Forty Years and Going Strong By Thomas J. Philipp
In the fall of 1960 I took an Intern Year while at Union Theological Seminary in New York to serve the First Presbyterian Church in Canton, New York and serve also as Minister to Students at both St. Lawrence University and NY State A and T College. It was a joy to serve with the Pastor of First Presbyterian, The Rev. Jack Wells. Jack played a significant role with United Ministries in Higher Education in New York State. After serving that year in Canton I knew I wanted to go into campus ministry. At that time the Presbyterian denomination required that a person serve three years in a local congregation before being certified to go into campus ministry.
Upon graduation from Union in 1962 I served as Assistant Minister at Jermain Memorial Presbyterian Church in Watervliet New York for three years and then accepted the call to a newly created position of Protestant Campus Minister at Oswego, New York. I was approved for campus ministry by Rev. Arnold Nakajima a General Assembly staff person.
I served in Oswego from 1965 to 1972. From 1968 to 1972 I was also on the faculty as Assistant Professor of History, team teaching a course in Western Civilization titled “The History of Ideas and Movements.” This was the great era of student involvement in civil rights, anti Vietnam War demonstrations, and protests against certain university policies. I, and most of my colleagues in campus ministry during this period became very much involved in these movements and these movements shaped our style of ministry. We were out there with the students in their protests. It was also the time of the emergence of the drug culture and the development of gay/lesbian groups often turning to the campus ministry for support. The gay/lesbian group at Oswego met in my home for their weekly meetings and soon included several persons from the town community as well. It was wonderful to have the full support of my campus ministry board for my involvement in all these various aspects of my ministry.
In 1968 I helped to form the New York State Campus Ministers Association and served as President from 1968 to 1972. The Association developed a number of seminars that included not only campus ministers but also faculty members and local pastors and lay people wishing to develop a mutual ministry addressing the issues and concerns of the day. New York State United Ministries in Higher Education (a joint enterprise of the United Church of Christ, American Baptists, Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Reformed Church in America with support from the United Methodists) was the vehicle for providing denominational support for the twenty-two various ecumenical campus ministries around the State. In some cases there would be two or three UMHE supported ministries on a single campus (Cornell and Syracuse) and other campuses receiving no UMHE support. In 1967 UMHE produced a two-page document that suggested experimenting with a team approach covering a geographical area rather than funding individual campus centered ministries.
By 1970 the State Commission of UMHE was ready to act on this new strategy. New York State was divided into nine geographical areas. The twenty-two campus ministers were assured of being funded through June 1972. The positions were then to be cut to seventeen and each campus minister needed to be committed to an “area ministry” and be shifted to a different area from the one in which they worked. This strategy meant the end of my ministry in Oswego and I was called to serve with Rev. Hugh Nevin in a ministry on Long Island covering the two counties of Nassau and Suffolk. I remember well the brief job description I had. “There are twenty-two institutions of higher education on Long Island. You are to relate to them.”
I came to Long Island in July 1972 to serve with Hugh as staff to the newly created Long Island United Campus Ministry. We developed a “project approach’ for LIUCM. Each project drew people from campuses, local churches, and the community at large, to address particular issues. Some examples were:
(1) The Peace Education Project which brought together faculty from both high schools and colleges to develop a peace education curriculum to be used in the high schools. This project was aided greatly by staff from the American Friends Service Committee New York City Office.
(2) Gay Community-Religious Community. This project provided for a dialogue between the gay community and our religious communions. Students and staff from five colleges participated and I assisted in the development of two organizations that address the needs of GLBT youth (Pride for Youth in Nassau and Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth in Suffolk). Both of these organizations continue to exist and have served hundreds of GLBT youth and their families on Long Island.
(3) A most significant program was our Vietnam Veterans Service Project. This project was developed to identify the needs of the returned Vietnam veterans and to assist these veterans in developing structures and strategies to address those needs; and to sensitize the university, the church and the community at large to address those needs and find ways to harness resources to address them. Before this project came to a close, over 16,000 Vietnam Veterans were contacted and served in some way.
(4) The Nassau Coalition on Family Planning. A New York State-wide study on adolescent sexuality indicated that Nassau County had the highest rate of teenage out-of-wedlock pregnancies of any other area in the State excluding New York City. I was asked to assist in putting together a coalition of university personnel, religious leaders, and community leaders. Representatives from four Nassau County colleges and several local pastors and community agencies produced a study titled “Children Bearing Children. The Coalition formed a Board and with various grants was able to hire a Director and Assistant Director. Out of this developed the Center for Family Resources. I served as its president for several years.
This is a sample of projects that developed interaction between Campus, Church, and Community.
In 1982, I cut back my position as Executive Minister of LIUCM to provide for part-time staff on certain campuses, and became Pastor of Community Presbyterian Church in Merrick and served also as Protestant Chaplain at CW Post College of Long Island University, serving in this dual role for 25 years until I retired from campus ministry in 2005 and from the Merrick Church in 2006.
From my first years in Oswego up to and including the present time I have been a member of NCMA, serving for a few years as representative of the Northeast Region and from 1979 until 1982 as Secretary of NCMA. I have attended most of the annual conferences and received the GNOME Award in 2000. In 2001 I received the Presbyterian Church USA Higher Education Honor Roll Award. I have found NCMA to provide stimulating conferences, a fellowship of colleagues in campus ministry, significant resources and a vehicle for keeping this ministry on the agenda of our denominations.