“For Such a Time as This” by Betsy Alden


“For Such a Time as This”

By Betsy Alden

Note:  Since conceiving the notion of collecting the Pages of the Sages for NCMA’s 50th Anniversary, I sat down in the fall of 2013 to write my own memoir.  What follows is quite idiosyncratic, reflecting the differences between coming into campus ministry in the mid-70’s as a young wife and mother, receiving a very specialized “call” to work with community college ministry, and receiving the benefit of many memorable mentoring relationships with the “older and wiser” campus ministers whose stories I wanted to document in this collection.

After having served on the North Texas UMC Board of Ordained Ministry for eight years, I came to realize that my call was similar to that of other women, who had experienced the same recognition that their gifts and graces were needed in a particular context, and that ordained ministry was the best way to fulfill their particular calling.  Since this was not the norm (especially in the appointment system of the UMC!), I have reflected here on how and why I did respond to my unanticipated call to campus ministry, and what life was like, both personally and professionally, during the decade that I began my ministry, 1974-84. As my later feminist studies taught me, “the personal is political,” and somehow all of this seems relevant to my 40-year career in ministry in higher education—from Dallas (’74-84) to UMHE National Communications Coordinator (’84-’89) to Central NM Community College and UNM (’89-’96) to Duke University, where I officially “retired” in 2008, but continue to work closely with students and staff in mentoring roles—as well as performing weddings for many of my “Women as Leaders”  alumnae!

Serendipities and Synchronicities

In August of 1970 my neighbor suggested that she and I (both mothers of 3 pre-school children) drive out to the new campus-under-construction of the Dallas Community College District—Eastfield College.  She thought we both might find some part-time teaching with our hard-earned Masters degrees (hers in math, mine in English) from before babies.  We traded hours with our baby-sitting club and headed out to Mesquite, TX, a blue-collar suburb 20 minutes from us on I-635, and came home to announce to our husbands that they would need to do some babysitting on a couple of weeknights that semester.  I plunged into teaching 2 sections of Freshman Comp and Lit, startled to find my students ill-prepared for college-level work.  Most were women who had never had a chance to attend college, Vietnam veterans on the GI Bill, balancing school with jobs and families, and aspiring young adults whose chance at a “career” depended on acquiring an Associate degree.

I continued to teach at Eastfield, also picking up Saturday classes, and discovered that using a Journaling process greatly improved my students’ abilities to write and reflect on their reading more coherently.  I required that they each keep a journal, to be handed in three times in the semester– not graded, but I told them I would read through them and make constructive comments.  And did they write!  This was the first time, many told me, that anyone had encouraged them to articulate their ideas and attitudes, and they had a lot to say!  As I read and commented, I was more and more conscious that I did not have the professional training to respond to some of their existential crises and their outpouring of questions of faith and meaning in their lives, as they tried to connect with the probing and provocative literature they were being exposed to.

I had always been active in the Presbyterian Church, currently teaching our high school class, so I naturally wondered how the Church, at large, was ministering to the thousands of students who were now attending classes at one of the 7 campuses of the flagship DCCD.  And I found out that most of the churches (often Southern  Baptist or Catholic in the Eastfield neighborhood) were ignoring this aspect of their members’ lives, even implying to the women they should be attending their Circle meetings or preparing for the church’s Christmas Bazaar instead of studying for finals!

In August of 1972, as our station wagon headed for our usual vacation with my family in the NC mountains, we stopped off at my husband’s 15th high school reunion at a park in Nashville, TN.  He was delighted to see his old friend Richard Beauchamp, now a UMC minister, who happened to ask me what I was doing these days.  I told him that I was teaching and wondering if I should go back and get an MSW so I could respond more helpfully to my students’ needs.  And Richard said, (and I quote), “Well, my Yale PhD roommate is a Dean at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, so when you get home, just give him a call and ask if you can sit in on some of their Pastoral Care classes.”

The day after we returned from NC, I called LeRoy Howe, gave him Richard’s greetings, and relayed the suggestion, to which LeRoy said, “Can you come in today so I can meet you?  Classes start tomorrow.”  I hastily arranged for child care, and left LeRoy’s office 2 hours later with a course schedule, an enrollment form (“You should just take the course for credit in case you might want to transfer sometime,”) a promise of free tuition, and the assurance that Perkins welcomed all, even though I had no intention of becoming a “minister”!

Once on the Perkins campus, attending a few classes, I realized I was not much different from the other students (though I was a little older, with a family!) and that my interests and inquiries were congruent with seminary students.  By the next year, I went to see LeRoy again, wondering if, perhaps, I “should” enroll full-time (now that my children were 4, 6, and 8 and in school part of the day), but I did not know if I had a “call.”  Again LeRoy was very helpful; he referred me to Reinhold Neibuhr’s description of “the Providential call”—being in the right place at the right time to perform a particular ministry.  He liked my idea of perhaps developing a new ministry with the community colleges and affirmed my call to this! So I filled out my official application to Perkins, using Dag Hammerskold’s quote from a bright yellow 70’s Abbey Press  poster I already had on my kitchen wall, “I don’t know who or what put the question, but..my answer was ‘Yes.’” I would come back to this later as being prophetic without my realizing it then.

“I don’t know Who, or What, put the question, I don’t know when it was put.  I don’t even remember answering.  But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone, or Something, and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.” 

In the summer of 1973, I went to see the Presbyterian minister who was in charge of the Committee on Care to apply for candidacy for ministry and was told that the idea of trying to become a minister with three small children was not wise, and that I should come back later “when your kids are older.”  Shortly after, I was headed downstairs to class at Perkins and a woman I had known in our Presbyterian church (Norma Meyers) was walking upstairs, so I called out  and told her of my experience, and she said, ”Forget the Presbyterians—they just make it all too hard.  I’ve become a Methodist!” That fall  our family decided to join Spring Valley United Methodist Church, one-half block from our house.  I had attended a couple of classes with Don Benton, the pastor,( who was working on his D.Min degree), and we occasionally car-pooled to Perkins (his wife was my daughter’s Brownie leader, and two of my children had gone to Pre-School there) .  He welcomed us with open arms and that winter he told me that he wanted to sponsor me, along with four young men he had mentored, as candidates for the Order of Deacon, the first step to full ordination in the UMC.  Obviously I had not fulfilled the requirement of being active in a local UMC for the requisite period of time, so, as we were in his office one afternoon, he called Zan Holmes, then the District Superintendent, and told Zan that he would like to have that rule waived since I was “a mature woman with a family” who had always been active in her local Presbyterian Church, had completed the necessary hours of seminary, and the church would be “lucky” to have me!  (I was probably the only candidate who did not know what an “Administrative Board” was, but the Board of Ministry told me to study up on that, and I got through the first hoop!  (The next summer I took Methodist Polity and learned it well enough to be elected Bishop at our mock-Jurisdictional Conference, an honor also probably bestowed because I brought a cake to class for John Wesley’s birthday on June 17.)   So I was duly ordained with the other 19 male deacons and one other woman (Karis Fadely) that May at First UMC—a church larger than the population of my home town in Indiana.  My parents came for the ordination and were supportive, though they really could not imagine what I was getting myself into.  And neither, of course, did I!

In September of 1974, standing in line for the weekly Perkins Community Lunch, a seminary friend commented, “Oh, Betsy, aren’t you interested in doing some kind of ministry with the community colleges?  The man behind you is Wally Chappell, Director of the Texas Wesley Foundations, and you should meet each other!”  I proceeded to greet Wally, who was very interested in my ideas, and he completely surprised me by saying, “I just got a notice of a meeting in Des Moines, IA next month on the very subject of community college ministry, sponsored by United Ministries in Higher Education.  If you’d like to go, I’d be happy to send you to it!”

Yes!  I called my mom in Indiana, and she agreed to come to TX and take care of the kids so I could go to Des Moines, and from that moment on, my course was set.  At that Conference I met all the national leaders in campus ministry who would continue to influence and affect my work for the next 20 years. They all realized they needed new strategies for ministry with commuter and community colleges, and were brainstorming and creating new models for interpreting  a new style of “campus ministry” to the church, ecumenically.   Wayne Bryan, who had grown up in Dallas, suggested I be in touch with the Dallas Council of Churches to create a Task Force for Community College Ministry, with representatives from each judicatory. I had continued to teach at Eastfield, throughout seminary, so I had some ideas about how to work with faculty and local churches in a “reciprocal relationship of mission to the community.”  Since the community colleges used “mission” language in their own publicity, Dwight Judy helped me formulate the phrase “churches and colleges together in mission to their community.”  When I called the first meeting of the Dallas Council of Churches task force, with their blessing, every major judicatory sent a representative.  No one had a clue how to relate to the burgeoning numbers of their members who were attending, teaching, or working on the seven campuses that surrounded Dallas and occupied one campus right in the center of the city.  (Statistics at the time showed that one of every 4 adults in Dallas County had some relationship to the community colleges.)

In 1976, I was given my “field education” placement as an intern at First UMC, Dallas, under Ben Oliphant, Dudley Dancer, and Jim Ozier.  FUMC was open to experimental ministries and agreed to support my convening all the big downtown churches for a conference on ccm, which generated many ideas for innovative ways to connect churches and campuses.  Armed with some success in spreading the word, I applied to the Texas Campus Christian Life Committee for a $5000 grant to “create” the Dallas Community College Ministry.  My seminary friend Martha Gilmore’s husband happened to be on the DCCD Board, and he assisted in getting permission from the District for this new non-sectarian ministry to “be” on their campuses.  In 1977, several pastors and community leaders agreed to serve on a new DCCM Board, and I wrote and received a grant from the local Fikes Foundation for $20,000 so that we might expand the ministry with part-time campus ministers on several of the campuses.  We hired a Disciple minister, an AME seminarian, a Roman Catholic seminarian, and a part-time secretary and set up the office on the back porch of our home (with a propane space heater and two big desks salvaged from FUMC and a yard sale—one for me, and one for Norma, one of those “returning women students” I recruited as our new secretary.)  Other judicatories and some churches “contributed”  program money or staff, and pledged to include the DCCM in their campus ministry budgets.

