The statistics are alarming. The trends are discouraging. This phase of life is laced with low expectations. Presumably, young adulthood is an odd place for the church to expend a great deal of resources. Unless it’s the perfect space. College is a time of self-exploration and growth. With this, comes the phase in life when one is least likely to attend church. Millennials, Digital Natives, and presumably subsequent generations are choosing not to affiliate with a religion, making for a discouraging trend.
For these reasons, and many more, this marginal space is precisely where we ought to be as the church. Jesus’ ministry always found the proverbial boundary and intentionally spent time with the people experiencing limitations. His ministry was constantly calling Him to the edges of what was expected, what was appropriate, and what was necessary. The phase of life one experiences while pursuing higher education is a marginal space. The work of self-exploration and growth is laced with discomfort, messiness, and a longing for roots.
The Diocese of Texas has a robust network of college missions. We currently have an Episcopal presence on 23 campuses. Discernment has begun with congregations adjacent to an additional eight campuses in 2017. Further, seven campuses have been identified for our next missions in 2018. Bishop Doyle set an audacious goal of planting 20 new campus missions over the course of five years. While you may be familiar with our flagship ministries on campuses like UT Austin and Texas A&M, College Station, we also have over 100 graduate students from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston gathering on a weekly basis. 60 students from the University of Houston, Houston Community College, and San Jacinto Community Colleges are gathering throughout Houston and the surrounding suburbs at a variety of locations, piloting a new model of networked campus ministries: Canterbury in the Community. We are well on our way towards surpassing the Bishop’s generous invitation.
One of our current priorities is to discern what an Episcopal presence might look like on community and vocational college campuses. The cycle of life on these campuses and for these students is notably different than that which is found on residential campuses. As such, a traditional model of campus ministry will likely not fit. Yet, we have important Good News to share in these mission fields. Churches in the San Jacinto convocation have embarked on an exciting partnership to discern together the needs of the Lonestar Community College Campuses and students. Recognizing the complexity of the Lonestar network, the churches have committed to gathering together to pray and study the context, and dream about a presence on these campuses. The ways in which today’s students are pursuing higher education is changing. We must be nimble enough to adapt our methods to continue to offer the best of our tradition to all students.
As we seek to enhance the mission of the Gospel and fulfill the goals of our Diocesan leadership, reconciliation is one of our primary values. The Diocese of Texas boasts 4 of the 5 Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the state of Texas, and yet we are currently only beginning to have a presence on one of those campuses. As our Presiding Bishop recently invited us to consider in the Becoming Beloved Community report, “The Episcopal Church could also embody racial healing, justice, and reconciliation through a renewed commitment to the two Episcopal historically Black institutions of higher learning.” While we do not have an Episcopal HBCU, it is a critical time for us to become a partner in this work of racial healing, justice, and reconciliation in our corner of the Kingdom.
Campus missions in the Diocese of Texas strive to be a place where students of all backgrounds, experiencing any sort of marginal living, are greeted with companions as they commit to this deep soul work. At the core of each mission is a commitment to forming disciples of Jesus Christ in community. In all that the missions undertake, we seek to follow Jesus’ example of meeting people at the margins.
More information about College and Campus Ministries can be found here.
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