It's a question that is asked in many congregations. Call committees ask for a pastor who will connect with young people, bring back young people. One of our Montana Synod pastors, Seth Nelson (himself considered "young") was asked the question enough times that he wrote a book about it, The Church Unknown: Reflections of a Millennial Pastor.
You've read about the 30,000 high school aged young people who gathered at the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston a month ago. And you know about the hundreds of children and youth who people our church camps every summer.
Now, as we move towards September, it is time to give a shout-out to Lutheran Campus Ministry. Campus ministry is in the very DNA of Lutheranism. Martin Luther, we like to claim, was the first campus pastor. As both professor and pastor he did indeed fit the bill. While not all high school graduates go to college, a vast number of young adults are to be found on college campuses. The other large collection of young adults is in the military, where we as Lutherans also recruit, train and place chaplains.
Forty years ago most mainline Protestant denominations placed pastors on college campuses around the country. But gradually most of them have pulled back, using their resources elsewhere and asking local congregations to do the outreach to the college students.
As Lutherans, we have stayed committed to campus ministry, and we are grateful to have a strong program at Montana's 2 major universities. This has been a long tradition. When I moved to Montana 35 years ago, I had been a campus pastor and I knew exactly 2 Lutherans in the state of Montana--the campus pastor at MSU--Herb Strom, and the campus pastor at UM--Tom Lee. Montana continues to have a strong commitment to campus ministry, and dedicated campus pastors on both campuses.
Campus pastors are doing ministry with young adults on our behalf, on behalf of the whole church. And they need our help. If you have students who are attending the University of Montana, please send their names to Pastor John Lund, firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have students at Montana State University, please send their names of Pastor Kathie Larson Aasheim, email@example.com.
If you have students at other colleges and universities, in-state or out of state, you can send their names to either of our campus pastors, and they will make sure they get to a campus pastor or congregational contact pastor serving that school. College years are times of exploration and questioning, as well as firming up identity. Campus ministry walks with students as they explore what it means to be adults (usually Christian, but not always) in this world.
Campus ministry needs your students. It also needs your prayers. And it needs your financial contributions. Gone are the days when a check from the Synod and a check from the national church provided all that a campus ministry setting needed. Today campus pastors are expected to find ways to raise half of their expenses. Anything you or your congregation can do to help means that the pastor can spend more time with students and less time raising money.
Each academic year is a whole new adventure in campus ministry. We are grateful for our campus pastors, and for our church's long tradition of ministry in the university context. If you want to see where at least some of the young people are, come visit out campus ministries. And then watch them as they move on--becoming Young Adults in Global Mission, grad students, social workers, pastors. Where did they learn it? Campus ministry, among other places. Thanks!
Jessica Crist, Bishop
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Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA