Reflections on 40 Years in Campus Ministry by Verlyn I. Barker

Reflections on 40 Years in Campus Ministry
Verlyn I. Barker

I have this suspicion that to be termed a “sage” in NCMA circles has more to do with my age, 82, than any wisdom I may have from years in campus ministry but I can at least offer some reflections from my 40 years in the ministry of the United Church of Christ, three years as Associate University Pastor at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and 35 years on the staff of the Division of Higher Education of the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries with responsibilities related to campus ministry and the student Christian movement.

First a disclaimer. I have been retired for 18 years and my professional papers and documents have been placed in the Archives of the Divinity School of Yale University, thus I must rely on a few papers I have retained and what I can recall. My closest colleague and friend over the last years of my ministry was Clyde Robinson of the United Presbyterian Church. Before I retired in 1996, with Louise, we should taken a long holiday at the beach and written an overview of our ministry, clarity and accuracy assured with the assistance of George Dickel and Dewars White Label. Failing that, let me share something of my years in campus ministry.

I tend to think of this ministry with the titles that defined it over the years, the formative years, Student Work which was denomination-based; the great development years, Campus Ministry which began the ecumenical periods; and the broadest years of engagement, Ministry in Higher Education. The terms describing the ministry are directly related to what defined the Church at the time, its vision of mission in relation to its presence in the public sphere and the marks of leadership over the course of 60 years. My reference is to the “established” or “mainline” Protestant denominations.”

First, in the 1940’s, “student work” as discussed in the classic by Yale Divinity School Professor Clarence Shedd in his book, The Church Follows its Students. The “student workers” were located in a student center across the street from the large state universities. Students came to the center for worship, Bible, theological study and discussion of the meaning of being Christian, usually gathering on Sunday evenings for a fellowship supper followed with speakers and discussion, often professors and local pastors. Since religion was not taught in the university, courses were taught in the student center. It was a time when young people from the churches began attending the public universities rather than local trade colleges and church related colleges if they sought post-high school education.

I am not sure when this annual event began but it became common for there to be an annual Religion in Life or Religious Emphasis week in the universities when campus ministries brought prominent religious leaders to the campus for a series of lectures and discussions, when campus ministers were scheduled into the dorms, fraternities and sororities for discussion.

In the latter part of this period, universities began to accept religion as an academic discipline rather than constructs of the faith of individuals and provided opportunities for lectures. For example, in 1957 at the University of Nebraska, H. Richard Niebuhr was the invited lecturer for its “Montgomery Lectures on Contemporary Culture.” His lecturers were published in his Radical Monotheism and the Western Culture.

Second, in the 50s and 60s, campus ministry, first denominationally oriented and gradually more ecumenical. This was the time of tremendous growth in church membership, new church starts, and strong financial support of national and state/ regional mission agencies, including those responsible for campus ministry. A time when national assembly’s prominently participated in public affairs, when the denominational leaders were public figures in the country. I think of Eugene Carson Blake and Bishop James Pike.

Also this was the time of the rapid increase in the number of ministries with funding from some national offices of the denominations. For example, under the leadership of Harold Viehman, whom I herald as the creative leader in establishing this ministry, the Presbyterians provided the funding for the campus minister as ministries were formed, first on the large state universities and then to the state colleges/universities. It was a time with national staff responsible for campus ministry, the Presbyterians, USA, being the largest with staff regionally deployed. The United Church of Christ had a staff of five, three national and two regionally based. The staff of these two denominations along with those of the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, and the Evangelical United Brethren Church formed the United Campus Christian Fellowship, then the United Ministries in Higher Education.

The “campus minister” worked out of the center, some in houses others in newly constructed facilities at the campus. There was more of a total campus orientation, going into the campus rather than from the campus to the center, broadening from undergraduates to graduate students, faculty, international students and university staff. The campus minister met with faculty groups, student counseling staff, be invited to visit dorms, fraternity and sororities, provide leadership in campus events.

The campus ministry centers became the place for discussion of controversial social and political issues, sometimes to the displeasure and even opposition of the university and people in the churches. Perhaps, most notably found in the Viet Nam War period. Because denominations, nationally, took liberal and progressive policy decisions in their national assemblies, campus ministers had a reference to legitimatize their actions and support their own convictions.

With this came exposure trips in which students, with the campus minister’s leadership, traveled to places where they were confronted directly and personally to problem issues in the society and pondered the meaning for Christians. I first took a group to Omaha seeking understanding of the condition of the American Indian living off the reservation – on the TV evening news I was called “a wolf in sheep’s clothing;” then a group to Chicago to encounter the destitute, “slum” areas of the city; and finally a group to Americus, Georgia, to visit the Koinonia Farm and Clarence Jordan, a sanctuary under constant attack for its stand against segregation. How well I remember the Jordans taking the men across the road for their night’s lodging. Lights from a car were seen as we approached the road. Mrs. Jordan asked, should we stay on this side of the road or cross, to which Mr. Jordan replied, “stay on this side for it there is only the driver in the car it will be more difficult for him to shoot at us.” In our cabin were marks of gun shots. We got the message loud and clear.

During this period, the denominational student fellowships began to be formed on the local, state and national levels, gradually taking ecumenical forms and marked by national student conferences during the Christmas holidays, always being exposed to prominent theologians, biblical scholars and leaders of the time, e.g., Martin Luther King, Jr. Powerful experiences for students as well as campus ministers and chaplains.

And likewise, denominational campus ministry organizations were formed with regional and national conferences, e.g., Association of Presbyterian University Pastors, United Church of Christ Fellowship of Campus Ministers. Out of these, came the formation of the National Campus Ministry Association in which I was a participant 50 years ago.

And third, in the 60s and 70s, ministry in higher education, again a broadened view of ministry to include all aspects of the life and work of higher education, local, state, national. I am reminded of the issues we faced in the context of higher education, issues for which we were criticized but issues which sooner or later the churches would have to address. From desegregation and the struggle for equal rights, to the acceptance of students from other nations and cultures, to racial and gender inequality, to teaching of religion within the public universities, to the issues of faith and science, to war and peace, e.g., Viet Nam War and the complicity of the university in the industrial­ military complex, to issues related to human sexuality, to the policies affecting campus life, issues related to the welfare of students and academic freedom. But always central
to the work of the minister in higher education were the students as they encountered new thinking and experiences in their faith and personal development.

The strongest and most effective advocates and interpreters were the magnificent cadre of highly competent ministers in higher education who responded to the call to this ministry with a vision and passion. Their service as pastors and teachers is the real accounting for this ministry. Out of these ministries came pastors and teachers in the churches, denominational, national and world
leaders; in the public sector.

My past in this ministry still emerges in unexpected ways. A former student at the University of Nebraska has moved to Denver and, with her husband, we have lunch every week. She refers to her experience on the trip to Americus, Georgia, as having transformed her life. A month ago I was in meeting with the new President of llifff School of Theology, Thomas Wolfe. When he saw my name plate, he said “I know who you are! I used to get letters and resources from you when I was Chaplain at Syracuse University.” Only this week I had a student from my days at the University of Nebraska whom I had had no contact for over 50 years get in touch with me. While I do not dwell on my past, with these contacts I am reminded of my years in campus ministry.

Some refer to this as ”the heyday” of this ministry. Church-wise, highly effective national denominational leadership, strong ecumenical commitments, effective participation in the public structures of society. Nationally United Ministries in Higher Education at its apex had the participation of ten denominations. There were ten national denominational agencies engaged together in UMHE in addition to the original four – (Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, Evangelical United Brethren Church, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church, USA): Moravian Church, northern province; American Baptists; Episcopal Church, Reformed Church in America; Church of the Brethren; United Methodist Church when it merged with the United Brethren Church.  The professional staff were “contributed” to work as staff of UMHE, the number coming to 35 when I served as President of UMHE. UMHE’s budget was that provided by the denominational agencies’ budgets.

There were three sections of UMHE’s work, UMHE’s nationwide ministries; UMHE’s national ministries and the national offices, most notably the Office of Communications, the latter being the only staff supported by UMHE itself. The depth of the commitment and financial support varied greatly, frequently causing “difficulties.” I will not comment further! That belongs in a more private setting.


The Office of Communications was key in developing the ministry networks, connecting ministries with a national directory, information and resources, a cohesion for a national identity. One of those leading the Office was Leon Howell, afterwards to become editor of Christianity and Crisis, and Betsy Alden, known for her development of resources used throughout the network, including Connexion and ResUME, a regular update of the work of United Ministries in Education.

Early in the formation of UMHE there was the Office of Personnel which I staffed in St. Louis along with being a regional secretary. This grew from the practice of UPUSA of being involved in the selection of campus ministers who would serve in local ministries that were funded out of the national offices. The office collected resumes from those seeking positions; local committees seeking personnel obtained these resumes from which they issued their calls.

Later an unsuccessful effort was made to help local committees in their funding needs with an Office of Development. The reduction in the financial support from the state and regional denominational committees cast became determinative.


Most of the national staff were deployed to serve as resources and consultants to state commissions and local boards, some in other positions over the years. I can’t recall all of these staff but I remember David Rich (ABC/UPUSA) in PA; Earl Lowell (UPUSA), Richard Nutt (UMC) and William Tibbitt (Epis) in New York; Samuel Slie (UCC) and David Wallick (UPUSA) in the Northeast; Harry Manon (UCC) in Pennsylvania; LeRoy Loats (UPUSA), Dale Turner (ABC}, Glenn Hosman and Cecil Findley (UMC) in LaGrange; Emerson Abendroth (UPUSA) in Kansas City; Sam Kirk, UMC in Denver; Verlyn Barker (UCC) in St.Louis; William Keys (EPIS) in the Middle Atlantic; on the west coast, William Hallman (UPUSA), Daniel Statello and William Shinto ABC), Paul Kearns (UPUSA) and Richard Nelson Bolles (EPIS). Others in the national offices included Donald Shockley, United Methodist; Nataniel Porter, Mark Harris and James McNamee, Episcopal; Richard Tappan, William Belli,American Baptist; ABC); Bernie Michel and Gary Harke, Moravian; Ralph McFadden and Donald Lowdermilk, Church of the Brethren; George Conn, UPUSA; John Butler, Arla Elston, Larry Steinmetz, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ. There were others who will come to me the minute I send this to Betsy Alden. When gathered in staff meetings, there was a comprehensive reporting on what was happening across the country, a thrilling and energizing experience.


These ministries embodied the belief that it was important for the church to be engaged in national arenas of higher education which were addressing important issues. The two which became prominent in their impact were programs in medical education under the leadership of Dr. Ronald McNeur, a contributed staff person from the United Presbyterian Church and the program in career development under the leadership of Richard Nelson Bolles, a contributed staff from the Protestant Episcopal Church.

The work in medical education began in the 60s with the concern of two professors in the University of California Medical School in San Francisco who were concerned about the impact of the development of medical technology on the practice, teaching and research in medicine. The focus, the person as patient, in dealing with questions of the use of life-support systems, dying and death, abortion, euthanasia, ethics of organ transplant, genetic engineering. This program was a prime example of what it meant to being ministry in higher education, lifting up the national settings in which to be engaged.

