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Campus ministry can be comforting.

Byline: FROM HEART TO HEART By Ann Bowersox For The Register-Guard

Having served the church primarily in solo pastorates for the last 20 years, I was concerned that I would not be "hip" enough or "creative" enough to thrive in a campus ministry setting. My sense was that one had to be on the "cutting edge" of just about everything to do well in this calling known as campus ministry. After all, aren't knowledge and new experiences central to what university life is all about?

Well, my fears were soon put to rest when talking with several students about how they would like to observe communion. They let me know in no uncertain terms that they wanted to observe communion "just the way it is done at home."

As they put it, "our life is full of experimentation here at college. When we come to worship, we want to do that which is familiar and comfortable to us." It seemed to me that this was one of their ways of touching home in an environment that is frequently strange and isolating and not always supportive of one's values and commitments.

And so it was that I began my journey into campus ministry. The more I learn about campus ministry, the more it seems to be primarily about two connected purposes.

One purpose would be to offer students a place where they can feel comfortable expressing and exploring their faith; a place to ask questions, that shares their values and faith tradition and yes, even provides answers to some of their questions. The questioning of one's beliefs can be a very useful endeavor if done in a supportive environment, for this can be the work that leads to a mature and very "alive" and relevant faith.

The second and related purpose is to build a community among students of like values and questions. The university can be a place of great alienation and loneliness to some. Although many students spend a great deal of time with other students, either in class, living situations or social situations, those relationships are often superficial and are not the type of relationships that can be supportive or helpful when times get tough.

And tough times occur once in awhile at the university as they do in anyone's life. Indeed, many students who have been involved in campus ministry have said that the relationships have made in that context have lasted over the years, while classmate and roommate connections have often fallen by the wayside.

Campus ministry is a faith-related presence that supports students, faculty and staff as they seek to grow spiritually as well as intellectually. It is a presence that can be an oasis of comfort and support in the midst of a strange land for some students as well as a presence that nudges students to an ever deeper understanding of their faith by encouraging their questions and self-seeking. It is a presence and journey in which I rejoice.

The Rev. Ann Bowersox is the Presbyterian campus minister and director of the Koinonia Center at the University of Oregon. This column, "From Heart to Heart," is coordinated by the Two Rivers Interfaith Ministries, a network of faith communities in the Eugene-Springfield area. For more information, call 344-5693.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Sep 20, 2003
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