Just returned from a brief visit to an old friend and seminary classmate. Our friendship dates back to the late 70s when we were classmates at Princeton Seminary.
Today my friend Bruce is director of the Presbyterian campus ministry at Florida State University, and since several young members of my church are students at FSU, a visit seemed like a good idea – to catch up with Bruce, to see his ministry, and to visit my church members.
About those young church members: I got to know them long before they went off to college by going with them on their high school mission trips. You get to know people pretty well when you live in close proximity for a week. And not only did I get to know them, but I grew to love them and care for them. (How can you not love someone deeply after a 14-hour van ride to Tennessee?) They’re a great group of kids who have now – obviously, surprisingly, gratifyingly – become young adults.
Bruce and I took them – can you believe that they all said yes to my offer of a free lunch? – to the University Club which is located inside the football stadium. During lunch we looked out at a sea of empty seats and the striped field which had just been used the previous Saturday for the annual “spring game.”
I’ll say this much: College students have hearty appetites, and so I’m glad we chose the buffet. I didn’t count, but I noticed they went back to the serving line several times. I suppose that sometimes ministry means feeding the hungry.
It was good to see my young friends, and it was good to see Bruce. I realized, among other things, that what he does and what I do are not so different. True, my ministry is in a parish, not on a university campus. But we both spend much of our time caring for people, leading them – gently, patiently – to an openness to God’s presence in their lives.
I was glad to see what a fine pastor Bruce is. I was glad to see how students respond to him. I was glad to see that his ministry extends far beyond students to faculty members, to university administrators, and to the person who stands at the cash register in the cafeteria. He knows them all, and they know him.
I have asked Bruce to guest blog for me in the next few weeks. I want my readers to hear some of his thoughts about our kids. We raise them in the church, we make sure that they go through confirmation and other rites of passage, but then we haul them off to a distant university and leave them there – to fend for themselves.
What happens to them spiritually at this point is … well, it’s not clear. Most of them drop out of church at this point. Most of them become “un-churched” the minute they reach campus.
I would like Bruce to reflect on this for us. And with the end of semester coming up soon, we may have to wait just a bit. In the meantime, please pray for Bruce and others like him who work with students.