With this came the formation of The Society for Health and Human Values which was a separate entity but a program of UMHE which provided the staff and received its primary funding for many years from the National Endowment for the Humanities. With seminars and workshops in the national meetings and conferences of medical educators, e.g., The Association of American Medical Schools emerged the Medical Humanities in the curriculum and staff in all of the 162 medical schools in the country. The program produced a major resource in a four volume series, Health and Human Values: A Guide to Making Your Own Decisions published by Yale University Press in 1983. In an effort to record the work of the Society, I wrote a monograph, Health and Human Values: A Ministry of Theological Inquiry and Moral Discourse, published in 1987. The Society’s purposes are now found within The American Society for Bioethics and Humanities.

The work in career development emerged in the late 60s when the denominations began the period of membership decline and major reduction in funding for national agencies. Hard hit were campus ministries and the job losses by highly trained and effective ministers in higher education. There were no positions in this ministry to which they could go. One day when talking about the problem and pondering what UMHE could do, Richard Bolles said, ” I want to be the nations expert in career change.” With funding for his research came the first edition of What Color is Your Parachute? in 1970, revised annually ever year afterward, the latest being in 2014. I don’t know exactly the number of copies sold over the years but the last I saw it was reaching toward 15 million. Life/work Planning is the process development, based on the belief that a person’s skills and talents can be used in many areas in the work world. E.g., a minister has skills that are not bound only to the church’s ministry. The book was translated into 7 languages. Richard Bolles is and has been the speaker in professional conferences in this county and abroad and is often referred to as the guru In the field.

The Career Development Program was funded by the Lily Endowment The program included two week workshops for campus ministers, career counselors in college and universities and a host of others engaged in the field. Like the work in medical education, I often ponder the impact Richard Bolles has had on thousands and thousands of lives, including my own.

Public Education:

This program grew out of the issues facing public education, e.g., funding, safeguarding the schools from the attacks of special interest groups like the fundamentalists. Our interest was challenging the growing presuppositions that education is to domesticate; rather, education is for the whole person, preparing students for life, how to learn rather than just being receptive of information. But the more action part of the program emerged around the issue creationism. An important resource for this program was Professor Douglas Sloan, Professor of the History and Philosophy of Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, earlier a leader in the Student Christian movement. His two books, Faith-Knowledge: Mainline Protestantism and American Higher Education and I nsight-Imagination: The Emancipation of Thought and the Modern World were two of most important books I have read about education. UMHE had two staff who began working in this area, Shirley Heckman, Church of the Brethren, and Barney Kathan, United Church of Christ.

In 1981 the General Assembly of the State of Arkansas, passed Act 590 “to require balanced treatment of creation-science and evolution-science in public schools …” -the beginning of a nationwide hot discussion and debate on “creationism” fostered by the fundamentalists. In January, 1982, Judge Overton, a judge in the US District Court for Eastern Arkansas handed down a decision giving a clear, specific definition of science as a basis for ruling that creation science is religion simply, not science. While the ruling applied only to the Eastern District in Arkansas, it had national and nationwide consequences which affected every Public School Board in the country.

The public education program was incorporated with UMHE and the organization’s name was changed to United Ministries in Education, public education being one of the program areas. Hal Viehman, retired, became the staff person for this program. He and other denominational leaders participated in the Council for Religion in Public Education which held that it was important to engage in the debate and discussion in order to increase understanding which included advocating respect for sound education and integrity of religious belief and clarifying the meaning of the freedom of religion amendment as it applied to public institutions like the public school.

Among resources developed for local churches was my “Creationism, the Church, and the Public School” and a monograph series on “The Church and the Public School,” the latter focusing on the importance of the public school in our nation.

The Community College Program

This was program was an example of how UMHE responded to the phenomenal growth and diversity in higher education, from the ”flag ship” state universities, to professional schools, to teacher colleges, to community colleges. The work focused on sustaining and strengthening the colleges’ response to the needs of their communities and developing ways in which colleges and congregations might work together with their mutual resources. Much of the work of the national staff team was within the national conferences of The American Association of Community Colleges. The UMHE team included William Hallman, Clyde Robinson, UPUSA and Robert Mayo, an African­ American Episcopal priest on the staff of the UCC, Earl Lowell in New York and J.Springer in Pennsylvania, Mark Rutledge in NM, and Betsy Alden in Dallas . Resources developed by this team included Live-Wires: Developing Campus/Church Connections for the 21st Century by Earl Lowell and J. Springer.

Peace Education Program:

The Peace Education Program with the leadership of Shirley Heckman, from the Church of the Brethren, worked closely with Betty Reardon, Director of the Institute for Peace Studies at Teachers College, Columbia University.


Latin American Interests, with the leadership of William Rogers, a minister in higher education in New York focused on finding ways in which the church and university, the Anglo and Latino communities could deal with the implications of the use of US power oppressed people in Latin America.

UMHE provided funding for the Women’s Caucus focused on issues in the emerging women’s movement, i.e., the role of women higher education and the church. Funding for The Ministry to Blacks in Higher Education with leadership from Frank Horton and Richard Hicks of the United Methodist Church and Robert Mayo from the United Church of Christ. This program focused on ways in which predominantly white campuses could respond constructively to the presence of an increasing number of African American students on their campuses. There were a few initiatives with Schools of Law at Harvard University and Emory University but these did not materialize as a national program.

When the AIDS epidemic developed, UME in association with the American College Health Association, sponsored AIDS training events for campus ministers

The other national program that emerged in UMHE but quickly became independent as it was embraced by national denominational agencies, e.g., science and technology.

Science and Technology emerged first out of campus ministers’ interests in the new conversations around the relation of science and faith, leaving behind the “two realm” theory with conversations between theologians and scientists in the U.S. and England.  A second component was interest in the impact of new scientific knowledge and technology on the society. I don’t know the developments in all of the denominations but the United Church and the United Presbyterians formed specific groups to address the questions. The two met and worked closely together.

