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Guiding campus ministries

Task force to explore plan for growth, funding

By Jessica Connor

A new task force has begun work this fall exploring the unique and critical needs of campus ministries in South Carolina.

Headed by the Rev. Josh McClendon, associate pastor at Shandon United Methodist Church, Columbia, the task force will examine leadership, oversight, growth, sustainability and financial need, ultimately fleshing out a strategic plan for campus ministries that helps it shift strongly into the future.

The idea is what does campus ministry look like going forward?  McClendon said, calling the program terribly important  for the UMC as a whole.

For all the talk in the church, with all the woe about our denomination s survival, about how we need to reach more young people and more diverse people “ all of that happens particularly in campus ministries,  McClendon added. Where else do you have a better chance to reach young people? All the stuff we claim to need to focus on is primed to happen in campus ministries. 

Conference Director of Connectional Ministries the Rev. Kathy James said campus ministries are vitally important to the faith.

Campus ministries represent our United Methodist witness to the Christian journey to young people who are learning, seeking and making decisions about what is important to them in the present and for the rest of their lives,  James said.  United Methodist campus ministry can be a vital link between college students and local churches. Many of our young clergy first responded to God s call to ordained ministry through experiences in a Wesley Foundation. 

Across the S.C. Conference, seven campus ministries have the exceptional charge of reaching, supporting and nurturing the souls of college students during what can be a joyful, tumultuous and highly formative time in their young lives.

From the Clemson Wesley Foundation in the Upstate all the way to the Charleston Wesley Foundation in the Lowcountry, campus ministries reach college students where they are and help them live into new and real ways to be productive disciples for Christ.

Ask any campus minister and they ll tell you the young souls they nurture are just as (if not more) on fire for Christ as their more seasoned counterparts in traditional churches. They feed and clothe the homeless, spend their spring breaks doing international mission work, give of their time and talents to volunteer with needy kids or the elderly.

But make no mistake: it s no cakewalk. The students usually have little money of their own, and they leave school within a few years. That, coupled with competition from fraternity parties and other student diversions, means campus ministries have to work triple-hard to keep their flock engaged.

Not to mention that in 2010, the conference froze funding for campus ministries programming (funds currently support only the salaries for campus ministers).

Many of the campus ministries are now scrambling to live into sustainable and practical ways to thrive.

Much-needed

McClendon said the task force is needed because Conference Connectional Ministries has experienced much structural change recently. Before, campus ministries operated with visionary leadership from a large, active Conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministries, but now that board comprises a handful of members from the Discipleship area of the CCM. While they are a committed group, the change means campus ministries is left without as much support or oversight, McClendon said. Between that and funding concerns, the campus ministries program needs new visioning.

Our current way of structuring and funding campus ministry is not sustainable over the long term and does not allow for growth,  James summarized.

The task force had its kickoff meeting Aug. 9 and is hoping to spend the next few months researching the current reality of campus ministries in South Carolina, then propose a strategic plan for the future of campus ministries at the February CCM meeting. It comprises McClendon, James, the campus ministers, BHECM Chair Bill Huestess, the Rev. Ken Nelson and a handful of others.

We re going to put every idea and model up on a board, let everybody see everything,  McClendon said.

Everything  includes resources and logistics (such as funding models and facilities); existing standards with technology, web presence and social media; and campus ministries on the horizon (Lander University is actively trying to start a campus ministry, and University of South Carolina Upstate is exploring starting one).

Here in the beginning we re going to jump on research, across the Connection, and work toward a rough draft by February,  McClendon said. We re going to propose the best plan we can, but with the understanding that the Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministries will make the final call on whether to tweak it or adopt it or go in another direction. 

 

Money and leadership

One critical thing the task force will examine is oversight and leadership for the BHECM. Som
e conferences have a paid staff person who oversees all campus ministries; other conferences lead through committee. The S.C. task force will explore resources and logistics, along with structure, accountability and connectionalism to ensure campus ministries are primed for growth and sustainability.

The second priority is financial support. When the conference decided in 2010 it could no longer give campus ministries any money for programming, only for staff, the news was a huge shock for some of the campus ministers.

That was a big deal and still is,  McClendon said. With campus ministries, their congregations are students who cannot give to support their own ministries and come and go every few years. 

The task force will look at funding models used by other conferences and explore what seems best for South Carolina s unique climate. For instance, some conferences make every campus ministry an Advance Special Ministry. Some conferences pump huge amounts of money into campus ministry programming and staff. Some have a pool of money, and campus ministries write grants for their share.

Essential work

It s a lot of work ahead for the task force, but it is essential, McClendon said. Campus ministry keeps young Christians in the fold during college, and it prepares them to be stronger disciples as they mature in their faith. McClendon said for the past several years, the majority of the ordination and commissioning classes are directly tied to campus ministry; many of these ordinands say their Wesley Foundation was probably the most powerful force in their call.

In my experience, especially in a larger church, church members and young adults who are best equipped to be disciples are the ones who got that start in campus ministry,  McClendon said.

The Rev. Ricky Howell, campus minister for the Winthrop University Wesley Foundation, said there is much unrealized potential both in current conference ministries, as well as on campuses we are not yet serving; the newly formed campus ministry task force hopes to guide the conference toward better reaching that potential.

Nearly every discussion about church decline “ United Methodist or otherwise “ involves concern over the loss of post-high school and young adult church-goers,  Howell said.  United Methodist campus/collegiate ministries are essential because they exist specifically to engage the post-high school crowd with the intention of discipling them, while also helping them transition into spiritually mature young adults who are actively involved in local churches. 

Watch the Advocate for updates on the task force s progress in the strategic plan.

S.C. Conference Campus Ministries

  • Clemson Wesley Foundation
  • Charleston Wesley Foundation
  • Winthrop Wesley Foundation
  • Methodist Student Network at University of South Carolina
  • Orangeburg Wesley Foundation
  • Furman Wesley Foundation
  • Francis Marion Wesley Foundation

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