Campus Ministry: A Warm Shoulder

By Dianne Farah (edited by Phyllis Meshel Onest)

How can the church be of   service to college-bound members of her family? This article presents suggestions   for a stronger campus ministry. Some ideas have been tested by other national   religious bodies, some by Orthodox groups currently operating on campus.

The task of campus ministry   belongs primarily to the local Orthodox communities. The college movement of   the 60’s showed promise, but when the national leadership moved on, local campus   fellowships faltered and died? Why? Because the Campus Commission was limited   to promoting relationships on a national level between Fellowships, and did   not develop local structures and personnel. If we look at such programs as the   Baptist Student Union, Canterbury House, the Newman Center, and Campion College,   we discover that much of their success is due to strong local support. Their   clergy, laity, faculty membership, and church families actively involve themselves   as a recognized force in the universities. The national churches offer auxiliary   support as the demands of the local centers grow.

Making Ourselves   Visible

How can we improve our own   programs? Visibility, credibility and dependability are crucial to any campus   program. To succeed. Orthodox churches in a college area need to work together   as a family. Interested lay and clergy members meeting as a Task Force on Campus   Ministry need to name someone, preferably a priest or faculty member, who will   represent Orthodox interests in the official contacts with university administration.   (Permanent Orthodox faculty members at any college can sometimes carry on a   program when there is a turnover of parish priests in an urban area.) This Orthodox   liaison has several opportunities to make the Church visible, first by meeting   the college chaplain and getting a list of declared Orthodox students on campus.   To insure that any of these students who have problems or needs will be referred   to him or her, the liaison can also meet with the deans of various departments   of student affairs, letting them know that help and support for the students   is readily available (and letting the Task Force know what is needed so that   local parishes can canvass their membership for help.)

The liaison can make sure   that the college library maintains a good stock of circulating Orthodox materials,   offering to set up displays and furnish speakers on various aspects of the Church’s   teachings and life. In addition, the liaison can oversee production of a newsletter,   support the efforts of student leaders working to keep the Orthodox group going,   and establish some kind of outreach to students at orientation time.

The more effort the Church   can put into campus ministry in terms of supplying full-time people, especially   full-time priests, the greater the result. Not only can there be effective ministering   to our own church youth, but we can draw in numbers of unchurched or uncommitted   students.

Finally, families can host   students. Many families enjoy having an “adopted” body or two around   the house for a limited time. It adds life, interests their children, and breathes   meaning into the scriptural admonition, “Let brotherly love continue. Do   not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained   angels unaware.” (Hebrews 13:2)

Fishers   of Men

Like good fishermen, we need   to learn how and where to cast our nets. The week of orientation and registration   gives us a fine opportunity, because everybody has to register and therefore   everybody will see whatever Orthodox display (perhaps including some eye-catching   device, a sign-up table, and refreshments) is set up in the area.

We can offer students a booklet   telling them how to get in touch with Orthodox clergy, faculty members, and   host families. It can include titles, times and places for Orthodox programs,   as well as a questionnaire to discover their needs and interests. The booklet   can also list medical services, ethnic restaurants, job possibilities with Orthodox   employers needing house-watchers or babysitters, and area and campus maps with   points of interest described.

On the day of registration,   upper class Orthodox students can work in shifts to greet students at the display   area, with local clergy, faculty and parishioners on hand as much as possible.   With this kind of effort, we can locate Orthodox students and match them with   local parishes, host families, campus leaders, and programs. The Church can   be part of their college life right from the beginning. (We should therefore   encourage parents of college-bound students in our own parishes to let those   in the university area know that their children are coming. Greeting students   and knowing something about them, even just their names, is a giant step toward   establishing a “family” milieu.)

The Meeting   Place

Although not an essential   part of Christian ministry, meeting places lend a permanency to a movement.   Our own pile of bricks is best; borrowing another’s space will suffice. If we   extend our imagination we can try a rented house near the campus. Staffed (lived   in) by students, preferably graduate students, who maintain the house in exchange   for free lodging, this type of setup is a flexible solution to permanent housing.   It can be funded by an energetic local Church (or a group of area parishes)   committed to monthly rent payments, supported by yearly fund-raisers or appropriations   from the parish budget. What can we offer with a house? A room might be used   as a chapel, in which regular brief services may attract students to worship.   At least one school has a five-minute sermon each Wednesday, delivered by a   faculty member, and a Friday sermon assigned each week to a student. The house   could also provide a common room, lending library, and meeting place, all with   posted hours.

Following   Up

Having established contact   with students, as well as a place to meet and activities to meet for, we need   to do the very important work of follow-up. What forms might this follow-up   take?

  • The first week   of classes, all host families should be asked by the Task Force to call or   visit each Orthodox student on campus, so as to discover needs such as rides   to church, and just to become acquainted. Those needing rides should be paired   up with a host family from the student’s chosen parish, and should be given   the family’s name and number as well as a clearly-stated time for the first   pick-up.
  • Host families   should be encouraged to invite “their” students home for lunch occasionally   after church. For even more socializing among the students, a progressive   dinner, planned for the end of the month when most students are broke and   could use a good meal, gives a chance for light-hearted mingling.
  • Once students   know that a local church welcomes them and will be there for friendship and   help when needed, the students can be invited to share their talents and to   become involved in parish activities to the extent their very limited time   permits. For students who do want to become involved, invitations to join   the choir, teach church school, come to work parties, help with church events,   or simply join in fellowship affairs can be extended.