I had been too busy creating the DCCM to finish my coursework to graduate from seminary, but tested out of two Church History courses so that I could be eligible for an appointment from the North Texas Annual Conference by May of 1978. Some of my Board members had managed to convince the UMC North Texas Conference Powers That Be to create a new appointment for the Dallas Community College Ministry—and to appoint me to it!  But I was unprepared for the backlash on the floor of Annual Conference when this was announced.  Some of my own fellow seminarians objected to this idea of appropriating the funds before the new appointment had been “approved” (which it had been by the Higher Ed Committee, of course), and much discussion ensued about “how can one person manage to offer ministry at seven campuses” (ignoring the fact that this would be an ecumenical ministry, also supported by other judicatories).   Finally the matter was settled as a respected elder stood and said he thought we should give it a chance:  “Seems to me John Wesley did pretty well covering his parishes all over England!” The vote was called, the DCCM was officially sanctioned, and I had a new job!

I had continued to teach English throughout seminary, so my transition into the role of campus minister (and Director of the DCCM, under the Greater Dallas Conference of Churches) was not difficult. I asked faculty colleagues to let me come to their classes and speak on whatever subject might be relevant, so that I could become identified as a campus minister.  In Sociology, I was given a textbook on Organizations, Institutions, and Behavior which made the point that,  “Over the years, the Church has dealt with their deviant clergy in a number of ways—burning at the stake, excommunication, and more recently, giving them a pastoral role on college campuses.”  Remember the 70’s??  That anecdote itself launched me into many fascinating conversations with students (and faculty) over the changing nature of the church in society!

On our initial five campuses, we tried anything people asked us to do!  Jerry Miller worked with Eastfield’s Continuing Ed program to offer courses for “Elders” (usually through local churches), using oral interviews to help them tell and record their life-stories (a new idea, pre-computers and the memoir-writing age!); Tom Slater at Mountain View created new courses on African-American studies;  Father Christian helped music students develop and perform an Oratorio for local churches.  I helped create the Everywoman Center at Richland for returning women students.  We held Religious Awareness Days at our campuses, working with Religion faculty to bring speakers from our areas to discuss everything from Creationism and Evolution to contemporary theologians to Sex and the Single Girl.  Obviously, many of these programs were of interest to the surrounding community, and brought new people to these amazing new campuses.  It was all Win-Win, with DCCM serving as a link, providing extra people-power through our networks of church connections, and garnering publicity for campus programming.

A particularly fruitful connection occurred in 1978 when I saw a billboard on the North Dallas Tollway one afternoon which read “Oh Come, Ye Successful” (advertising Johnny Walker whiskey), and almost went off the road!  I went right home, pulled out my Alternative Christmas Catalogue, written and published by Bob Kochtitzky in Jackson, MS, called him up, and said, “Can you come to Dallas so we can mount a campaign against the crazy commercialism of the holidays here?”  He jumped on this chance to start a Dallas crusade, I rallied the campuses and area churches to host workshops, we had talk radio shows and much newspaper publicity, and hundreds of Dallas folk attended the workshops and agreed to reform their Christmas consumerism.  (“Whose Birthday Is It Anyway?” was the slogan, and it hit home in consciousness-raising.  CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite featured one of our workshops on TV, the DCCM produced an Alternative Holiday card to inform recipients that a gift had been given to a charitable organization in their name, and we filled orders for these for weeks! (At the time the Heifer Project and other non-profits had not yet caught on to this “marketing” idea!)

The flagship Dallas Community College District, coupled with this investment by the Dallas Conference of Churches in the DCCM, gave us access on a broad scale to make a significant impact with our programming, and all of our staff worked at a constantly stimulating (and exhausting) pace because the rewards were so evident, and we were thrilled to be part of such a lively and satisfying ministry!

In the summer of 1978, I thought I should connect with the larger world of professional campus ministry and registered to attend the National Institute for Campus Ministry (NICM) week-long conference in Denver with Jim Forbes, Bernard Lafayette, Bob Johnson, and Brother David Steindl-Rast.  Shortly thereafter, I was invited to be one of NICM’s seven new “Program Directors” across the US, to support and develop programs in our regions.  At one of our meetings in New Orleans, the Hillel Director led us (and the crowded roomful of tourists waiting in Preservation Hall for the next jazz set) in singing “Kum Ba Ya,” and I realized how happy and lucky I was to have escaped suburbia and bridge clubs for this!

By Spring of 1979, when  Bill Hallman and Clyde Robinson invited me to join UME’s Community College Task Force (the group that had sponsored  that first ccm conference I had attended in 1974), they suggested that we produce a slide show which could be used to show “how to develop a ccm in your community.” And they commissioned Wayne Bryan, who had become a professional photographer and script-writer, to go to Dallas and film the DCCM in action.  (Note that at the 1974 conference Wayne was the one who suggested I go to the Dallas Council of Churches to get started, so he clearly had an investment in this project!  And he had also just produced another UME slideshow “Islands and Bridges” featuring the community college ministry of Robert Thomason.)  The resulting production, “DCCM: The Church and the Community College in Mission,” launched me into “Show and Tell” venues all over the country, and, happily, quite a number of new the community college ministries resulted from sharing this “how-to” model.

Through UME, I met Neil Merritt, President of Ealing College of Further Education in London, and we brainstormed the idea of offering community college students a chance to “study abroad” at his college.  A generous member of our DCCM Board (Jeanette Early) offered to fund scholarships for 2-4 students a semester, and the DCCD recognized her philanthropy as making a significant contribution to their students—and expanded the program.

The UMC Board of Higher Education was interested in our work and asked me to be a consultant for the community college ministry with UMC Wesley Foundations;  they also sent me to the Ministries to Blacks in Higher Education  (MBHE) annual meeting in Atlanta, and I was appointed to that board, as well as being elected to the UMC National Committee on Campus Ministry (1979-83).  So I had the chance to employ all my networking skills between the various campus ministry organizations, connecting efforts initiated by one of them to each of the others and sharing insights.  (“Right place, right time” for an energetic young woman to bring the (mostly) boys-in-charge together!)

Meanwhile, in Dallas, I invited some Richland students to participate in Faith Development interviews—based on a research project my friend Jim Fowler had done at Harvard, showing “stages” of faith development analogous to Piaget’s and Kohlberg (and later Gilligan)’s models for cognitive and moral development. In these intensive series of interviews, I became aware that these mostly “adult” community college students felt their lives were much too scattered—with school, jobs, family, only ”18 minutes of discretionary time” on campus (to get from the parking lots to their classes!)—and that they felt they were missing a “meaningful” connection to the “real world” of social and community issues.

I had known, through National Campus Ministry connections, of Thad Holcombe’s Praxis Project which he operated as part of the Free University in Tulsa, OK.  I had read liberation theologians in seminary and knew the revival of Aristotle’s term for “experiential education” by Gustavo Guttierez in base communities in Latin America and the pedagogy of Paulo Friere, advocating “action/reflection/action/reflection” for “making meaning”  of one’s experience in deeper and more satisfying ways.  So I proposed that DCCM work with a few faculty to offer students an alternative to the required freshman English “research paper” by providing opportunities for service in the community throughout a semester, with concurrent “reflection sessions” with other students, and a final oral or written presentation (with appropriate footnotes and documentation) on their new understandings.  We called it “Praxis” and within a few semesters we had over 900 students enrolled—in a wide variety of courses.

UME invited me and others to attend the national meetings of the Association of Community and Junior Colleges (AACJC) to give presentations on this successful partnership between the churches and the campuses, and I realized that other campuses (mostly universities) were beginning to engage students similarly in what was soon designated “service-learning.”  Soon I was asked to serve on the Board of the new International Partnership for Service-Learning Board and was exposed to some of the best practices in this emerging pedagogy. The PRAXIS Project we developed also became a model for engaging students in community college ministry, and we developed a packet of materials to assist others in creating their own programs.  Sybil Shuck, my stalwart secretary (and former Board member!), managed a filing system for all these paper records, which was eventually put onto a computer data base in 1982!

In May of 1982, I received my D. Min degree from Perkins/SMU (thesis topic: Vocational Discernment:  Why the Church should Reclaim Calling/Career for Laypeople) and was finally free from “owing” some professor a term paper (I had to request several “extensions” over these years!)—after ten continuous years of seminary/post-graduate work!  My only response to “How can/did you do it all?” was always that I was blessed with abundant energy, a quick mind, and a lot of help from my friends—and that God must have “wanted” me to do it because I was sustained and enlivened by almost each venture!  When I began Perkins at age 30, my children were 3, 5, and 7; when I finished at 40, they were 13, 15, and 17.  Somehow I had managed to keep up with being a Cub Scout den mother (motto:  “Keep it simple; make it fun!”) , “Witchie-Poo”  Hallowe’en visitations at their elementary schools (and at Perkins, where the Dean saw me racing to class still in costume and yelled, “I knew we could count on you, Betsy!”), piano and ballet carpooling, doctor and dentist appointments, soccer games and Eaglette performances, homework (“Do your speech on the E.R.A.!”),  teaching the Confirmation classes for Becky and Joey at Spring Valley UMC, arranging for family vacations and summer camps, birthday parties, and holiday occasions (we usually had several extra folk around our ping-pong table Thanksgiving dinners!).  We also had a foster daughter in the mid 70’s, who was pregnant and needed to graduate from high school, so she lived with us, worked hard on her 6 courses and two more by correspondence, moved back to Oak Cliff to have her baby and “get that man to the altar.”  (I joyfully presided at their very unusual wedding in 1975.)

Family and ministry constantly overlapped, with the DCCM office in our house, enlisting the kids to collate and fold brochures, UME and NCCM colleagues staying with us, DCCM Board parties, and much juggling of schedules, travel, and help with homework and school projects.

Two defining moments stand out as confirmation of my calling to ministry in higher ed.  In 1979, several male clergy encouraged me to “run” for a place on the General/Jurisdictional Conference slate the next year (as soon as I was eligible), so that a clergywoman might be elected to the delegation.  (They also let me know that if I wanted to “move up” in the clergy hierarchy I “should” be in parish ministry.)  So that summer I spent several days on Retreat and worked my way through Dick Bolles’ The Four Boxes of Life and How to Get out of Them, using his personal values clarification exercises to  discern what mattered most to me.  This time apart for reflection made it very clear that I did NOT want to pursue ministry in the local church with its attendant jockeying for power.  I loved being able to teach and work with students and faculty and to connect the churches with the campuses.  I wanted to be with people who shared my interests in education, to prioritize my children above a parish’s demands, and I had no desire to climb the ladder of church bureaucracy.  So that settled that—and I have never  been tempted to forsake my allegiance to campus ministry!

A while later, around 1982, I was attending a UMC  National Committee on Campus Ministry meeting in NYC, and had brought my teenaged daughter Becky with me.  As she joined us to wander the city streets and interact with my colleagues over dinner, she turned to me and said, “Mom, these are your kind of people.”  I had intuitively known this, but I was delighted that she recognized this, as well!

When the seminary wanted to offer a course on campus ministry, my UME colleague Mark Rutledge and I developed a syllabus for a summer course, which we offered at Perkins and at St. Paul, and shared with others.  I attended my first NCMA Conference in Georgetown the summer of 1982, and was thrilled to be with so many ecumenical colleagues who shared a vision for the church’s ministry in higher education, as we listened to concerts by “Sweet Honey in the Rock,” spoke with our Senators,  and studied “Politics, Peacemaking, and Poetry” with Will Campbell.  Phil Berrigan was in jail, but his activist wife Elizabeth McAlister inspired our new Campus Ministry Women’s group.

(Thereafter, I attended every NCMA Conference until 1997, and when Mark and I were married in 1987, many of our NCMA colleagues came to our Balloon Fiesta  wedding in Albuquerque, officiated by dear friends Helen Neinast and Clyde Robinson.)

PRAXIS/Service-Learning was booming (and becoming well-known throughout Dallas), we now had paid staff on all seven campuses of the DCCD, and I, as Director, found that I was spending more of my time being an administrator and personnel director than a campus minister.  I decided to apply for a one-semester sabbatical from the GDCC, with my salary going to my able assistant Jerry Miller, while I took time to assess  “Where to, from Here?” My proposal was approved and I looked forward to my first real “rest period” ever.  And then United Ministries in Education advertised for a national Communications Coordinator, and I heard from many (and also felt myself) that “this job has your name on it” so I applied, and I was hired by Bill Hallman in the fall of 1983, just before I was to begin my sabbatical.  Fortunately, everything was in place for Jerry to “take over” the daily operations of DCCM, but my leaving meant that we would need to find new office space (i.e., not in our house), a new Director would need to be appointed by the UMC, and all the history and info that was in my head and paper files had to be transferred to my successor.  And I would need a new secretary and have to set up my UME office (which could still be in my home), and be ready to start in May!

So—no time for gardening or personal projects!  Just a little more leisure from the day-to-day, as I personally “recruited” the clergywoman (Georjean Blanton) I thought would be best to take over as Director, lobbied with the UMC for her appointment, was given a new DCCM office in the Presbyterian church near Brookhaven where my dear friend and DCCM secretary Sybil Shuck was a member, cleaned and cleared boxes of files and records, sadly said farewells to my amazing DCCM Board, found a terrific new UME secretary  in the neighborhood, and  we purchased our first computer!

The first decade of my ministry was coming to an end, and I was about to embark on the next adventure.  One child had left for college at the University of Texas, and two others were close behind as NCMA met in Fort Worth in 1984 to discuss Time-Management with Ann McGee-Cooper and Spirituality with Paul Jones, and I was initiated into the UME national staff of seven “bureaucrats” who carried their denomination’s portfolios for campus ministry—Bill Belli for the American Baptists, Larry Steinmetz for the Disciples, Mark Harris for the Episcopalians, Gary Harke for the Moravians,  George Conn and Clyde Robinson for the Presbyterians, Verlyn Barker for the UCC, Bill Hallman as our Chair, and, thank goodness, Shirley Heckman for the Church of the Brethren, so I had another terrific mentor—and a roommate for all those meetings for the next five years!

We worked cooperatively with the United Methodist BHEM (especially with Helen Neinast, who became my dear friend and “traveling companion”)  to create and publish resources like the Directory of Campus Ministers (with 1700 entries and all the judicatory and ecumenical organizational contacts), Church and Campus Calling, and UME’s  quarterly Connexion newspaper.  All involving printed copies, in the days before digital computers, email, Fed-Ex, and cell phones!  We spent lots of time on airplanes and at our Selectric typewriters, and phone bills were built into the budgets!

To be continued…


Betsy Alden was ordained in the UMC in 1974, created and served as Director of the ecumenical 7-campus Dallas Community from 1978-84 and as national Communications Coordinator for United Ministries in Higher Education from 19-84-89.  She was also a consultant for the UMC and Program Director for NCMA.  In 1996, she and her husband Mark Rutledge moved  to Duke University, where she was on the Religious Life staff and Director of Service -Learning for the Kenan Institute for Ethics from 1996-2008.  “Officially” retired, she continues to teach the Intergenerational Ethics class, keep up with her children and five grandchildren,  former students, and wonderful campus ministry colleagues all over the country. 












Working for Racial Justice in the 60’s in the South by Harry Smith



During the efforts to achieve equal rights for African-Americans across the South during the Civil Rights struggle, CORE The Congress on Racial Equality) decided to focus its efforts on several communities, including Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the location of the University of North Carolina.

Campus ministers at UNC participated in a variety of ways to support what the students and CORE workers were doing to achieve equal treatment in local eating establishments, theatres, and motels.  Strategies included staging sit-ins in restaurants and undergoing arrest to emphasize the need for a Public Accommodation Law.

I recall one evening when the students were focusing their efforts on Brady’s Restaurant.  After the mixed group of students had been refused service, the police were called to arrest them for trespassing.  Facing arrest, the students “went limp” and were lying about the floor of the restaurant.  Mrs. Brady, who was not known for her liberal views, decided to dramatize her contempt for the students’ effort by straddling one of the students and urinating on his face.

Later the students were discussing what charges, if any, they might bring against Mrs. Brady for this gross and demeaning act.  Someone suggested “Assault with a Deadly Weapon” while another recommended “Breaking and Entering.”

I was deeply impressed by the students’ ability to respond to the hostility their actions provoked and to use humor to cope with the tensions which they were experiencing.

At one point, following a series of arrests for civil disobedience, one of the students, who held one of the University’s most prestigious scholarships as a Morehead Scholar, was ordered to appear before the Honor Council to face possible expulsion for his violations of the law.

The Honor Council had the responsibility of determining whether John’s civil disobedience leading to his arrest constituted “conduct unbecoming a Carolina gentleman.”

It was a very important moment in the University’s history when the Honor Council voted that under the prevailing circumstances such conduct was, indeed, not “unbecoming” but completely justified and that all charges against John should be dismissed.

Subsequently, knowing that his actions might mean the loss of his Morehead Scholarship, John went to Selma and was later incarcerated in the State Penitentiary in Raleigh.  I recall taking a copy of Bonhoeffer’s Letters from Prison for him to read in prison, much to the puzzlement and consternation of the prison officials.

Upon learning that the City of Chapel Hill was planning to open a new municipal cemetery out on the Durham Highway, the campus ministers led the effort to insure that it would not be segregated.  Drawing up a petition, we sought the signatures of the various ministers in area churches.

Unfortunately, we encountered some opposition and a refusal to sign by the Lutheran minister who said he “believed in the separation of church and state,” by the Baptist minister who had the local mortician in his congregation and did not wish to get involved in his business, and the Methodist minister who said he no longer signed petitions after an unfortunate experience in a previous charge.

Undaunted, we took the petition with as many names of religious leaders as we could muster to the City Council meeting.  We were informed that the sale of cemetery lots was a business matter and that most people were very concerned about insuring that their property would not be devalued by unacceptable neighbors.  We pointed out that most burials took place without knowledge of who was buried in adjacent lots, but to no avail.  Furthermore, we were informed there would probably not be enough demand for burial in an unsegregated cemetery to justify integrating it.

After much discussion, the Council offered a compromise.  They would designate an integrated area of the new cemetery if we could get someone to consent to be buried in the unsegregated section.

Fortunately, we learned that a retired economics professor from the University of Chicago had been diagnosed as having terminal cancer and would be glad to pioneer our effort to insure that the new cemetery would be integrated. As luck would have, Mary’s cancer went into remission and she did not die until much later.  By then, the City Council had agreed that the cemetery should indeed by integrated, making further action unnecessary.

Needless to say, this episode provoked a number of dubious comments, about our “unsuccessful undertaking,” the “grave issues we had raised,” and the “controversial ministerial plot” that we had perpetrated.

Fortunately,  changes in the racial atmosphere and the eventual passage of the federal Public Accomodations Law and the Civil Rights Act, moved us far beyond the discrimination of events in 1963 and 1964 in Chapel Hill.


–1998, written in response to an NCMA request for anecdotes for a collection that was never published.





A Memorial Service for JFK by Hugh Nevin



When President Kennedy Was Assassinated

The usual question is: do you remember where you were?  Well, as is not uncommon for many of us with memories of 1963, I do.  I was mid-step on the grand staircase at Idle Hour, the former Vanderbilt mansion that had recently begun to serve as the site for Adelphi Suffolk-now Dowling College– in Oakdale on Long Island’s South Shore.  I can see it as vividly as if it were yesterday.  It’s what happened later that day—I remember this less precisely—that seems now a small story worth telling.

