One of our former seminary interns told me that when I first came to AU, he was scared to say anything to me for fear of my bursting out in tears. Of course, that got a thorough, “Gee thanks” from my current sassy self, but he wasn’t entirely off the mark. I came to college having had a rough senior year of high school, desperate to get away from home, and generally disillusioned with most things, including the United Methodist Church into which I was baptized as an infant.
The young adults I met through the UMSA showed me new ways of being: new ways of being in community, new ways of being a woman, and new ways of being a Christian. It is thanks to this campus ministry that I remained a Christian and even grew in my faith. And I never noticed it along the way, but somehow I became something sort of like a leader because of this community, empowered by its welcoming nature to stand my ground and, just like those who came before me, to offer by my life an example of a new and maybe even better way to be. When I return to my home church, I am more involved in the working of the congregation and introducing programming related to international concerns and young people’s issues.
There is no doubt that I felt a call to ministry long before I was a part of AU’s United Methodist Community. But I was not part of a church that would ordain women. My fellow Methodist students not only affirmed my call, but sparked my interest in all the United Methodist Church had to offer. I most likely would have joined another denomination if it weren’t for my time at AU. A year after college, I was called to Young Adult Missions through GBGM. After serving in the Philippines, I moved to California, where I’m currently finishing my second year of an Mdiv program. I wouldn’t be here without Methodist campus ministry.
I have the rare experience of having been at American U both with and without a vital campus ministry–the latter I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. When in my freshman year my faith was shaking and I yearned for pastoral counseling, I did not know where to go for help. A cradle Methodist, I turned to neighboring churches and institutions, but they did not have ministries for my age group. I took whatever religion courses I could find (none were offered in Christianity at the time) and cobbled together a student-led Protestant group on campus, but this didn’t answer my questions or lessen the pain of feeling abandoned by the UMC. I nearly walked away from the Church altogether.
Thankfully, Rev. Mark Schaefer arrived on the scene, and a full-fledged campus ministry began. Through his words and actions, he demonstrated how to be a 21st century Methodist theologian. Mark’s sermons talked about doubts and beliefs –the ones that I suspected disqualified me from being a Christian–and provided logical arguments of why I wasn’t a heretic after all. I was surprised and thrilled to find out that he, a nerd like me, loved his time at Wesley Seminary. It is no coincidence that not long after graduating from AU I enrolled at Wesley (about to be ordained in The UMC) or that I’m not the only recent AU graduate to do the same.
The United Methodist ministry at American University isn’t simply a recruitment and training center for young clergy and lay leaders, however; it is changing the way tens of thousands of young people view our denomination. Study after study have shown that the young people of America are rejecting Church due to their perception of hypocrisy, bigotry and incompatibility with academic thinking. Yet at AU, the Methodists are respected. Students appreciate their thought-provoking and stereotype-breaking flyers on the shuttles and around campus. They enjoy the hospitality, humor and hot-topic discussions of the Methodists. And, yes, for over a decade now countless have noted that Mark the Methodist is lunch pals with priests, rabbis and Muslims.
It is impossible to measure the overall contribution this ministry is making for the transformation of the world. Needless to say, however, only the most myopic of thinking would lead one to not see its tremendous importance–both for the community it serves and for the future of our denomination.
I am a dyed in the wool United Methodist. I was baptized as an infant. I was confirmed in the 8th grade. I participated in an alphabet soup of acronyms including UMYF, DCYM, CCYM, NEJCYM, and MOP. I’ve been a member of the same church my whole life (Asbury First United Methodist Church, Upper New York Annual Conference). In fact, one of the reasons I first looked at American University was because I saw that it was affiliated the UMC.
When it came time for me to choose a college to attend in Fall 2010, I had three options: a world renowned music school, a small christian college in the middle of nowhere New York, and American University. American University offered me the most money, and I met Mark Schaefer during one of my visits and learned about the Methodist community, so I felt comfortable turning down the big music school for American. During that summer, however, I started to get second thoughts. I decided that I would go to AU for a semester and work on transferring out to Eastman, which was close to my home, family, and friends. All those second thoughts vanished once I became more involved with the community.
From day one, this community has served as a family for me. If you want to find me nowadays the best place to look wouldn’t be my room, but in Kay with the rest of the Methodists. It has provided me with amazing opportunities. I’m currently serving as the music director for the Fellowship of Sound, the community’s music group. I owe so much to this community. Because of them, I am still a member of my home church and the United Methodist Church overall. Campus ministry matters, and when it comes time to make cuts, it should be the last thing to go.
I was never a formal member of the AU Methodists however I cannot imagine those stressful four years without Mark Schaefer. He was a mentor and a friend. Even as an atheist, I knew that I was welcome at the Methodist gatherings and services anytime. Mark was there for me when I had questions regarding faith and his energy and positivity was genuine. I appreciate what the Methodists do for the AU community. Thanks for everything, Mark!
Let me cut to the chase: I would not have become a Christian, I suspect ever, except for a campus ministry. I would have continued to ignore a call to ministry. I would never have joined any church denomination, let alone the United Methodist Church. Nor would I have ever walked into a church building.
When I left for college, I had already been told–personally and by social apparatus–that I would probably go to hell because I wasn’t properly Christian. Thankfully, this did give rise to a hatred for all things Christian, although I recognize that some of my peers do feel that way and unfortunately have good reasons for those feelings. Instead, it fed curious about all things religious, which seemed to cause people to act out vehement hatred yet also love. This in turn led to two instrumental moments in my life: As a student majoring in the study of religions, I read the Bible; When a friend invited me to see her baptism by one of our campus’s ministries, I went.
The first led to the discovery that everything I thought I knew about the Bible was wrong, that in fact it was full of stories and love and radical inclusion. But what amazed me, what changed everything, was going to that Easter service on campus (not in some cold stone building but there at my home). I saw young people like me actually trying to live out the message of the Bible as I had come to know it, something I had never experienced at any other church ever in my life. These people weren’t there because of social pressure, they were there trying to express Christ’s love in the world because they wanted to.
For me, a campus ministry changed everything.