Alumni Stories

We are at a time in the church when resources are dwindling and numbers of our congregants are shrinking. Against this backdrop, the vitality of campus ministry as a source for church renewal shines out.

But the stories are not always told and many in the church do not recognize the contributions that campus ministry has made to the vitality of the church and to the engagement of young adults.  Below are some stories of our own students, testifying to the effect that campus ministry has had on their lives.

Your reflections to be posted on this page can be submitted by email.

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.

Elise Alexander, ’12

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.

Lindsey Kerr, ’06

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.

Rev. Taylor Denyer, ’01/’02,Bishop’s Assistant, North Katanga Conference of The United Methodist Church

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.

Ian Urriola, ’14

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!

J Horner, ’07

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.

Anne Lynch, ’12

Community alumna and current seminarian at Wesley Theological Seminary, Melanie Ollett (’12) reflects on campus ministry and the meaning of “real church”.

I cannot pinpoint one particular worship service or bible study where I experienced “real church,” but I do believe I experienced real church on an almost every day basis for three years while involved in my campus ministry. I can’t think of a community that has demonstrated the love of Christ to me more than this one. I occasionally feel as though I shouldn’t talk about them so much because there is a stigma in the church that campus ministry isn’t “church,” but then I reflect and realize how the church at large needs to hear the story of this community.

The United Methodist Protestant Community has taken their mission to “love God, serve others, and welcome all” to heart in all that it does. Some of the ways that they ‘love God’ is through their regular bible studies and worship practices. They embrace questions and doubt as a part of faith, and for “emerging” adults, this is absolutely vital. Members of the community always welcomed challenges to their assumptions and to everything they thought they knew about God and the bible, and this models a vulnerability in faith that I haven’t seen many other places. Loving God in this community means having a relationship with God that asks the tough questions such as “why did this horrible thing happen to me/the world?” or “why can’t I feel your presence with me in my loneliness,” and “how can you care about the world when much of what I see in the world is hate, destruction, and violence?”

Another way that they love God in this church community is by looking for God in every day moments. A particular member of the community became very passionate about the “God Sightings” part of the worship service, and was always the first to share how she saw God acting in her life this week, and this opened the lines of thought for other members of the congregation so much to the point where they sometimes have to limit or cut off God sightings because so many people have spotted God working in their lives. It is one of the most powerful teaching moments of the service, as it equips the members of the congregation to view their everyday lives through a lens where they perceive how God is communicating with them in the ordinary moments.

Our mission: Love God. Serve Others. Welcome All.
Serving others is also at the very heart of this community. Members of the United Methodist Protestant Community know that we are all called to serve in whatever ways we can, and are actively involved in campus outreach. Being college students themselves, they understand their context and how to minister to their classmates. During finals in the winter, the chaplain hands out free chocolate to the entire campus community who is under stress. Every Thursday night, there is a healing service, and whenever tragedy strikes in this region, this nation, or around the world, the healing service is devoted to addressing the prayers of the campus community in regards to this tragedy. They volunteered in New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, took collections for Haiti after the earthquake, had multiple prayer services and gatherings during the Arab Spring and are continuing to uplift the people of Syria in their meditations and prayers. They sponsor monthly movie nights for the campus community to come together and take a study break, and for a while I remember they had a weekly Friday night outing for freshmen in the community who did not want to join in the culture of binge drinking that surrounded their classmates. Members of the community also regularly offered their volunteer services to local food banks, city clean up efforts, and homeless shelters. They viewed serving others not only as an insular calling, but knew that serving others from a Christian perspective meant ministering to the surrounding campus community, the city, and throughout the world.

One of the most touching ministries of the United Methodist Protestant Community is their ministry of hospitality and their acceptance of everyone into their caring (but sometimes dysfunctional) group. They have won countless awards from the campus Queers and Allies resource center and the Reconciling Ministries Network for their work to end discrimination against LGBT persons in the church, and each year a member of the community “adopts” incoming freshmen and contacts them the summer before they come to campus to offer them any help they need getting acclimated with the city (helping with everyday concerns as ‘where’s the best pizza joint?’ and ‘how easy is it really to find a paid internship?’) In the beginning of each academic year, there are many activities designed to help freshmen transition into college and become parts of the community. When I was a freshmen in the first week of school, I was very upset at my roommate situation. I was in a triple with girls who were not compatible with me at all and we were not able to resolve our differences. A member of the campus Methodist group, having met me for maybe a day, said “come crash on my floor so you don’t have to deal with that.” That is not a welcome that we find everywhere! Their ministry of welcoming everyone is incredible, and is unlike any other I have seen in a church due to their unique campus environment. What’s more, they welcomed change and doing things differently. There was a respect for tradition, but there was a willingness to experiment within that tradition. This meant that I was more than welcome to explore my call to ministry by preaching, leading covenant discipleship groups, and planning and leading worship.

Beyond living out their community’s mission, the United Methodist Protestant Community of my undergraduate campus has been the “real church” for me because they live out what our conference has dubbed an “Acts 2” congregation. The community cares for one another in ways unseen in a larger church. Thanks to the wonder of social media, a member of the community who is in need posts “METHODISTS ASSEMBLE!” to the Facebook group, and gets responses for what they need. That is usually everything from soup when someone is sick, to a hug when someone is just having a rough day, to a few extra pairs of jeans when their laundry gets stolen out of the machine. There are prayer requests shared and answered, and usually no one even has to say why they need something. The community gathers around a beloved one in need and cares for them, and to me, this is the truest example of “real church.”

I told them at the end of the academic year when I went back to visit about some of the stories of church I hear in seminary. I told them of some of the frustration my classmates feel at the church, and how my professors often said something along the lines of, “imagine if the church was a safe place for questioning faith…. imagine if members of a congregation took care of one another… imagine if a church opened its doors and got more involved in serving the needs of their particular community…” I wept as I told my friends and fellow members of my campus ministry that I wish every single seminarian had been able to have a teaching congregation like them.

Melanie Ollett (’12)

Melanie Ollett, ’12