A little background.  On November 22, 1963, I was nearing the end of my eleventh month as the first (and only, as it turned out) campus minister of the then  “Campus Christian Federation of Suffolk County.”   As such, I was responsible for developing and maintaining ministries for campuses throughout the County.

That afternoon, when I got back to my home in Stony Brook on the North Shore, I received a phone call from a student at the State University campus nearby: would I conduct a memorial service for President Kennedy that evening?

I  would and did.  I don’t remember anything about the content of the service.  What I remember is the setting—and something of what it meant, then and now, to be involved in such a ministry.

When I arrived on campus (a five minute drive to the other side of the unreal-but-real “concrete curtain” that felt as if it hung from the railroad overpass at Niccolls Road, dividing the campus from the Village), I found several hundred students gathered. They were standing in a clearing to the side of the drive about a hundred yards in from the campus entrance, an equal distance from the dorms.  For the service the students stood in a semi-circle.  I stood midway between the open ends—by a make-shift pole on which an American flag was fixed at half-mast.

Campus construction was so “in process” (the library was housed in an arm of the Humanities classroom building) that there was as yet no flag pole.  For the occasion, students had gone into the woods, cut down a tree, stripped it of its branches, dug a hole, and set it in place for the service.  I never did know where the flag came from.

There was no student paper at the time to record campus happenings.  The local village paper may or may not have gotten wind of it.  In any case, the significance of the event at the time was that a group of students, as with the nation as a whole, had rightly wished to (not that one could or should have said it this way even then of such a gathering) “bring their burden before the Lord.”

Then and now, there is also this significance.  Ministry in higher education is (quintessentially, I would argue) ministry on the run:  make-shift, spur-of-the-moment largely unreported.  But thereby, it touches the fabric of lives that are open to significant impression precisely because the campus setting or moment is open to such things in ways that others are are not.

Hard to argue support for;  but infinitely worth the doing.

Somewhat later, I began the practice of closing prayer in such settings with the words:  “As we name you, so we pray.”


When the Federation was incorporated a few years later, it was renamed the United Campus Ministries of Suffolk County, Inc.  In 1972 this interdenominational ministry was joined with its counterpart in Nassau County into the single entity, one of eight area ministries of United Ministries in Higher Education (UMHE) in New York State. UMHE on Long Island maintained its incorporation as Long Island United Campus Ministries (LIUCM), Inc. so that when the state level UMHE body went out of existence in 1980 the local unit continued on.  On October20, 1997, LIUCM celebrated its 25th year.

Ministries with three campuses were begun in 1963.  State University of New York at Stony Brook, Suffolk County Community College, and Adelphi Suffolk/Dowling.  A fourth was added the following year: Southampton College of Long Island University.

SUNY’s long Island Center had begun operation several years earlier at Planting Fields in Nassau County.  Now it its second year at the new Stony Brook campus, the student body numbered about 900.


Feb. 12, 1998.  Written at the request of NCMA for an earlier collection of “anecdotes” which were never published. 


Reflections, Memories and “Burnt Offerings” by Jim Davis


My story begins with a start and stop journey of feeling a call from our Creator God to ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church. The confirmation of this call came as an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis under the creative, and profound ministry of several persons that I will never forget. It was because of these campus ministers and the programs they led that it became imperative for me to pursue ministry on campus, myself. It became my conviction to try my best to pay back what was given to me. I give thanks for the opportunity to have given my entire post seminary ministry of 38 years to three distinct types of ministry in higher education: Wesley Foundation and UMHE Ecumenical Campus Ministry at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and College Chaplaincy at the University of Puget Sound.

Tom Payne was the pastor at the University Methodist Church in the university business area in Minneapolis called Dinkytown, and the Wesley Foundation shared a building that included the sanctuary of the church.  As a junior taking courses in history and philosophy and reading and studying such philosophers as Camus, Sartre, and Kierkegaard, I had my socks knocked off by Tom Payne’s sermons as he connected his exegesis of biblical passages to the writings of these great philosophers.  It was to be my first concrete example of how the mind and the heart could engage each other in the development of the faith of young adults. This blending of reason and scripture as they joined with tradition and experience fed my own soul and excited me with the possibilities of how I might be part of such a church and ministry!

Two campus ministers from that setting that also engaged my mind and heart were Bob Ouradnik and Carl Caskey. This was the time of the primacy of the teachings of the Ecumenical Institute out of Chicago, which was created and led by Joseph Matthews and Joe Slicker, who came to Minnesota to speak and teach about how God was breaking into our lives and “cracking open” the wombs of possibility. I recall van trips to the West Side of Chicago, where E.I. had established a teaching/worshipping/mission community in the midst of great upheaval and social change in that neighborhood. Back at the U of M Wesley Foundation I vividly recall Bob and Carl leading study groups based on the same theologians and texts that E.I. used, such as Tillich, Niebuhr, Bonhoeffer, John A. T. Robinson, and others.  These “radical” studies excited my mind and heart with the call to act for societal and ecclesial change and social justice.

Jeanne Audrey Powers, campus minister at the St. Paul campus and director of the Minnesota Methodist Student Movement, was instrumental in bringing outstanding theologians as keynote speakers at our state-wide conferences and also getting other students and me excited about going to regional conferences where we met the likes of Clarence Jordan and James Lawson.

Jeanne Audrey was the key, as well, to sending a group of us to the South in 1964 for a Spring Break trip to Rust College. It was there that we had the incredible opportunity to join Rust students in a circle on the campus green to sing We Shall Overcome like I never had before. This followed having  tasted the strong anti-black prejudice of Holly Springs as death threats were directed at me and another Minnesota “white kid” as we ambled around town to look at antebellum houses. I believe these threats were directed at us because we were staying at “that black school”, symbolizing our support of Rust, and being perceived as meddling northerners. This experience taught me about the ugly reality of deep seated racism, something that African Americans faced in their daily lives, something which I realized that I could escape from merely by traveling back to my home state.

As I write I recall again how pivotal these campus ministers and the experiences they provided were in my own formation, one which put me on the path to develop my mind, feed my soul, and live out the Gospel to act for justice. It was this that drove me to declare my intention to enter the ministry and to vigorously pursue campus ministry as my own calling.

My first appointment following seminary was at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, serving as a half-time Wesley Foundation Director and half-time co-pastor with Richard P. Mathison, an outstanding preacher at University United Methodist Church. Evelyn Dack was an experienced, committed laywoman who continued to work with Wesley Foundation there and provided a good foundation for my initial attempts to figure out how I would actually go about this ministry! It was a good place to get my feet wet in both campus ministry and local church ministry. The realities of fiscal limitations became obvious when, in the spring of 1969, the church board announced that they could not afford two pastors and also pay for the new organ’s loan! Guess what stayed and who had to leave!

At that precipitous time, Richard E. Nelson, the Presbyterian campus minister who worked with the United Campus Christian Fellowship, came to me and the Wesley Foundation Board to offer a collaborative partnership in what would become the United Campus Ministry of Duluth-Superior. I shall never forget his generous offer to step back to ¾ time so that I could become a full time campus minister with the UCM. As a young, recently married young campus minister who would have an equally young family in the coming years, I was forever in awe of Dick and his graciousness. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him for the ensuing 8 years as part of the new ecumenical campus ministry organization, United Ministries in Higher Education. A patient mentor to me, Dick was a visionary thinker and creator of new ministry efforts and walked delicately into the field of creating a curriculum for educating medical school students on issues of faith and ethics at the new medical school at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. In working with the Dean of the Medical School, Dick adroitly arranged for Ron McNeur to come as a consultant for setting up such a curriculum on ethics and values for future physicians.

The importance of working effectively with the United Campus Ministry Board was clear. As the role of campus minister had evolved from being a “student worker” for a specific denomination into recognizing the importance of working collaboratively with professionals from various denominations and religious organizations, we recognized the critical importance of engaging the campus enterprise as a whole. This, of course, led to embracing the development of relationships with faculty, staff, and administrators.

We were extraordinarily blessed with an organization named the Council of Religious Advisors, which was composed of various Protestant campus ministers, an Episcopal priest, a rabbi, a Catholic priest and Benedictine nun, and a Christian Science practitioner. The university recognized us as advisors to registered student organizations, which gave us the privilege of being on campus.

The CRA became a remarkable ecumenical team that, while recognizing our traditions’ differences in practice and issues, was effective in developing significant levels of trust with the university administration. Of course, there were limits! Worship could be held on campus, but only in buildings that did not receive legislative money. In fact, I vividly remember the Academic Dean coming to a meeting of the CRA to apologetically request that we not continue to conduct Lenten prayers in the Art Gallery. The student government president, a Jewish student and nephew of the local president of ACLU, had lodged a complaint! I also recall how Father Selman Threadgill set a meeting with the Provost to object to the Provost’s plan to bring a retired battleship to the Duluth harbor. Selman later reported to our CRA team that he had not been received warmly and was summarily asked to leave the provost’s office!

Many of our ecumenical “team” members were involved in efforts to be peacemakers during the escalation of the Vietnam War. Lutheran campus minister Brooks Anderson participated in marches in the South and several of us participated in organizational meetings of students and other activist oriented young adults from the community to plan protest marches. It was a pivotal strategic presence for us to encourage non-violence as protests were planned, including two large marches through the city. These activities involved a large number of students, and it was clear to us that our roles were important as witnesses to our belief that God called us to be peacemakers. We were deeply aware of the possibility of escalation and violence even in Duluth because we knew of the bombings in Madison at the University of Wisconsin. Newscaster Charles Kuralt determined that it was worthwhile to show that protests even in the small city of Duluth would show the extent of the antiwar movement in America.

