be done, but if you are dealing with hundreds of kids, you are using up a lot of your time. This will be an interesting adventure for me to master.
5) I think that the Church needs to start promoting campus ministry as a vocation, or at least as a space that is necessary for the life of the Church. Now, this isn’t to say that we don’t need other people to minister during other stages of life. But, the Church is so preoccupied with the priesthood shortage that they fail to see other problems in front of our faces. We are hemorrhaging people from our parishes, and it has little to do with the lack of priests. It’s because we are ineffective at communicating and modeling the person of Jesus Christ. That’s blood is on everybody’s hands.
Anyways, here are some statistics from a study listed on the USCCB website that illuminate my point (2017 National Study on Catholic Campus Ministry). There are approximately 3,200 4-year institutions in the U.S., there is a Catholic presence on 816 of them (24%). There are 1100 community colleges, and we have a presence at 2% of those. And when we talk about presence, that’s another topic in and of itself. Largely, I think that our outreach is understaffed and ineffective in what it does in the first place. But without being too harsh, the primary criticism is that we need to get more bodies out there. How do we do that?
Drawing on the movement of FOCUS and St. Paul’s Outreach, it seems that young people are open to committing at least a portion of their life to ministry. More to it, the year of service is becoming a popular trend. Perhaps there is a space to create a year of service opportunity in campus ministry? And, I also see that other people beyond just the professional staff need to be involved in the ministry. Other people have lots to give. That’s a part of being a disciple.