This Sunday, August 15, is Higher Education Sunday in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Those of us who care about campus ministry may have some reasons to celebrate a little as we think about the church’s ministry in institutions of learning.

My colleague Jerry Beavers notes some exciting developments in our denomination’s collegiate ministry in a recent blog. He writes: “As a result of the actions of the PC(U.S.A.)’s 219th General Assembly, Collegiate Ministries has some new opportunities:
(1) The Office of Collegiate Ministries will return as a stand-alone office.
(2) A higher education strategy will be developed to be presented to the 220th General Assembly in 2012.
(3) A Presbyterian Student Organization will be formed.
(4) The Presbyterian Student Leadership Team will be rejuvenated with funding.
(5) There was significant support across the Assembly for Collegiate Ministry.”

But Jerry notes as well some very real challenges, mostly to do with funding. I invite you to visit the July 24 post on the blog for Presbyterian Association for Collegiate and Higher Education Ministries (PACHEM) for details (http://pachem.blogspot.com/).

For my part, I’ll be preaching on campus ministry this Sunday and the whole service will be focused on the theme of higher education. Here, though, I simply want to share as a poem a song I wrote in 1995 and revised in 2005 in honor of all emerging and young adults. Entitled “Today, Tomorrow (The Journey)",” it acknowledges both the challenge and the hope in the lives of college students and young adults.

“Today, Tomorrow (The Journey)”

We are one, we are many/ strangers on a journey/ lookin’ for a friend to share these loads we bear. We’re today/we’re tomorrow/frightened of the future/we’re trav’lin’ on a road to only God knows where.

Bridge/chorus: One day the journey will be done/and we will find our way back home./But for today: we cling to each other!/For though we dare to go, we dare not go alone!

We are one, we are many/friends along the journey/strengthened by the bread from the Feast we share./We’re today, we’re tomorrow/ready for adventure/we know not where we go, but we know God is there.

Repeat bridge/chorus.

We are one, we are many/friends along the journey/gladdened by the wine from the Feast we share./We’re today, we’re tomorrow/ready for adventure/we know not where we go, but we know God is there.

We know God is there.

Post © 2010; song © 1995, 2005 by Tom Cheatham

 

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This post is dedicated to my niece Page and nephew Julian, both of whom begin college this month, and to all in the Class of 2013.

"The future of ‘mainline’ Christianity in North America, as well as the future of the university, will be profoundly affected by the way in which Christians, among others, relate to the intellectual project of the West at this crucial juncture in its history (postmodernity)”—(Douglas John Hall, Confessing the Faith).

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This Sunday, August 16th, is Higher Education Sunday across the Presbyterian Church (USA). In this post, I want to offer some practical suggestions for observing the day, my “three R’s” for campus ministry.

First, ritual. Holy Communion and Baptism are both sorely neglected in the PC(USA), despite the call in our standards for frequent Communion (Book of Order W-2.4009) and for remembering the grace of God at work in Baptism (W-2.3009). Yet both sacraments can be a tremendous resource of strength, encouragement, and community building for college students, faculty, and staff. So I long for the day when each congregation located in a university or college town provides a weekly opportunity for receiving Holy Communion. And I would be thrilled if those same congregations would emphasize the call and the comfort of God in Baptism somehow in those same services and in every time of worship. One great way to do this is to offer an ancient/future or a contemporary service on a Sunday or Wednesday evening for students and others. In those times, the community can remember Baptism in some creative way upon entering the sanctuary, then later celebrate together as all come to the Table.

Second, reminders. Let us remember that God is already on campus; we don’t “take” him there nor do we need to “take back” the campus for God. None of us possesses God. The highest heaven cannot contain him; how much less the church, the university, any human construct or institution (see 1 Kings 8:27)! God is already at work on campus in the lives of his people there and by the Spirit in ways both hidden and open in the institution itself. Our task is to discern where and how God is acting and join him!

Let us also recall that our college students are the Church now. Well-meaning people often speak of them as “the future of the Church,” and I try to hear the words of support of campus ministry in such comments. But too often ministry in higher education is seen as a way to grow congregations or ensure new blood for leadership tomorrow. I am firmly convinced that God will not honor such viewpoints. He will give success when we begin to see college students as valuable in their own right, for their ideas, their leadership, and ther commitment now, and give them meaningful opportunities to serve and to bear witness.

We need also to pay attention to faculty and staff. They are living out their baptismal vocation in the college and university. These faithful people are seeking to serve our Lord through their engagement with ideas, their guidance of students, their help with procedures and problems, and in so many other ways. In any celebration of higher education ministry, they need to be remembered. Perhaps they could be commissioned in worship at the start of the school year for their work. (See the Book of Occasional Services.)

Finally, resources. Let me simply point you to some helpful websites, then give a few suggestions about ways individuals can remember college students. To find out more about PC(USA) collegiate ministries, go to http://www.pcusa.org/collegiate/index.htm and also to www.pachem.org (Presbyterian Association for Collegiate and Higher Education Ministries; some of the resources on this site reguire registration, but that’s free). For a wonderful resource for progressive young adult Christians, visit www.livingthequestions.com and click on “Dream, Think, Be, Do.” Note that this curriculum piece costs about $300. Finally, if you are in a community college town, check out www.listeningpostinc.org, a well-established and respected franchise program that promotes listening among generations.

Or how about these simple ideas? Recruit one or a few interested people in your congregation to keep in touch with students, faculty, and staff, doing things like remembering birthdays or other anniversaries (a parent’s death, for example), sending exam snack bags, and keeping up by Facebook. Establish a program linking students with older folk in the church who can be a local resource for them. And finally, pray for students, faculty, and staff and all who minister with and to them.

I trust these ideas will be helpful to you as you celebrate Higher Education Sunday. It’s my fervent hope and prayer that our Church can recover its vision for ministry in higher education. And that begins with you and me. May God bless our efforts!

© 2009 Tom Cheatham