During this same   period, an organizational meeting should be held to choose or introduce the   chosen student leaders. Planning programs such as a talk by a clergyman, a social   event, or a service followed by refreshments is a good idea. Once an event is   planned, it must be publicized, and more events should be planned for the future,   even if the response to the first one is less than overwhelming.

To expand the group, foreign   students (many of whom may be Orthodox or Coptic) should also be sought out   and included. They need all the friendship such a group can offer, whether they   are Orthodox or not, and the school’s foreign student adviser can be informed   that we are interested in having them as part of the group.

It is a good idea then, to   call a meeting of the Task Force of local church representatives. Discuss the   results of the orientation day program, plan fundraisers, hand out names and   phone numbers of new students and make sure they are on the church rolls, and   set up plans for joint parish ventures on behalf of the students, assigning   parishioners specific tasks. Women’s groups can also be recruited to contact   married students and their families; some of these relocated and homebound people   need attention and friendship as much as practical service.

Such a meeting can also be   the place where a budget for student activities is drawn up. It can include   costs for refreshments, literature, stipends for speakers, and rent moneys.   Maintenance and repair costs for the rented house, if there is one, should also   be included.


At Kansas University in Lawrence,   Kansas, campus ministry is spearheaded by a law student and his wife from an   Antiochian church in Wichita. Locally the movement is nourished by an O.C.A.   parish in Kansas City. Speakers are drawn from the clergy and laity in the surrounding   areas. Every Thursday night during the school year, students meet for a lecture   and discussion. During the week the Orthodox students meet in the apartment   of the student leaders to talk. On the weekends some drive 45 minutes to Kansas   City to attend church services.

It took hard work, trial   and error, and determination to keep the movement going. Student leaders counted   on encouragement from a local parish priest, and the local church welcomed the   students. Resources from several parishes helped sustain expenses of advertising.

What are some programs that   other student groups attend? Bible studies are popular, most held weekly. Chapel   attendance is another attraction. The Baptist Student Union on campus holds   weekly meetings in the cafeteria. The same body appeals to parents for contributions   to put together “care packages” during finals. The care packages,   containing food and a scripture verse, are distributed to each room so that   all students (Christian and non-Christian alike) get one.

Under Orthodox influence   on campus several commendable programs can be established.

  • A St. Panteleimon’s   Society can visit local hospitals, the home-bound, or group homes for children   once a month.
  • “International   student fairs can draw Orthodox youth in America closer to Orthodox youth   from foreign countries. Both groups can work together to create an ethnic   extravaganza complete with food, costumes, cultural and religious exhibits.  
  • Student fairs   of any kind, with music, food, and fun will draw Orthodoxy to the attention   of the rest of the campus, and possibly to the rest of the local community.  

Local churches can   complement campus programs, too, using ideas like those of the Cookeville Women   on Campus, who began a yearly loan closet. Each fall local churches collected   items needed by students. When school started, students opened a rented space   on campus and distributed these items for a small fee. Borrowers carted what   they needed to their rooms and apartments. At the end of the year students returned   usable items to the loan closet and much of the fee was refunded.

The Importance   of College Ministry

Chris Chichura, a freshman   engineering student at Kansas University, has stated the need for practical   ministry at the university. He writes, “College is a very critical and   demanding time. For the student with weak faith and knowledge it is too easy   to become overwhelmed. On the outside a student tolerates unethical actions,   but on the inside he continues to say, ‘No, this is not right for me.’ But he   doesn’t speak out for fear of rejection or loss of a friend. He becomes two-faced.   A warm shoulder or the firm support of the church can help the student overcome   his/her times of despair and separation from God.” Chris expresses many   of the needs and feelings of freshmen who look to the Church for help, warmth,   relationships, friendly Christians to talk to. The pressures of peers, grades,   finances, illnesses, and personal problems weigh heavily on what the media chose   to portray as a fun-loving, irresponsible crowd of college students. What we   need to be is warm, intelligent, responding Orthodox ministers.

(This article   appeared in its entirety in The Orthodox Educator, Summer, 1984.)

Dianne Farah   is a graduate of St. Vladimir’s Seminary (M.Div.). Long active in Holy Trinity   Church, Kansas City, she has also been a Religious Education Coordinator in   the Detroit area, where she lives now.

Phyllis Meshel   Onest is a graduate of Holy Cross Seminary (M.Div.). She has served as a Youth   Director in Akron, Ohio, including campus ministry at the University of Akron   and Kent State University. Phyllis is currently active in Presentation of Our   Lord Church, Akron, Ohio, and serves on the Department of Lay Ministries Task   Force on The Resource Handbook and Other Publications.

Taken   from the OCA Resource   Handbook for Lay Ministries