Editor’s note: “There are no young people here” is a common refrain as some worry about the future of the church. But young adults are indeed active across the ELCA and have powerful faith stories to share. This series will highlight young leaders who are boldly pursuing God’s call and extending the ministry of the church.
There are hundreds of Lutheran campus ministries providing an ELCA presence at state and private colleges and universities around the country. Living Lutheran asked graduating students what campus ministry has meant to them and what role it played in shaping their sense of vocation.
University of Nebraska, Lincoln (UNL)
Master of architecture
College is a significant transitional period where I’m forming values and beliefs while pursuing a career, and this brings uncertainties and anxieties in faith and life that are often difficult to manage. Many students are going through the same struggles of “finding yourself,” and the community at the Lutheran Center tackles these issues through a faith-based mindset, which has allowed me to grow deeper in my faith while simultaneously pursuing my degree.
How does my faith impact my work? What does it mean to be an architect who is Christian? These are questions I have spent many hours thinking about.
Adam White, campus pastor, informed me before the start of my sophomore year that the Lutheran Center wanted to design a new building because the current one is falling apart and doesn’t meet the needs of today’s students. He asked me to join the design team as a voice for the students, as well as an aspiring architect. I have now been part of the Lutheran Center design team for five years, spanning from undergraduate to graduate school.
From the first prayer at the initial design meeting through numerous iterations of the building design and now, finally, planning the groundbreaking of the new center, my involvement in Lutheran campus ministry has blessed me with invaluable opportunities to discover my sense of vocation as an architect and how my faith can be expressed through my work.
Penn State University Park
Music education major
I’m not usually one to take risks or try new things, but I feel totally comfortable reaching out of my comfort zone within this community. I have had the opportunity to speak at Lutheran campus ministry board meetings, introduce Nadia Bolz-Weber (an ELCA pastor) at a campus event and travel to Houston as a volunteer with Lutheran Campus Ministry Builds at the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering. Through these experiences, I’ve been able to explore new opportunities in my faith life and find ways to apply my faith in my daily life.
I am studying to be a music educator, and I always considered myself to be more of an instrumentalist than a vocalist. Alicia Anderson, the Lutheran campus minister at Penn State, sings in our church choir. One night she was talking about the great experiences she was having in choir and encouraged us to give it a try. I found that I absolutely love singing, and I felt reconnected to my passion for music—I was singing because I wanted to, not because it was required for a grade.
I realized that I have more strengths as a music teacher than I previously thought. Singing in choir gave me more confidence as a musician and a singer, and I wouldn’t have developed in this way without the encouragement of Lutheran campus ministry.
Also, I loved working with the high schoolers at the ELCA Youth Gathering and teaching them how they can make a difference in the world. This experience solidified my passion for teaching.
University of North Dakota, Grand Forks
Social work major
At Christus Rex, we find that hearing stories, experiences and opinions of others serves a much greater purpose than any fixed theological belief to be imposed upon the diverse array of students who come through the doors. Hearing, welcoming and relating to these viewpoints has directly impacted and expanded what I view God to be up to across all of creation and in my everyday faith life.
Whether it be pushing me outside my comfort bubble to spend two summers on staff at Bible camp, doing pulpit supply for area congregations or leading programming within this ministry, this community has opened opportunities for me to live out my faith in active and practical ways.
Prior to my arrival on campus, I was planted with a call to seminary from my home congregation, which I was hesitant to share with the Christus Rex community. While I took these words of call into consideration, I never fully realized what God was up to in my life until I shared this with the campus pastors. Christus Rex named similar gifts in me that were previously named back home and gave me opportunities to explore this call throughout my undergraduate career.
Through Christus Rex, I had the opportunity to visit five ELCA seminaries, do pulpit supply and engage in dialogue with rostered ministers who were invested in my discernment. These experiences were instrumental in internalizing the external calls I’d been receiving.
Lutheran campus ministry is not only concerned about the lives of students but also understands the pivotal role it plays in the future of the church.
University of Maryland, College Park
Dual degree in biology and Spanish
Lutheran campus ministry gave me a space to learn and grow in my faith by developing my leadership skills, and by giving me opportunities for involvement in the local community and for teaching about advocacy and faith in international contexts. It has also helped me become more involved in the local community through serving with a Latino Lutheran congregation in Langley Park, adopting the stream in front of Hope Lutheran Church and Student Center and advocating for the environment with the local government, and providing child care at Hope Lutheran Church on Sunday mornings. Internationally, campus ministry took me to Haiti to learn about advocacy, Germany to learn about the history and reconciliation of the Lutheran church, France to worship at the Taize monastery, Geneva to learn about the World Council of Churches, and Israel-Palestine to learn about Christian peacekeepers and medicine under occupation. I have seen God at work in people throughout my ministry, my community and our world, and I’m thankful for these experiences to learn and grow among other Christians.
As an underclassman I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do. As I grew in my studies and as a person through my experiences with campus ministry, I began to question my call. I had planned the next 10 years of my life, but it no longer seemed fulfilling. Then I went on discernment retreats with my ministry and with the ELCA Young Adult program, and I thought critically about where I was being called. I thought about what has given me the most joy during my studies, and I realized that working in the Langley Park community has been the most life-giving experience because I’ve already seen people grow in their language acquisition and I’ve been able to connect people with the health resources they need. I also think back on the experience I had in Palestine with Augusta Victoria Hospital Mobile Diabetes Unit and how inspiring it was to see health care become more accessible to some of the most oppressed and least accessible populations in the world. I still don’t know where I will study for graduate school, but now I know that I would like to work in community health. I am excited to see where my camino takes me.
Clemson University, South Carolina
Chemical engineering major, music – voice minor
Lutheran Campus Ministry has given me the opportunity to interact with many people from different backgrounds and interests. College can be stressful at times, but I’ve always had the relationships I made at LCM to help me through those times. My faith strongly stems from the relationships I make and the memories I share with people. I’m happy to say that some of my favorite times in college have been with people I’ve met through LCM.
LCM-C has always been a very welcoming community. Pastor Chris plays a big part in this by encouraging people to get involved, and his sense of inclusion rubs off on us. When I first started going to LCM, even though people that had been there for years already had their established friend groups, I never felt that I didn’t belong. I think my sense of vocation has come from being surrounded by this sense of inclusion. I was so happy to be a part of this great ministry and I want to make others feel the same way.
University of Northern Colorado
Recreation, tourism and hospitality major
Campus ministry created a place where I could come as I am and grow in my faith. I grew in my desire to serve and connect with others through attending LECM because it provided me a place to worship alongside others my own age and to serve the community, the campus and my friends. I grew in my faith through the intentional space LECM provided for me to focus on the Lord and his word, surrounded by a group of college students who have the same heart and desire.
Campus ministry helped me develop my sense of vocation through the structural and intentional worship time it provided each week and through Bible study. While I grew up Lutheran, it was not until college and attending LECM that I came to have a deeper understanding of how much God loves me and uses me in the world. My involvement with campus ministry has prepared me to love others outside of my comfort zone by being a place of acceptance. Campus ministry has shaped me to be the friend I am to those around me, and it has prepared me to go out into the world and love everyone to the best of my ability by accepting who they are regardless of identity, status, background or beliefs.
Next month: Read about young adults who call Lutheran Outdoor Ministries their church home.