I headed to Southwestern College, a United Methodist-related college in Winfield, Kansas, as a freshmen expecting to get a good education in a Christian environment. What I did not expect was to be called to ministry.
The years just prior to my starting college were lean years for campus ministry at Southwestern. But when Dr. Steve Rankin was appointed as campus minister/religion professor during my sophomore year, the tide began to turn. Chapel once again became a place of gathered worship, small groups and Bible studies were reignited, and other Christian faculty and staff were encouraged to live out their own calling by serving the college students.
My junior year I strayed from my normal biology classes and took a New Testament class for fun. I remember Steve keeping me after class the day I did an exegetical presentation and asking me the question that stopped me in my tracks: Have you ever thought about seminary? To him, it was a simple question. To me, it was a watershed moment. True, others had identified gifts in me for ministry, but for the first time in my life, I actually entertained the idea that perhaps God had different vocational plans for me than I had thought.
My experience of being called to ministry in the college years is not isolated. Thousands of others in the United Methodist Church have also heard a call to ministry through their Wesley Foundation or other ministry on campus. In fact, in order to find some of these folks, my campus ministry colleague, Creighton Alexander, pastor of young adults at New City/Central UM Church in Kansas City, and I started a Facebook Group called United Methodist Campus MinistryRaising Up Christian Leaders. Through this venue alone, we have discovered over 850 people who heard a call to ministry through campus ministry!
One of the four areas of strategic focus that was adopted by General Conference in 2008 was developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world. Perhaps I am clouded by my own experience, but I can think of no better place to find these leaders than on college campuses. Each year thousands of students across the country are being introduced to a relationship with Christ and are serving in ministry through the auspices of their Wesley Foundation, campus ministry at a United Methodist-related college, or local church with an emphasis on collegiate ministry. Some of these students become leaders. Some of these leaders feel a call to ministry. And some of the called go on to seminary and prepare for ordination in the United Methodist Church.
Unfortunately, not all campus ministries are equal. Due to a neglect of campus ministries as an area of focus by the overall denomination, many are small, overlooked, under-resourced, and directed by someone who may or may not have a calling to campus ministry. However, there is simply nowhere else in the world that has more potential young church leaders than on our college campuses. Would it not make sense to put our brightest and best servants of the church in this fallow ground? Of the 17 million students who will head to college this fall, are we as a church offering the heart of the gospel to a population looking for answers? These questions, and others, compel us to do more than just ask the questions. They compel us to pray.
On August 17, 2009, a 40-day, nationwide prayer effort was launched with the goal of witnessing to United Methodist campus ministries as being vital centers of vocational calling. We are praying for new clergy and lay ministers who will answer Gods call over the coming decades to campus ministry and we are interceding for our campus ministries in the start of the 2009-2010 school year.
The prayers were written by people who are supportive of campus ministry across the denomination including bishops, general board officials, professors, administrators, and campus ministers themselves, many of whom received their call to ministry through campus ministry. The prayer effort from August 17-September 25 is in conjunction with the first six weeks of school for many universities. As the new school year is launched, we are praying that campus ministers and students will be intentionally sustained by prayer. Our hope is that boards of directors of Wesley Foundations, pastors of neighboring congregations, grandparents with grandchildren in college, campus ministers themselves, and anyone who wants to see a revitalization in the UM Church will join us in the prayer effort. The prayers can be found at www.collegeunion.org/prayer.
Personally, campus ministry is not only the place I discovered a calling, but it is also my place of service. In a turn of events that I can only identify as Gods hand at work, four years ago I returned to Southwestern College, this time not as a student but in campus ministry. To be the campus minister who asks the timely question or provides the opportunity for a student to hear Gods voice is my front row seat to watch how God is already developing Christian ministers to lead us in the church and in the world.
Ashlee Alley serves as campus minister at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, and is a provisional deacon in the Kansas West Conference of the United Methodist Church. She blogs regularly at ashleealley.blogspot.com and, together with Creighton Alexander, serves as the co-editor for www.CollegeUnion.org.