In the UPUSA, The Working Group on Faith, Science and Technology with leadership by James Miller, a campus minister at Michigan Technological University and Kenneth McCall, Executive Presbyter in Mackinac Presbytery in Michigan. They edited the Church and Contemporary Cosmology, published by Carnegie Mellon Press.

In the United Church of Christ, I formed and staffed The Science and Technology Working Group with the leadership of Ronald Cole-Turner, campus minister at Michigan Technological University and now a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and Brent Waters, Chaplain at Redlands University, now a professor at Garrett Evangelical Seminary in Evanston.

Together the two groups sponsored a symposium and published the papers on “Rediscovering Alexandria: Science, Technology & and Churches” in 1990 in the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The UCC group was responsible for developing policies on related issues for the General Synod, e.g., mapping the human genome, genetic engineering, stem cell research, dying and death (focused on the use for life support systems, etc.) Study resources were developed for the churches. Resources from this group included New Genesis: Theology and the Genetic Revolution by Ronald Cole-Turner and with Brent Waters, Pastoral Genetics: Theology and Care at the Beginning of Life. Brent also authored Dying and Death: A Recourse for Christian Reflection and Ministry in An Age of Science and Technology: Genetics and Pastoral Theololgy. Brent Waters and I edited “Science, Technology and the Christian Faith: An Account of Some Pilgrims in Search of Progress.”

There were similar initiatives in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Protestant Episcopal Church. The leader in the ELCA was the late John Mangum. John and I happened to live in the same apartment complex on the upper West side in New York City and became good friends. Out of our discussion came the conviction that it was time to form an ecumenical body. We co-founded the Ecumenical Roundtable for Science, Technology and the Church which sponsored annual conferences led by prominent theologians and scientists, attended by a large range of persons including campus ministers, pastors, theologians and ethicists.

In 1987, the ELGA with the World Lutheran Federation sponsored a global consultation in Larnaca, Cyprus, with the theme “The New Scientific! Technological World: What Difference does it make to the Churches?” There were 45 participants from seventeen nations. A week of worship, lectures, and discussions, all reported out in The New Faith­ Science Debate: Probing Cosmology, Technology and Theology. edited by John Mangum. I had the privilege of working with John in planning and participating in the consultation, a memorable experience marked by the presence and participation of some brilliant young people, including a 19 year old, called the ”whiz” from Argentina who reminded us of the importance of these discussions for his generation.

IV. The Student Christian Movement

To omit the development of the student Christian movement over this time seriously overlooks an important part of ministry in higher education.

Internationally, the vision and energy for an ecumenical student Christian movement originated in Europe in 1895 by the North American evangelist and global ecumenist, John R. Mott, with the formation of the World Student Christian Federation, a federation of the student Christian movements in nations around the world, organized into six regions: Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and Caribbean, Middle East
and North America. The number of movements changing over the years. When I was President of the WSCF Trustees, US, in the 80s, there were 105 member movements.

Briefly, students who participated in the sCms were encouraged to study their Christian faith with the same depth and passion they brought to their studies. They are known for their openness to searchers as well as believers and for a strong commitment of racial and social justice. Every four years, WSCF holds a General
Assembly with delegates from each of the six regions, one of the richest experiences one can have. I participated in the General Assembly in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in the 70s.

This was during the Cold War with Russia. Somehow the WSCF leadership was able to bring a student from Russia to the Assembly under an assumed name. Vividly I remember one lunch in which I entered the room from the west, he from the east and we greeting one another and sat for lunch. At the end, we rose and embraced as the Assembly sang, “In Christ there is not East of West.” One of the most emotional experiences I have ever had.

Out of the 2004 General Assembly came this guiding vision.

“Our mission is to empower students in critical thinking and constructive transformation of our world by being a space for prayer and celebration, theological reflection, study and analysis of social and cultural processes and solidarity and action across boundaries of culture, gender and ethnicity. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the WSCF is called to be a prophetic witness to church and society. This vision is nurtured by a radical hope of God’s reign in history.”

WSCF sponsors an annual World Day of Prayer for Students with a common liturgy, the offerings from which are used for the Federation’s Ecumenical Assistance Program which is given to sCms in countries facing disasters and political oppression. The hymn sung and each and every gathering, is one written by Walter C. Smith in 1867:

Immortal, Invisible, God only wise,
in light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days, almighty, victorious, your great name we praise.

The archives of WSCF are in the Yale Divinity School. More information is available on the WSCF’s web site.

Nationally, the SCMs had several organizational formations over the years, their archives being a part of the archives of the Divinity School of Yale University. The first expression was the Student Volunteer Movement, SVM, formed in 1886, as a collegiate expression of the concerns of students for foreign mission. The lnterseminary Movement, ISM, began in 1889 as a fellowship of theological students with concern for mission, unity and the renewal of the church.

Very important as the major resource for the student Christian movements that followed was the magazine for the Methodist Student Movement which was formed in 1941, motive magazine. B.J. Stiles was the amazingly creative editor. More than a resource for the Methodist Student Movement, it became a major resource for the entire University Christian Movement. One found this magazine in every campus minister center in the country. Noted and celebrated for its avant garde editorial and artistic vision, in 1966 Time magazine said it stood out among church publications “like a miniskirt at a church social.” It was the runner-up to illas the Magazine of the Year in1965. Ultimately the strong stands on civil rights, Vietnam and emerging gender issues became more than the United Methodist Church officials could take. They withdrew funding and it ceased publication in 1972. An entire generation of religious activists was shaped by its vision.

In 1944, The United Student Christian Council, USCG, became the national body of a number of national denominational intercollegiate movements of denominations and the Student YMCA and YWCA. Since the WSCF’s membership was restricted to one ecumenical body from a nation, it was the member US movement in the WSCF federation.

