Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

In Their Own Words: Campus Ministers' Perceptions of Their Work and Their Worlds

Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

In Their Own Words: Campus Ministers' Perceptions of Their Work and Their Worlds

Article excerpt

This qualitative study compared and contrasted the perceptions of roles, support, and mission of campus ministers at a large public and a small private institution in the southeastern United States. Semi-structured interviews of campus ministers, representing a variety of faith traditions, were conducted and analyzed.

Higher education in the United States began in the development of religiously affiliated and religiously governed institutions. Starting with the Calvinist founding of Harvard in 1636, a variety of Protestant denominations founded, governed and sometimes struggled over the control of an expanding number of colleges and universities. History shows that some of these remained private, religiously affiliated institutions, others transitioned into institutions operating within denominational traditions while still others became public (Brubacher & Rudy, 1970; Rudolph, 1990/1902). In general, it is believed these institutions were founded to produce clergy members leading congregations through the challenges inherent in creating a new country. In reality their institutional missions were broader, more complex and guided by the demands of a predominantly Christian culture (Thelin, 2003). While they were designed to produce church leadership, they also produced business and community leaders schooled in church, instilling Christian morals and ideals as the foundation of society (Urubacher & Rudy, 1976; Shockley, 1989).

In the nearly 370 years since the founding of Harvard, a wide spectrum of institutions of higher education has emerged. While affiliation and governance have also evolved, the necessity for places and persons oriented toward the spiritual needs of students has remained a constant in higher education. Public and private differences notwithstanding, the role of campus ministry and those filling the role of minister (or its equivalent) have changed significantly through the years. Interestingly, these positions were not present in the colonial colleges of New England and were only found in a tiny percentage of the institutions founded after them. As is the case with the evolution of student affairs (Nuss, 2003), the role of campus minister emerged when presidents and faculty members were no longer able to attend to the spiritual and moral needs of their students (Shockley, 1989). just as the role of student affairs is constantly evolving and must be considered within its context, higher education, so must campus ministry be considered both within the higher education context and that broader context of the religious culture of this country.

From the colonial period to the present day, religious practice and spirituality in a multitude of forms impacted higher education. This influence and presence is evident in the variety of religiously based and affiliated institutions (Cohen, 1998). It is also apparent in the host of choices students have as they express and explore religion and spirituality as college students.

Primary documents allow us an understanding of how this ministry evolved in the recent past, both within a higher education and a societal context. In june of I960, a time of significant social change, the University of Georgia, together with the National Campus Ministry Association, sponsored the National Campus Ministry Convocation, held in Athens at the UGA Center for Continuing Education. The theme was "Personal Wholeness and Professional Identity in the Campus Ministry." The published proceedings from the meeting list topics as diverse as "The University and the Search for Identity," "The Church and the Search for Integrity," and "The Family and the Search for Wholeness." The topic most relevant for the purposes of this study is "Why Do We Have a Campus Minister?" The author answers this question for campus ministers in terms easily understood by student affairs professionals. "You are the only one who offers the challenge that these young people, having been privileged, see through, and break through, the illusion that the future lies in security, and discover that the future lies within themselves" (Hofman,1966, p. …

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