I was always struck, however, even in very serious times, by the humor of God and the complexity of humanity. I recall well a favorite story from this time, one which involved the single campus policeman on the UMD campus. Officer Ole was a friend to many and all of us in the campus ministry. He did his best to “educate us” about the foibles of pot and started each September by coming by the Student Religious Organizations office to light some up for us all to smell and be aware of how it was a dangerous and nasty habit. Prior to one of the two large anti-war marches in downtown Duluth, a rumor surfaced that students were planning to burn down the ROTC building on campus. The administration assigned Ole to guard the building (and we later learned that he had taken a portable tv with him to camp out in the building) to protect it from violent students. The march concluded successfully and peacefully, and upon our return to campus we learned that some students, in fact, had tried to burn down the ROTC building. The irony of this story is that the building was constructed of corrugated metal walls and the students had used highway flares to try to accomplish their ends! There are times, indeed, for laughter and relief in this world of conflict, anger, and injustice.

The CRA was consulted regularly by the Dean of the University and the Dean of Student Activities, Dean Kjolhaug. The importance of building trusting professional and personal relationships with administrators, staff, and faculty was apparent on many occasions during those nine years that I experienced with them. This was visible through invitations from the dean for us to attend Student Affairs staff meetings, even as the university was deeply aware of the constraints of separation of church and state. These relationships of trust led to invitations to Sister Claudia Riehl and me to teach a freshman seminar for credit and to Father John Husband, Sister Claudia and me to participate in staff training for resident assistants in the dormitories.  This group became a prototype for me for the possibilities for interfaith and interdenominational cooperation and collegiality. We held retreats together, did planning meetings together prior to the beginning of each academic year, and attended each other’s family events and personal celebrations. This deep collaborative spirit led to such remarkable occasions as my spouse and me being invited by Bishop Anderson of the Diocese of Duluth to present the elements during mass at the College of St. Scholastica, where our CRA team member Sister Claudia, “happened” to be a member of the faculty and the Benedictine Order.

It was during this time that I became an active member of the National Campus Ministry Association. Attending national conferences became an important part of my life. These conferences, starting with one in Denver, gave me opportunities to meet other colleagues in campus ministry from around the country. Hearing dynamic speakers and theologians was highly significant to enabling me to “do my ministry” back at UMD and in the Duluth community. A regional conference held at a retreat center near Stillwater, MN, on the banks of the St. Croix River, brought together campus ministers from all over Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. The keynoter was Sam Keen, author of Fire in the Belly and Faces of the Enemy. That is where I met several colleagues who impressed me with their deep commitment to a cutting edge ministry on campus that my own denomination used to call a specialized ministry until it became defined as “beyond the local church.”

The 60’s and 70’s were also times often filled with distrust and disrespect from local church members and pastors and those in the communities in which our universities resided. Sarcastic comments such as “When will you enter the REAL ministry?” were often hurled at campus ministers, and funding from denominational sources was regularly jeopardized. Often small campus ministries were pitted against larger programs at major universities, which stressed collegial relationships at times. I recall well the deep anxiety created by state commission budget meetings when we never knew whether we would go home with a job or not. Shortage of funds led to calls for detailed evaluations of campus ministry programs and campus ministers.

I personally recall my own angst when I learned that our campus ministry program in Duluth-Superior was scheduled to be evaluated by two regional staff members from UMHE. In fact, we hosted two such evaluation processes during my tenure in Duluth.  It was through these processes that I learned the importance of completing thorough evaluative processes conducted by outside consultants. The UMHE staff that came to our campuses were Dale Turner (AB) and Cecil Findley (UMC), who conducted in-depth interviews with university staff, administrators, students, faculty, campus ministry board members, and various clergy from congregations near the universities. These evaluations were extraordinarily valuable to Dick Nelson and me and to our board. I was gratefully surprised to realize that such thorough, careful evaluations by established professional consultants from off-campus in effect reinforced the importance of these ministries to university and community people alike. The credibility of the campus ministry venture itself was heightened significantly by the systematic process of evaluation established by UMHE, which I hold in deep admiration for its commitment to excellence but also its ability to address the need for evaluation to deal with the distrust of campus ministry in the larger church.

As the “management by objectives” quantitative movement had begun to make its presence known in all kinds of ministries Dick Nelson, our governing board, and I examined the Danforth Study on Campus Ministry by Kenneth Underwood and found it to be a most helpful tool to refocus upon what approaches Jesus had taken in his ministry. (The Church, the University,and Social Policy: ‪The Danforth Study of Campus Ministries). The much shorter summary booklet, New Wine, became an invaluable resource to guide us in measuring the effectiveness of our campus ministry. The priestly, pastoral, prophetic and kingly (governance) roles identified as foci of Jesus’s ministry provided insights into how our campus ministry board and we as campus ministers might more effectively direct and measure our efforts in ministry. In fact, this format was most useful in writing annual reports to judicatories, commissions, and interpreting our work to local churches.

The end of the 60’s and early 70’s found me engaging not only in efforts to end racial injustice and the Vietnam War, but also to join women in advocacy for women’s rights.  Although the Methodist tradition had been ordaining women for more than 20 years, by the mid 70’s the majority forces continued to minimize women’s leadership opportunities in the church. Women in prominent leadership positions included campus ministers such as Jeanne Audrey Powers, whom I mentioned earlier as pivotal in my faith formation. As ordination of women had yet to arrive in some traditions, the Council of Religious Advisors at UMD sought to raise the bar by inviting persons such as Jeannette Piccard of the Episcopal Church to speak on campus. Prominently known with her husband Jean Piccard as world-class hot air balloonists, she sought to be ordained. “How long must I wait?” she proclaimed!  “I am now 78!!”

In addition to seeking approval of the Equal Rights Amendment, the movement to establish the right to choose abortion for unplanned pregnancies was a major issue on our campuses as much as elsewhere in the country. My own collaboration with faculty members included working with a psychology professor who established a counseling group of professional persons on campus and in the community who would meet with women, girls, and family members as they considered their choices concerning their pregnancy. Our group of professionals included three clergy, a professor, a community activist and a social worker. When requested, referrals were made to physicians to perform legal, medically sound abortions out of state. Many of the women with whom we met were students. Some were persons from the greater community. As we became known widely as a resource, we found ourselves the center of controversy. Like my experience during the protests during the war, I found myself receiving phone calls at all hours from persons objecting to this type of ministry.

An additional emphasis of ministry on campus included the first Earth Day observance and programs advocating for care for God’s creation. Again, it was a member of the Council of Religious Advisors, Brooks Anderson, who initiated the Earth Day program, which became an annual event. Inspired by his efforts and knowing that all of creation is of God, many of us became advocates for environmental care and justice.

Another emerging emphasis in campus ministry was learning to understand and listen to gay and lesbian students, faculty, and staff about their lives and experiences of oppression. I am deeply grateful for a young man who was a guest speaker in a graduate school class at UMD. He shared his sexual identity with us and proceeded to talk about the deep pain he had experienced as a gay man in his church. His candor led me on a long journey of seeking to more fully understand, which in turn has become a key component of the campus ministry programs I led since that time in Duluth, particularly in my recent role as chaplain at a private, church related university. Campus ministry programs across the country have come a long ways in affirming lgbtq students as children of God deserving the full ministry of the church.

I left Duluth and the campus ministry at UMD in 1977 to accept an invitation to become the chaplain at the University of Puget Sound, in Tacoma, Washington. I continued to be a member of NCMA for several more years but eventually found that my budget did not allow me to continue to attend two national conferences each year. I give thanks for the extraordinary opportunities to continue a ministry in higher education at Puget Sound from 1977 until my retirement in 2006. I know, for a fact, that my years of experience in ecumenical ministry and interfaith expressions of faith in Duluth laid the groundwork for leading a chaplaincy program which embraced a wide spectrum of needs for students, faculty, and staff, while also seeking to act for social justice on campus and beyond.

I hold a deep gratitude for the privilege to work with immensely gifted and prophetic campus ministers, not only at Duluth-Superior, but across the nation through United Methodist Campus Ministry, UMHE and the National Campus Ministry Association. NCMA is to be recognized for its significant role in enriching the lives and ministries of countless colleagues throughout the nation. It has ably served as the right organization at the right time through times of great change and immense challenges.  Bravo to all those colleagues who gave sterling leadership to NCMA and forged new pathways for campus ministry to be such an effective witness to ministry with students, the university, and society at large.

K. James (Jim) Davis

May 30, 2014

Port Orchard, WA



What I Have Learned after 40 Years on the Same University Campus by Jim Pruyne

What I Have Learned After 40 Years of Ministry on the Same University Campus

Jim Pruyne, University Pastor

Illinois State University

The Beginnings

In the fall of 1955, my wife  Gwen and I returned to what is now Illinois State University, after a three-month honeymoon in Europe. It included three weeks of study at the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Institute on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. I had spent the previous year in a seminary fieldwork position at the First Presbyterian Church in Normal, Illinois, where Illinois State U is located.

The first thing we did after returning to “Normal,” was to rent a large house adjacent to the university campus which would provide us with a small apartment, space for a student gathering place, and space for five students to rent rooms for the coming school year. This was necessary to have enough income to rent the house. We registered our housing accommodations with the University and waited for students to show up. The first one to do so was a young African American student named Donald McHenry. I showed him the rooms available and let him choose whichever room appealed to him. Thus began our experience and love of campus ministry.

Donald McHenry lived with us for his last two years at ISU. Our relationship with Don, as with so many students, became a life-long friendship. Later, he became the United States Ambassador to the United Nations in the Carter Administration. During the George W. Bush Administration, he returned to campus, bringing Madeline Albright with him. (We have a cherished photograph of the two of us with the two of them.) Together, they carried on an excellent discussion of current American foreign policy. Before the presentation, we sat with him during lunch and, for the first time, I asked him if, when he first knocked on our door, “Was he testing us?” His reply was, “You will never know.” He returned several times over the years, sometimes at our request and sometimes at the request of the University. In the beginning, I was the go-between for Don and the University administration. First, would he leave his papers to ISU? Answer: “Yes.” Then, would he serve on the ISU Foundation Board? Again, his answer was “Yes.” At one point, he set up an account for us in the ISU Foundation to which he contributed some of the funds he received for serving on various boards of directors. It was a match system. He contributed and the companies matched his gifts. I took students to Washington, DC, a good many times for a spring break study seminar. Whenever we were there, Don found the time to meet with our students, often at Georgetown University where he was on the faculty.