In the 1940s when more students were attending college, denominations developed and extension of their youth ministries, for the Congregational Christian Churches, a student adjunct to Pilgrim Fellowship. Before the actual formation of the United Church of Christ in 1957, students from the Congregational and the Evangelical and Reformed Churches formed the United Student Fellowship, USF.

In 1955, USF sent a formal invitation to all member groups of the USCG to discuss the possibility of forming a united sCm in the United States, These discussions held at Stephens College in 1960 resulted in the formation of the United Campus Christian Fellowship, UCCF, “believing that we are called to unite our campus Christian movements to carry out this mission in our campus life.” Joining with the USF of the United Church of Christ were the student movements of the United Presbyterian Church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. From the UCCF “Articles of Union:”

“The mission of the Church is to express God’s love in the world…A campus Christian movement exists to help students carry out the mission of the Church in campus life…

The purpose of campus Christian programs is not to raise up more faithful Presbyterians or Congregationalists. Christians in the university are to pursue their students as a Christian calling, knowing also that through their participation in the life of the university they may more fully convey their faith in Jesus Christ to others.”

Then came the zinger:

“Our campus Christian movements are church-related movements, and the fact of our disunity as denominations cannot be ignored. But as we face our responsibilities on campus, is God calling us to heal our divisions? It is above all in the attempt to carry our mission in the world that the Church is driven toward unity (as, e.g. in India)…Can we not expect that God may use our experience of life together as a step toward greater unity of His Church.”

From this came the challenge, why should the Boards that support our ministry be separate? Hence came the formation of United Ministries in Higher Education by the denominations which had formed the United Campus Christian Fellowship.

The UCCF continued its efforts to form a more united sCm in the US. In 1965 UCCF and the Methodist Student Movement discovered mutual interests in a more united mission but could not agree on a common strategy. MSM was more oriented on social issues; UCCF on higher education. The discussion did result in The National Student Christian Federation as a wider ecumenical forum for sCms in the United States. Later, the University Christian Movement and the last that I know of, The Council of Ecumenical Christian Ministry (CESCM) which included the United Church of Christ, The Protestant Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church, USA, and the United Methodist Church. Perhaps there were others. Someone else would need to update this part of the story of the church’s engagement in higher education.

Whatever the ecumenical forum, the denominations had their student expression from which they participated in the ecumenical expressions. I am not sure of the date, probably in the 1980s but the United Church of Christ and The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), as denominations, formed a partnership which gave rise to the Student Ecumenical Partnership (STEP). It was formed to unite and develop a national network of students and those committed to ministry with students in order to support their faith journey; to foster the churches’ commitment of ministry with and for students and advocate for their needs and concerns; to encourage student participation in state, regional, national and international events. I have no knowledge about STEP’s current status.

In conclusion, I wait for others to share their thoughts and experiences in the contemporary expression of the churches’ ministry in higher education. When I retired there was much discussion of congregation-based ministry. Whatever the form, I write to emphasize the rich tradition of which it is a part, recognizing what I said earlier, that the condition and situation of the church and its leadership is determinative. Our present obsession with “growing the church” will surely give way to a healthier ministry and mission. I agree with what John Buchanan wrote in a recent issue of The Christian Century: “I have a proposal: let’s call a moratorium on counting members. Let’s consider that we are called to witness of God’s love in Jesus Christ and to do everything we can to be Christ’s body in the world, to do what we believe he would and is doing through us.” I wonder if Pope Francis may be the one ushering in the Reformation we have been waiting for.

And finally, a bit of wisdom. When I announced my retirement in 1996, two special colleagues and friends responded with cogent pieces of advice. Richard Bolles replied: “So now what are you going to do with your life?” And from Jack Harrison who embodied the meaning of being a minister in higher education: “Just don’t look for your footprints in the sand.” In other words, the gift of life goes on. Claim it I have, but always with sincere gratitude for the challenging and fulfilling ministry I had in campus ministry and the student Christian movement.

Verlyn L Barker, Ph.D., D.D. Minister in Higher Education, Ret United Church of Christ

There are resources might be of interest to some.
1. . The Campus Ministry, edited by George L Earnshaw, published by Judson Press
in 1964. Chapters on the formation and development of denominational student movements, including one I wrote on The United Campus Christian Fellowship.
2. The United Ministries in Higher Education: A Historical and Critical Appraisal, by Darrell W.Yeaney. Ph.D. dissertation at Boston University, 1975.
3. The Church, the University, and Social Policy by Kenneth Underwood published by Wesleyan University Press in 1969. The Danforth Study of Campus Ministries.
4. The Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Vol 32, No 4, Fall, 1995. The issue is titled, “Perspectives on Ecumenical Christian Presence in U.S. Universities and Colleges, 1960-1995,” edited by L Newton Thurber. Includes chapters on
the Lutheran Campus Ministry, Methodist Student Movement, United Campus Christian Fellowship, NCMA (written by Charles Doak), Student Movements of the YMCA and YWCA. Includes an historical bibliography of the WSCF Centennial compiled by New Thurber, Franklin Woo and myself.
5. Seeking and Serving the Truth: The First Hundred Years of the World Student
Christian Federation. Philip Potter and Thomas Weiser. World Council of Churches, 1997.


Ministry in Higher Education: A Journey by Robert L. Epps

Ministry in Higher Education:  A Journey


In September of 1964, I moved my family (wife Richie, children Thomas and Elise) from Kansas City to St. Louis to be the Wesley Foundation Director for Washington University.  The second week I was there, Mario Savio was pulled off a stage at the University of California-Berkeley, and the “60’s” were underway in Berkeley and St. Louis.

I left Yale Divinity School in 1958 to go to Kansas City, Missouri, to teach at Nationa lCollege.  National was in transition from being a training school for Methodist Deaconesses to a liberal arts college.  That was a difficult transition.  National failed to get accreditation or attract students.  I taught one year, and two years later it closed and the property was given to St. Paul School of Theology.