During the time he was a student and living with us, he and friends organized the campus chapter of the NAACP. One night, when I was out at a meeting, he went to Gwen and said: “I am going out to the Green Lantern Restaurant (one of our better restaurants at the time) to see if they will serve me. If I am arrested will you and Jim come get me?” Gwen replied, “Of course!” and off he went. He did not get arrested. They let him in, but refused to serve him. Thus began several weeks of challenging all the restaurants in the community. In the end, the students succeeded, but it was not without having to threaten a lawsuit. Don is an amazing man. The Jacksonville newspaper referred to him as “the quintessential diplomat.” This was the beginning of our ministry’s involvement in the civil rights movement and the many issues surrounding it.

Other actions we have been involved in over the years include

Housing –

When we arrived at ISU, there was only one residence hall on campus. It was Fell Hall for women. African American female students were permitted to live in it on one wing of one floor if they had an African American roommate. There were no dorms for men. Therefore, most students had to live in rooms rented from what were called Householders. The only area where African American students could find rooms to rent was the area in southwest Bloomington where most of the African American community lived. There were no public buses available after six o’clock in the evening. Hence, they often had to walk, sometimes a distance of two or three miles.

– Our students developed a “covenant of open occupancy” and went two-by-two to all 295 householders in Normal to ask them to sign the covenant. Only five did so. We were one; the Methodist pastor was one; and three others.

– We opened the “first integrated coop house for men,” as it is reported in The Grandest of Enterprises, the history of ISU’s first one hundred years.

Other actions and spring break trips

Our students worked with the student chapter of NAACP to desegregate the barber shops in town. They were prepared to challenge the theaters, but when the theater owners heard about it, they opened their doors before action was taken. In this, the student leader from the NAACP was Reggie Weaver, later president of the National Education Association for several years.

In 1957, a group went to Mary Holmes Junior College in West Point, Mississippi– a residential school operated by the Presbyterian Church for African American students. So incensed were our students at what they saw that they voluntarily did the necessary research and wrote a paper outlining the realities of the “separate but equal” defense of segregation. They shared the report with our local churches. It was reported to me that this was the first group from the North to come into Mississippi in support of the Negroes since reconstruction. I cannot confirm this, but the source seemed reliable.

In the spring of 1963, 18 students spent their spring break in Savannah, Georgia, doing voter registration in the African American community. This venture was arranged for us by Larry Jones, campus minister colleague from Fisk University, and Andrew Young. I was told a couple of years ago by one of our students who has spent his life addressing these issues that our trip was the test case that led to “Mississippi Summer,” the summer that the south was flooded with students–Black and White, Christian and Jewish– registering voters particularly in Mississippi and Alabama.

New Campus Ministry Facility

In 1969, we opened a new ecumenical campus ministry center which included ministries supported by The United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), The Church of the Brethren, The Mennonite Church, The Presbyterian Church, The American Baptist Church, The Evangelical Lutheran Church, The Episcopal Church and the Christian Scientists. This center over the years has also been used by Jewish Hillel, the Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist Communities at various times and in various ways. The building, known as The Campus Religious Center, was constructed out of black brick, as our expression of the “black is beautiful” affirmation at the time. The building immediately became the “home” of the Interdenominational Youth Choir, a gospel group that was the largest African American group on campus.

Just shortly after the building was opened, I received a call one afternoon from Lonnie Pruitt, now an Episcopal priest, who was the President of the Black Student Union. I knew him well. He had been a part of one of our study seminars at the U.N. Lonnie said, “Jim, we want to hold a press conference this afternoon, can we use the Center?” I checked with my Lutheran and Baptist colleagues and then told Lonnie, “The building is available to you.” In that press conference, these students stated their demands to the University. They included:

– more students of color on campus

– more faculty of color

– courses in black studies

– the naming of a University building for Malcolm X

During the following week, other press conferences were held; the faculty members of color met; the faculty and students met together. They negotiated with the administration on an almost continuing basis – and all in our black Campus Religious Center. The University administration agreed to almost all of the requests in one way or another. They did promise to name a building after an African American, but they refused to name it Malcolm X. After all negotiations were complete and changes approved by both groups, we received “thank yous” from both students and the administration. The Importance of Place cannot be overstated!

Special Efforts with High School and College Students

Working with the Chicago Urban League, we arranged for a dozen students of color to spend ten days on the campus of ISU for academic enrichment. The University’s residence halls were not open in the summer, so we arranged for these students to spend time in small communities and farms near the University.

A grant from the Presbyterian Church allowed us to work with a dozen African American Chicago high school students, providing mentoring and tutoring for them during the school year and bringing them to campus for two weeks of academic enrichment every summer.

We received an Illinois Board of Higher Education Higher Education Cooperation Act (HECA) grant permitting us to create mentoring programs for male African American students on four college/university campuses: ISU, Northern Illinois University, Eastern Illinois University and Elmhurst College.

Then we received a second HECA grant to support the Student Volunteer Center we created. We staffed it with student interns who received three hours of academic credit for operating the Center and doing some workshops on race relations. Nine departments provided me with interns: art, music, theater, English, Communications, Political Science, Sociology, Educational Administration and Special Education. There were as many as twelve interns each semester. The music majors organized a choir from their friends. We shared them with the smaller churches surrounding Normal. One brought together not only a choir and soloists, but also a small orchestra. They did a portion of the Messiah in several small congregations. He later worked with the Robert Shaw Chorale.

Theater students presented a different children’s play each semester to the same small communities. The art student did all of our graphic arts, posters, brochures, etc. I talked with each group explaining my Christian understanding of the importance of community service, using the Parable of the Good Samaritan to do so. I was surprised to discover how many of them had never heard of this parable nor any other one. I also introduced them to the community’s human service groups with whom we would be working. One time, we did a study to see how we were doing. Students were the second largest source of volunteers in the agencies, exceeded only by senior citizens, and that was not by much. Students staffed after-school mentoring/tutoring programs in two Normal elementary schools and one Bloomington school. They did an amazing job! They also worked with the hospitals, neighborhood houses, etc. The University Student Affairs Office provided me with two graduate assistants each year. Two master’s degree candidates did their practicum with me. One doctoral student did his in-service requirement with us, including among many other things, leading one of our spring break trips. At the high point, we were sending out six different groups each spring to various service/learning projects all across the country. Many of the interns were either African American or Latino/a. After graduating, one of the students wrote me to say that he had received a graduate assistantship only because of his intern experience with us.

The Development of Peer Ministers

With a grant from the Presbyterians in the early 1970s, each school year, we recruited a dozen students and trained them to be what we called “associate campus ministers.” Later. “peer ministers” became the accepted term. One of our Board members, Betty Rademacher, a staff person in Student Affairs, had prepared a workbook for training residential assistants and other students in some “peer” student led activities, and she and I trained these peer ministers. The students did a superb job with this effort at outreach. They were also involved in leadership roles with various campus ministry programs, for which they were given a $1,000 scholarship each semester.

Efforts with Faculty, Staff and Administrators

In the 1950s, the Presbyterians did not use the term “campus minister.” We were called, “University Pastors.” This is still the best name for who we are and what we do. We are “University Pastors!” The large, ever increasingly secular public universities are our “parish.” We were not called primarily to be pastors to a collected group of Christian students, but to be a pastor to all those who live and work in a university — a very diverse and ever changing institution of learning. From the beginning, we were educated to love and, sometimes, to criticize out of that love this monstrous collection of communities bound together by the love of teaching and learning. We must be concerned for students, but we must be equally concerned for faculty, staff, administrators, etc. From the beginning, our ministry sought to embody this concern. Here are some of the ways we went about it over the years.

We began with a small faculty group gathered to read and discuss books dealing with theology and the Christian life. This was not enough. We soon discovered that there were no scholars from outside-the-campus coming to speak to our faculty and staff as well as students. So – – – —

We created what we called “The DeYoung Lectures.” We gathered together a small, but disparate group of faculty representing a variety of disciplines. This Committee, each year, invited an outside scholar to address the issues in higher education from the perspective of their own discipline. Each gave three lectures on campus. After the first year, the University asked if they could publish the lectures in their quarterly journal, and we, of course, agreed. Scholars who gave these lectures included Harold Schilling, a physicist from Penn State; Robin Fleming, President of the University of Michigan, Nevitt Sanford, perhaps the most outstanding scholar on higher education, itself, from Berkley; as artist from the University of Illinois; Tom Green, a favorite of campus ministers at the time, who taught philosophy of education at Michigan State; a philosopher of science from Wayne State; a physicist from Carleton College; and David Berlo, a professor of communication, from Michigan State. One faculty member said to me that she was grateful to us for these lectures because it meant that we had not forgotten that those who spend their time teaching others, also needed to be taught on a continuing basis. When the University began to bring in speakers on their own, we moved on to new things.

We moved on to “Faculty Forum.” With a new faculty committee, we would pick a theme for a semester, divide it into sub-topics and knowledgeable individuals, most from off-campus, but sometimes from on-campus would be asked to address them. Each series would consist of six to eight weekly addresses over a luncheon in the student union. Well over a hundred faculty and staff would attend these presentations every week. We had six or eight presentations on a common theme in the fall and another theme and presentations in the spring semester. One semester the theme was “The Liberal Arts.” One faculty member told me that this series changed his whole approach to teaching.

“Humanizing Higher Education”

was the next theme. The format changed to a once a month dinners dealing with this topic. Speakers came mainly from higher education: legislative leaders, Board of Regents and State Board of Higher Education. ( A great opportunity for me to get acquainted with these people.) Others came from the various disciplines, primarily from within the liberal arts and education communities. Attendance numbered seventy or so. Participants came largely from central administration, colleges of liberal arts, education and fine arts – not many from business. Again, an interdisciplinary faculty committee made the decisions and ran the programs. Staff did the administrative work.