From National, I went to be Associate at Central Methodist in Kansas City, and three years later went to a “soft money” job at the PsychiatricReceivingCenter, also in Kansas City.  At PRC, I edited one book and wrote another.

In each of these assignments, I had contact with students.  At National, I sponsored the Methodist Student Movement, at Central we had a Sunday School class for students from the University across the street, and at PRC there were students for every medical and psychological field in training positions.  Unknowingly, I was being prepared for my real Vocation-ministry in higher education.

WashingtonUniversity in St.   Louis is a high-quality institution with undergraduate and graduate students about equally divided.  The “main line” Protestants campus ministries had no buildings, but I had office and program space in GraceMethodistChurch.  I early made contact with Jim Ewing, director of the United Campus Christian Fellowship, who became my friend and mentor.  We each had a small student group and co-sponsored some study and on-campus worship events.

In the years 1964-65, St.   Louis higher education was undergoing radical change.  The Catholic schools (St. LouisUniversity, Fontbonne and WebsterColleges) were opening up in response to the work of Vatican II. The St. Louis teacher training schools were combined into racially integrated HarrisTeachers   College.  The University of Missouri established a St. Louis campus in the suburb of Normandy and a three campusCommunity   College system was created.  Eden, Kendrick, and St. LouisUniversity were graduate theological schools.  Across the Mississippi, the Illinois urban area had a unit of Southern Illinois University and a community college.

These developments made it necessary to “out-grow” the older traditional ministry base at WashingtonUniversity and find ways, with no significant new resources, to serve the larger mission field.

The Episcopal Church was engaging in a “Pilot Diocese” program to use nine Dioceses to explore and study new ways to be in ministry in the changing culture of the closing years of the Twentieth Century.  The Missouri Diocese was one of these pilots, and was the only one in the nation to include a higher education component.  Richard (Dick) Tombaugh was the person employed to direct that aspect of the study.

Soon after Tombaugh’s arrival, Ewing and I began weekly conversations with him around ways to understand and respond to the new higher education situation and its impact on the city, the church, and ministry in the various higher education settings.

Together, we did extensive interviews and more formal meetings with administrators, faculty, and students.  Through these, we came to know a great deal about the developments in higher education and were well known as Christian clergy who honored and supported the mission of these institutions.

At the end of that year, I attended the first meeting of the National Campus Ministry Association at MichiganStateUniversity.  Also, it became apparent that an organization, both more formal and accountable, was needed in St. Louis.  The Experimental Campus Ministry was born with the consent of supporting boards and committees.  Its use of “experimental” was a deliberate choice to indicate that it was a process, not a fixed institution.

During the following year, the civil rights events in Selma, Alabama, were underway.  Without our knowledge or permission, the (misnamed !) St. Louis Globe Democrat announced in a story that the Experimental Campus Ministry was organizing buses to go to the closing of the march to Montgomery.  The article gave the phone number of GraceMethodistChurch as the contact.  All Hell broke loose.

The three telephone lines into the Church were busy night and day for three days.  The congregation, an upper middle-class group, had vocal opposition to us and seemed to believe we had planned that.  Relations with the Church were never warm after that.

The result, however, was eight buses that went to Montgomery gave us visibility with Church and higher education audiences, and served as a powerful entrée to the next six years. Jim Ewing left to be on the student services staff at WashingtonU. and Earl Mulley joined the team from Houston.  Over the years we had seminary interns from Eden, St. Louis, and Perkins.

The ministry rented a store-front to be used as an office and base of operations.  During the coming years we worked on issues and with groups that were not tied to one campus location.  With faculty, we had on-going organized hospitality and conversation including an extensive set of week-end issue seminars.  The University of Missouri-St. Louis was operating in a country club building,and there was no social or study space for students, so we coordinated the work of several  congregations in the area to use Church space and provide refreshment and conversation.

Student worship communities were created and maintained, as well as study and conversation groups as needed or requested.  Individual counseling is inevitable when staff is involved in faculty and student communities.  Contact was maintained with denominational and ecumenical student organizations.

During this same period, the ministry maintained formal contact with the anti-war and anti-draft activities.  This created serious difficulties in public relations and interpretation of the ministry.  On the occasions where the concerned critics asked for explanations or conversation, there were fruitful insights on all sides.

There were problems, however.  Some of the Church sponsors really only wanted the ministry in higher education to be done on the older Youth Group model.  The concern for peace, civil rights, and the environment were not universally popular.  Funding declined.

In 1973, I was invited to be Director of the Wesley Foundation at IndianaUniversity working with co-Director, Hubert Davis.  I accepted. In Bloomington over the next 19 years, there were close relations with the ministries of the AmericanBaptistChurches, the Episcopal Church, the EvangelicalLutheranChurch, the United Church of Christ, and the United Presbyterian Church.  Compared to St. Louis, this ministry was more student- oriented and tended to the traditional.

Several activities were unique, however.  Through the AELC, there was a weekly worship using contemporary, largely secular, music and committed to careful use of the Lectionary.  In place of the “Sunday Supper” format, we developed “Agapes,” a meal over several weeks limited to a dozen participants and two staff.  This always included Holy Communion at the dinner table. Each year, four groups of “deacons” re trained in the history and meaning of worship and served as worship leaders.  A very careful program was developed with the Residence Life staff and student Resident Assistants. This program was taken up by the University, and the Psychological Counselors at the Health Center became involved.  This project, and a parallel leadership education program, lasted for nearly a decade.

The relationships from these programs produced friendships that continue into the present.  Most important were the relationships of those who worked together as staff at one time or another over the two decades: Susan Ban, Robert Boyer, Nevin Danner, Diana Hodges, John (Jack) King, Ann Larson, Joan Tupin, Robert (Bob) Turner, Roger Sasse, and William (Bill) Webster.