When the new Campus Religious Center was completed, much of our effort in this area took place in this building, which was adjacent to the University. At the high point, we had three groups meeting on different days of the week. The American Baptist colleague, Walter Fishbaugh, met weekly with a group of faculty who shared their research across disciplinary lines. He called the group, Eureka! Our Lutheran staff member, Gerald Kissell, met with a group called “The Guild of Soup and Salad Theologians.” He was the best academic theologian among the staff. There were fifteen or so faculty and a couple of local pastors who read and discussed solid works such as Hans Kung’s book on “Resurrection.” I led a group that was composed of faculty, some students and townspeople. Topics ranged all over the map geographically, politically, economically, scientifically, religiously, artistically, and the like. These lectures were called The Fell Lectures, names for Jesse Fell, who founded the University. His two sisters, Alice and Fanny, provided in their wills funds to be used to bring lectures to campus for the “whole community.” Annually, we received grants from the Fell Fund to support these lectures. Our center became known among faculty, administrators and students as the “place that was open to free and balanced discussion,” with advocacy on many issues thrown into the mix.

We also used faculty in a variety of other ways.

-When the American Embassy was invaded by the Iranians and our embassy staff became hostages, we organized an all-day Saturday event on Islam and the Middle East for high school teachers in the county to prepare them to deal with this issue with their students.

– In the early days, we did a workshop for public school teachers on teaching religion in the schools. When Mr. Justice Jackson wrote the findings on the role of prayer in the public schools, he went out of his way to say that though the schools could not pray, they ought to be studying religion. We were aided by curricula already prepared by three states: Florida, Montana and Pennsylvania.

– At one point, we were able to offer a group of local churches, a six-week Sunday School teacher preparation experience. Although we offered to pay the faculty for this–or at least pay their transportation–in every instance, they declined. One faculty member said to me, “This is the first time the church has ever asked me to use my expertise in support of the life and work of the church.” Prior to that point, all she had ever been asked to do was to bring a dish to a potluck.

The Regular Aspects of the Campus Ministry

In the preceding comments, I have talked about the program. While all of those things were going on, we also often worked with a student fellowship of some type. We listened to students and mentored them. We counseled with them. We took them home when a crisis in their family required it. We married them. We fed them. My wife put together a small wedding reception on very short notice. In other words we were there for the students whenever and wherever we were needed. We did draft and conscientious objector counseling during the Viet Nam war. We did problem pregnancy counseling when needed. We helped students who wanted to tell their parents that they were gay or lesbian by listening, supporting them and sometimes going with them to talk with their parents. We were a safe place for them. We did this long before the church developed the terms “open and affirming” or “more light.” We helped residence halls and those who lived there to find some healing when a fellow student died by whatever means. We took students on retreats. We prayed with them, studied with them and played with them, loved them, challenged them and were with them as they searched for their own spiritual identity.

We also listened to faculty and staff of the university. We did, in the university context, all those things that a pastor in a local church was called to do. The difference is that we were able to do all these things and many others with the members of our parish in the place where they worked. Five days a week we were there for them in the university.  On weekends, if we were not doing something with students, we could often be found worshipping with them. We substituted for pastors on vacation and for those who were ill. We also became interim pastors when a nearby church was vacant.

What I have learned as a University Pastor

1, I have learned that campus ministry is a great ministry, important for the university and for those who live and work in and for it as students, faculty, administrators, campus police, secretaries, student affairs staff, alumni, et al. It is important for the church. Above all, this pastor is thankful that our churches had the wisdom to give birth to campus ministry. It has been a total joy for me. Let us hope that we will find ways for it to continue. The work is not done!

2. Place is important!

Where would the black students have gone without our ministry and building? How could we have become the place where everyone felt safe and all issues were addressed fairly…?

3. Being “in but not of” the university is often an advantage in ministry.

We can go anywhere, talk with anyone, do anything without having to get the permission of the University hierarchy. I mentioned earlier the workshop we did for public school teachers on teaching religion. The funds for this came from us, from the university and from a grant from the Danforth Foundation. I was sitting in my office with one of the faculty members who had helped plan the event and would be one of the leaders. The daily mail came and in it was a letter from the Danforth Foundation agreeing to our request, IF the university would put a little more money in it. I dialed the University President and explained the situation to him. He immediately approved a larger amount. When I hung up, the faculty member was amazed.

In the 1980s, I heard a number of faculty complaining that the University did not have a Faculty Club. I said, “Why don’t you organize one yourselves? I will help you.” Four female faculty agreed to work with me, BUT they could not begin until some administrator approved what we were doing. So, we did and they did. There is now The University Club with space provided in the Student Union and free membership for faculty and staff. Even though I am not faculty or staff, I served as president of the club for one year. The point is not what we did. The point is that a university is very hierarchical. A faculty member is hesitant to approach the top of the hierarchy without first getting the permission of those who stand between the faculty member and the President or the Provost. Being in, but not of, means that you have an access to all levels of the university that are not available to those who are both “in and of” the University. It helps us and the university as well that University Pastors can have this relationship. Occasionally, it makes it possible for the Pastor to become an ombudsman for a student or faculty person. It permits one to become an advocate for a person or an idea or program. Warning: use this relationship carefully and well.

4. Campus ministry is neither a ministry of presence, nor a ministry with program. It is both. They each support the other. Presence enabled me to know personally over 350 faculty and administrators. It made it possible for me to bring together a group of faculty to suggest they might want to consider developing a program in Latin American Studies and another group to suggest a Middle Eastern Studies program. It made it possible for me to serve on a variety of University Committees. The first one came early when I was asked to work with faculty in psychology who wanted to develop the protocols and rules that would make it possible for them to use students in their research while offering counseling to them at the same time. There was no student counseling center at the time. It made it possible for the Provost to call me and to tell me that the University’s curriculum committee would be spending the next semester studying carefully its general education program. They needed student input and wondered if I would gather together a group of twelve or so students and spend the semester working with them on this question. At the end of the semester, the committee held a retreat and the students presented the papers. It also led to the creation of many of the programs described above and then made it possible for me to know even more of the university community.

5. Local church pastors are often taught that they should not stay in a local church for more than six or eight years. For the University Pastor, a long tenure is advisable. It takes time to gain the trust of the University. Faithfulness to the calling and time does make a difference.

Lastly, What of the Future?

It doesn’t look good for our mainline denominations. Our membership continues to decline radically, causing us to lose churches, as well as members. In the 1980s, I did some research and found:

– At that time, the birthrate in our churches was at least one whole child less than the population at large (< than one child per family).

– The average age of our denomination was 58 and climbing. The median age of the population at large was 32.

Since I began in ministry in Illinois in 1954, each of the three major denominations I served (United Church, Disciples and Presbyterian) has lost more than 100,000 members in Illinois, alone. At one point, all or most of our funding came from the central offices of our denominations. Today, at best, our denominations cannot support even one ministry, let alone the fourteen or so ministries we once had. In Illinois, for example, campus ministries receive no support from the Presbyterian Synod or the Disciples Region. The UCC Conference support is important, but token at best.

And yet, I think our mainline ministries are more needed than ever before. Why?

The importance of the separation of church and state is vital to our life as a nation, but it is under strong attack from the right wing of both the political and religious communities. Right wing Protestantism and Catholicism has never been supportive. Both would be happier if the church–their church–had some control over the universities. Our ministries are the only religious bodies in support of the separation of church and state and thus in support of our public higher education.

Religion has always been close to higher learning. It founded the earliest of what we today call universities. The first one was founded in Bologna, Italy in the 15th Century; The University of Paris came next. The type of contact we have provided and need to continue to provide is summed up in the words of a little book entitled  Excellence, written by John Gardner in the 1970s. He says, “There are a lot of people who love higher education, but are not critical of it; and there are a lot of people who are critical of it, but do not love it. What the University needs is people who love it and are critical of it.” We have been these people! Both the church and the university–and I dare say the nation–need us to continue to do so.

Higher education is under attack in this nation. In many ways it is in disarray. We need to be a part of the conversation that works these issues through. Some of the issues include

1. How are we going to pay for it?

2. What is the proper role for technology?Can a degree be earned entirely over the internet, and if so, what is lost and what is gained?

3. Are our universities and colleges to educate our young men and women, or are we to be satisfied with only training them for work that is available?

4. What is the role of community in learning, and what is community anyway?  Does it require people being bodily present to one another in particular place, or is seeing and hearing them over the internet sufficient?

5. The “for profit” institutions get the lions’ share of federal and state support for student aid. Do they, indeed, provide Bachelors and Masters Degrees and often doctorates that have the integrity that we believe the same degrees provided by the residential colleges and universities do?

6. Our founding fathers (and I daresay, mothers) thought that when they created Harvard and William and Mary, they were doing so in order to have “an educated clergy and an educated citizenry.” Are our colleges and universities doing this now?” Should this indeed be part of the purpose of any accredited institution of higher education?

These are but a very few of the questions that have been raised or need to be raised. Each radically affects the other. Where are they being addressed now? How are they being addressed? Should our progressive Christian community be a part of these conversations or even the convener of groups to address them?

In Illinois, our dormant state commission has decided that what our universities need right now is an inter-faith center on each campu– that our progressive Christian ministry needs to occur in an interfaith context. What does that mean and how could we move in this direction?

I am sure the readers of this list are aware of them and many more. I remind you of them because I believe that although we may be declining in number, there may still be questions we should consider, ministries we must try to address.

If we move in any direction, indeed, if we are to continue to exist, we will have to fund ourselves. Is that even possible?

We cannot count on the structures of our mainline churches for any significant support. In many cases there is, or will be, no support at all. My own conviction is that we may need to separate ourselves structurally from dioceses, synods, presbyteries, conferences, regions and the like. In its place we might seek to build a group of Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, secular humanist individuals who would become the supporters of these interfaith ministries. We could become a ministry of religious individuals rather than a ministry tied legally to structures. The Parliament of World Religions works like this. The Student YMCAs that still exist on some of our campuses function in this manner. And I do believe that NCMA itself needs to become an interfaith association.