The campus ministry board decided to grant one-semester, full salary, sabbaticals after six years of work.  I had two of these.  In 1983, I spent several months in South   Africa,visiting secular and religious student groups and looking at ways they were preparing foran end to apartheid.  In 1989, I spent a semester at the Center for the Study of Islam and Muslim-Christian Relations in Birmingham, England.  In each case, I traveled extensively and, on return, did speaking and writing, both in the Church and in higher education.

In addition to those trips abroad, I went to Israel/Palestine three times.  The most significant trip was a traveling seminar sponsored by the Society for Biblical Studies, based in Boston University School of Theology, which explored the political and economic situation of the Palestinians and the remnant Christian community there.

In 1990, I was appointed to the pastoral staff of St. Luke’s UnitedMethodistChurch in Indianapolis.  St. Luke’s is a mega-Church with a vast variety of activities.  I did pastoral work, taught Disciple Bible Study, and oversaw local mission projects.  In 1995, I was appointed to be the pastor of the Pittsboro (Indiana) United Methodist Church.  This was an active congregation in an area moving swiftly from farm community to suburb.  This was my only real “pastoral” assignment and I both enjoyed it and learned a lot.  In 1997, I retired after 41 years in the ministry and moved back to Bloomington, Indiana.

The only breaks in my quiet retirement were a five month interim appointment as pastor of the EllettsvilleUnitedMethodistChurch and service on the Board of the Area 10 Agency on Aging.  The pastoral assignment was one in which I discovered I could help to heal a congregation that had experienced the removal of their pastor “under charges.”  That congregation still treats me like I am one of them.  The Board membership and chairmanship put me in touch with a larger community and the finer points of state and Federal law and regulation.

I did a short assignment for the General Board of Mission of the UnitedMethodistChurch by sharing in the training of the mission team to Latvia and, later, going to Latvia to do “on-site” evaluation.  Latvia has had a long history of Methodist involvement, interrupted by Russian and German military interventions, and is restoring its institutional life with new congregations and educational services.

In retirement, I was a part of organizing the Reconciling Ministry Community in the South Indiana Conference of the UnitedMethodistChurch.  Reconciling Ministries is a nation-wide program seeking to welcome persons of all sexual orientations into the life of the Church.

My sabbatical in South Africa had been underwritten by Campus Ministry Advancement, Inc., a foundation based in Ohio.  On my return, I was elected to that Board and, when the founding officers retired, I became chairman.  That has been both a time consuming and rewarding volunteer job.  CMA, Inc. is in the process of closing

As a family, we have traveled in England, Costa Rica, and did a two-week cruise through the Panama Canal.

At the present time, we are in the process of moving to Bell Trace, a retirement community in Bloomington.  Our new address is 800 N. Bell Trace Circle #305, Bloomington, IN47408-4022.

In review, my journey has been eventful.  I have had a patient and loyal wife, Richie, and two children, now adults.  In large measure, the Church has set me to tasks that used my talents and responded to my interests.  For that I am very thankful and grateful.  My only regret is to see the “mainline” Protestant Churches in America retreating from creative ministries, especially the essential ministry of higher education.  Surely this is not the end of the story since “the times are in the hands of God!”



(Dick served for 43 years at the Wesley Foundation at Fairmont State University in W.VA, where he was also a faculty member and pastored a church for ten years.)

For a number of years, even before my retirement 8 years ago, I have enjoyed a once a week breakfast with a handful of clergy.  It is an ecumenical and diverse group in terms of age, gender and ethnicity.  The nature of the gathering has morphed at times from a more devotionally based conversation to essentially a social and fellowship get-together. Some participants are quite regular in attendance while others are more occasional. Over time and as pastors come and go according to denominational processes or their levels of community involvement, medical situations, etc, a progression of folks have  participated  in the group.

Two, one regular and one occasional, are now retired pastors whose entrances to ordained ministry were influenced in part by my role as their campus pastor.  One of those two served a few years as a campus minister.  Three of my successors at The Wesley Foundation at Fairmont State University and Pierpont Community and Technical College have been participants.  My first successor was a regular until he left to attend graduate school and later return as a full time faculty member.  The two subsequent successors, both female and one African-American have been occasional participants.  One other, a Pakistani-American, came to the United States and eventually to West Virginia and the West Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church as a consequence of an elder brother who had taught at West Virginia Wesleyan and a younger brother brought to the US to attend Fairmont State as the first full time international student sponsored and funded by the Wesley Foundation while I was campus minister.  He is within months of retirement and has become a very occasional participant. The others are or have been local pastors.

On a recent morning a conversation with one of my former students, now retired, led to my reflections on some basic guiding principles of campus ministry.  The upshot of that led to the title I have placed on this essay.  We were talking about the fact that much if not most of the leadership, clergy and lay, in our various churches and communions are at least verbally concerned about the disconnection between the current youth and young adult generation and organized religion and “the church.”  Our perception is that many, and perhaps most, of these same persons see campus ministry in terms of nurturing church connection and including “traditional” local church like programs and opportunities.  They expect regular or at least scheduled, if occasional, worship experiences and some degree of an identifiable group or “membership” or affiliation. Quite often the measuring sticks of evaluations are geared to such factors: how many or how often?

My comment in the midst of this conversation was that from the earliest times my ministry, where this particular former student was involved,  was guided by a style and approach that was still quite appropriate and relevant to the current “disconnected” and unaffiliated generation that increasingly identify themselves as “nones” in terms of religious affiliation.
The guiding principles for me have been basically those of presence and relationship.  More than half a century ago, as an undergraduate student involved in an ecumenical campus organization and as a student pastor, I was asked to contribute an article to the campus newspaper.  The theme or essence of that article was my understanding of Christianity as essentially a matter of relationship, with Christ and with one another.

Certainly groups and organizations, whatever their nature and purpose are matters of relationship.  That needs no further comment.  But one of the major problems of organizations is their tendency, if not their intent, to be exclusive and in-grown.  Keeping the focus on campus ministry, I can still recall many years ago and often and through time, conversations with “my” Wesley Foundation “members.”  The students could only identify participants in the organization with the relatively small number of students in the campus community who came regularly to the programs and activities that they enjoyed.  They were unaware of other students with whom I had ongoing and often very meaningful connections and relationships.  Some of those were just clusters of students who happened to be drinking coffee or playing cards in the Student Center.  In those early days, the various Greek organizations tended to have their own tables in the Center.  I would often sit with them and engage in whatever was being shared. Often those conversations would not be acceptable in church or perhaps other “polite company.” These persons, too, were “members” of our campus ministry.  The group was  broader and much more inclusive than the regulars at Bible Study or Sunday evening “vesper services.”  Some of them have gone on to become leaders in local congregations wherever they reside and in whatever communion they are affiliated with.  One or two even ended up in ordained ministry.  I make no claim to influencing them nor those outcomes, certainly not as much as I might lay such claim to those with whom I was more actively engaged in Campus Ministry programs and activities.  But I have had one or two comment to me many years later that my presence and influence was in some way meaningful to them.

I have always understood Campus Ministry to mean just that: campus ministry.  I recall that about 1964 the Methodist Church (well before we became “United”) officially changed its terminology from “Student Work” to “Campus Ministry.”  No longer was the Church engaged only in ministry with and to students, but to the whole of the campus community.

Here again relationships have become crucial.  Many faculty, administrators and staff are active in their faith groups and local churches.  Others have not had a church affiliation at all.  And some have been turned off  by incidents or situations that have soured them on the church.  For them a pastor with an open mind and heart, a listening ear and attitude of caring has often been significant.  The number of counseling situations, weddings and funerals or memorial services those connections have educed are noteworthy.  But those faculty, staff, and administrative relationships have led to many referrals of students in need of assistance– whether merely financial or academic or actually spiritual or vocational.  Relationships are crucial and at the very heart of effective Campus Ministry.

At the core of all of this is the matter of presence.  It is simply important “to be there,” wherever “there” happens to be.  I can’t begin to recall nor cite the numerous times across my 45 years of active campus ministry that I was stopped in a hall way or in the library or a faculty lounge or even the Student Center by an administrator and invited into her or his office.  Many times it was to ask for assistance with a problem faced by a student.  At times it was to share freely a problem, issue, incident or concern that they were too intimidated to share with colleagues let alone voice to their supervisor.  They knew, or trusted and hoped that my relationships would open a door and perhaps the ear of a higher level of the administration where a concern might be addressed.  There were a few times when that administrator was at the top of the power chain.

One of the more memorable experiences of the ministry of presence occurred at half time of a basketball game.  Two students approached me.  One, a student leader both officially as a student government officer and as a person of character, brought a fellow student to me.  It was between semesters.  The one in need of help had withdrawn the previous semester due to a family crisis.  His financial aid for the next term was rejected because he had not made “due progress.”  He was given an opportunity to appeal but found difficulty in writing his appeal letter.  I was asked to talk with the Financial Aid Director.  I did that.  Several days later, the Director called to me in the hallway and proceeded to tell me that based on my recommendation the young man’s financial aid package was restored.  That young man became a campus leader, graduated the next year and has become a counselor in a facility that works with troubled youth.

Presence and relationship are at the heart of effective campus ministry.

Such connections are certainly not limited to persons with Christian or church relationships or affiliations.  Several have been with students and faculty of other faith traditions.  Years ago our Wesley Foundation received a grant from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church to develop a video about Campus Ministry.  It was entitled “A Ministry of Accessibility.”  Among those included in the video was the President of the college and a student who was Muslim.  In fact that student’s father was the Imam in his African home and his uncle a noted faculty member in Islamic Studies at a prestigious US university.  The student, who actually became a member of our Board of Directors, stated on the video that even though he was of a different faith, he found his source of spiritual strength at the Wesley Foundation.  That man is now a director of human resources for the International Monetary Fund.

On the occasion of the infamous 9-11 tragedy, I sent an e-mail to our two Iraqi Muslim faculty members offering them support and asking to be informed if either experienced any negative or hostile instances.  One wrote back simply, “You are a good Christian.”  I had been at his bedside after very serious surgery a few years before and with his permission, as Islam allows, prayed for his recovery.  Presence and relationship was well beyond the bounds and scope of traditional or certainly institutional Christianity.

My conversation at breakfast with a person whom I first knew as a student more than 50 years ago turned to the relevance of such a style of ministry to today’s generation of “nones” and unaffiliated or disaffiliated.  I recalled a conversation over lunch with a group of faculty many years ago.  One at the table was more than non-religious.  He would have self-described himself as “irreligious.” Somehow the table talk turned to me and my role on campus.  I don’t recall anything of the nature of the conversation or what prompted it.  But that man said to his peers, “Dick is God’s man on campus.”  What an affirmation!  What an application of incarnational ministry.  And it was rooted in presence and relationship.  That man was in the theatre department.  My attendance at plays and engagement with students in the department, as well as with him and some other faculty who were somewhere outside the bounds of acceptable views and play selection at a then very conservative campus, made a difference.

I have long believed that Campus Ministry at its best is or should be a prototype for ministry and something of a laboratory exploration of what might be the future of the larger ministry of the church.  These reflections lead me to the projection that the model  of ministry needed today and in the future is simply one of presence and relationship  that is certainly not confined to the facilities and activities of “the church.”

Dick Bowyer

March 4, 2014