Jim Pruyne spent 40 years as University Pastor at the University of Illinois in Normal, IL often in partnership with his wife Gwen.  He has been active in NCMA since its beginning. They still live in Normal and continue to be an advocates for higher education ministries.

Becoming Portals of Love and Openers of Doors by Odette Lockwood-Stewart


An Invocation for NCMA’s 50th

Friend and colleague Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann quoted a student who, in a workshop with poet and playwright Merle Feld, wrote these words when she was asked, “If you were to write your own Mezuzah…”

God, you know I have no space to call my own.  I am a wandering ship, my anchor still stowed safely in its hold.  My doorways are always changing, my homes always temporary, I have no constancy save myself and you. Let this token remind me that whether I am entering into my quiet domain or entering the world beyond my room, you are with me, part of me, part of my shifting life.  Help me to be a portal for love, and Torah, and an opener of doors.”

May this student’s reality and prayer guide NCMA’s 50th story telling. My particular story of ever changing doorways in campus ministry includes varied calls; strategic conversations; changing generations; ministry in the Western U.S.; NCMA experiences; change making and being changed.  May we each, may we all be portals for love, Torah, Gospel, and openers of doors.

My Calls to Campus

My call to campus ministry began in 1970 as a student worker at what was then San Fernando Valley State College in Los Angeles (now California State University, Northridge).  I worked with campus ministers Al Axelton and Daniel Statello at “the Dialogue Center.”  Through campus ministry I opened to new worlds and my questions were taken seriously. I met and learned from Caesar Chavez and Paulo Freire before I knew who they were. The walls between personal faith and social justice crumbled as I followed Jesus.

As the first in my working class immigrant family to graduate from college, I found a lifeline in campus ministry in every sense of that word.

While in seminary at Boston University School of Theology, I was part of a small group that founded the Anna Howard Shaw Center, and I served as the first Student Director of the Center.  My first full time campus ministry position was as founding Director of the Landberg Center for Health and Ministry at University of California, San Francisco, an ecumenical campus ministry with medical and nursing students launched by a patient’s bequest received by the only ecumenical campus ministry in the city at that time, Ecumenical House at San Francisco State University.  I then served as Wesley Foundation Director at San Diego State University, and later for eight years at UCLA.  In 1993 I became the first full time Director hired to re-start a Wesley Foundation at UC Berkeley.

I also served three pastorates, most recently 9 years as pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church in Berkeley.

From 2000-2004 I was the first Program Director of Contextual Education at Pacific School of Religion, and in 2012 I returned as faculty member and Director of Field Education and Contextual Learning.

Because of a life changing mission study trip to Chile in the early 1970s, I am called to initiate and facilitate what Robert McAfee Brown called, “Creative Dislocation,” immersive learning experiences that change world views and open new worlds every year and in every setting.

Strategic Conversations and Actions

Strategic and contextual conversations for mission and ministries in higher education have also been part of my call:  through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the National Committee on Campus Ministry of the UMC, through NCMA, regional denominational and ecumenical commissions, forming partnerships to launch new ministries and movements (e.g. Ecumenical Black Campus Ministry, 2000 California and Nevada Campus Ministry Mission Strategy). Board development, contextual analysis, and model development have been my primary consulting areas.

Current trends in student demographics, economic and educational disparities, divisions between delivery of services and learning outcomes, student indebtedness, graduate employment rates, and for-profit initiatives in “untapped” higher education markets that leverage and “unlock” assets of campus ministries and colleges and universities all require strategic thinking and campus ministries are uniquely placed conversation partners in discerning discipleship, justice and meaning in the ways ahead for church and campus. May each doorway be a portal to love, Torah, and Gospel, and may we be openers of doors.

Changing Generations in Campus Ministry

Women entering campus ministry in the third wave of the 1970s and 1980s responded to the “in but still out” realities of a field challenged by changing contexts, diminished support, and long tenured staff.  Hospitality to new generations of colleagues was not a core practice in a time of seeming scarcity.

I recently found correspondence from campus ministry colleagues and regional leaders explaining to me why the compensation package for the campus ministry I was just hired to direct would leave with the former campus minister to a new site and therefore I would have to live in the campus ministry building.

While lay and clergy women had founded and served campus ministries for many years, top denominational and para-church leaders were overwhelming white males, and local Directors as well (though with an increasing number of women program associates).  Women found and founded new ministries and new models of leadership bridging campus and community.

Campus Ministry Women was a network where women mentored and supported one another and acted together.  In CMW it was never only about women in campus ministry.  I remember a Campus Ministry Conference in Illinois where we gathered at the home of the Illinois governor to protest that Illinois was one of fifteen states to refuse to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (which failed in 1982 due to those fifteen states).  Access to education, wage equity, sexual violence, and international solidarity with women struggling against injustice were foci of our gatherings and action.

One vivid memory I have from an NCMA Conference held at Temple University was when Womanist theologian Dolores Williams was asked during Q and A (in a long, energetic and highly descriptive question) what she thought about a complex and controversial denominational reorganization in one denomination.  She was silent for a moment and then responded, “I think it is simply another realignment of the white male power structure.”

The West

The expansion, changing realities and leadership of public higher education in the western U.S. has not always been reflected in the focus, funding, studies, conferences, histories or strategies of denominational or ecumenical ministries in higher education.

A few anecdotes worth sharing from my experience that hopefully prompt interest in scope and particularity of stories from all regions:

  • Herman Beimfohr was Campus Minister and Director of the Wesley Foundation serving UCLA from 1936 to 1975. His tenure included pre-WWII, WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam student eras.
  • By 1936 there were student centers or campus ministries at junior colleges, teachers colleges, public and private universities throughout the Western U.S. serving thousands of students.
  • Until it closed in 1999, the Landberg Center at UC San Francisco initiated: Anatomy Lab burial rites, a CPE program for medical students in Haight Ashbury, community clinics with Glide, advocacy for a health science women’s center, immersive courses on Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Health Care and Healing.
  • In 1972 Mary Alice Geier wrote There’s a Community College in My Town and in 1987 she co-wrote We Got Here From There- Reflective History of the Southern California and Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ: on the Occasion of Its 100th Anniversary, 1887-1987.
  • In 1996 Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Davis campus ministries created Tet Ansamn, multi-year ecumenical student network of teams and solidarity with the ti eglise movement and the people of Haiti.NCMANCMA also connected me to lifelong friends and adventures. Through conference planning committees, international delegations and exchanges, learning and teaching at institutes and academies, writing devotionals and serving on editorial boards, student conferences, and lay theological institutes, through serving on the NCMA executive committee and then as president, I have been changed and challenged by dear friends, wise teachers, brilliant students, colleagues, comrades, sisters and brothers. You know who you are! I am so grateful. This anniversary and the interest of seminarians has prompted me to develop a course proposal: “Changing Ministries in Higher Education.”
  • NCMA provided me primary professional affiliation, development, theological study and strategic working papers, collegiality, and an ecumenical community of accountability during the necessary season of rebuilding denominational bases for campus ministry.

Happy anniversary, NCMA.

(This anniversary and the interest of seminarians has prompted me to develop a PSR course proposal: “Changing Ministries in Higher Education.”)

Campus Ministry: A Space and Time for Holy Hospitality by Jan Rivero


The year was 1994. The General Conference of the United Methodist Church had just convened. And word came out immediately about a letter signed by eleven bishops of the church stating that as a Church we were not of one voice on the issue of homosexuality. The debate had begun. As I read the news report, one clear thought came to me: “You’d better know where you stand on this because you are going to need to know.” My journey to a deeper understanding of the human family, my call, and myself had begun.

In the summer of 1996 I was reappointed for a third year by Bishop Pennel to serve as campus minister to the Wesley Foundation at The University of Virginia. As is true for most campus ministers, I was preparing for a summer focused largely on clean up from the previous year, recuperation, including time for family, rest and renewal, and preparing for the year to come.

Shortly after graduation in May, I began to undertake that task of cleaning up. On this particular day, I was culling through old minutes from the meetings of the Wesley Foundation Board of Directors. Reading through a particular set of minutes from the earliest years of the Foundation, I came upon an action taken by the board to allow the then Gay Student Organization to meet weekly in the Wesley Foundation building. “Interesting,” I thought. It seemed to me in the moment to be a courageous decision, but one that seemed in the moment to have no impact on the current state of our ministry. Nearly thirty years later, in 1996, the group, now the LGBT Student Association, still met weekly in the Wesley building, providing a safe space for students who were deserving of just that, safe space and time to be in a supportive community. Little did I realize how important the discovery of those minutes would be, to the campus ministry and even to my own ministry.

In October that year, I was summoned by the District Superintendent to his office without warning or explanation. As soon as I arrived he quickly ushered me into his office and showed me a seat. Some conversations you remember close to verbatim for a lifetime. This is one of those.

“I understand that the gay student group meets in your building. Is that true?” he queried.

“Yes it is,” I replied.

“Well, you need to kick them out.”

“Oh. I’m sorry. I can’t do that.”

Face turning red and appearing angry, he replied, “You have to. Their meeting in the Wesley building violates the Book of Discipline.”

“Well that may be true, but the Board of Directors made the decision years ago to allow the group meeting space in the Wesley building, and I am not authorized to overturn that decision.”

He was stunned. Evidently in his mind he imagined that I would roll over and obey without question. It was as though he thought this was a decision made on a whim by a group of “youth” who didn’t know better, and it was my job, as their leader to show them the error of their ways.

At this point I am relatively certain that this was one of those God moments: that I had been given that information from the Board minutes for “a time such as this.” And I relaxed into the moment, trusting that God would give me the words, even though I was scared out of my wits!

The next words came quickly and easily, “You are on the Board of Directors and I invite you to have this concern placed on the agenda for the next meeting.” I’m fairly certain he was even more stunned, but I had no intention of backing down and doing his dirty work. Rumors around the conference were of his aspirations to become a bishop. I wasn’t interested in contributing to his campaign.

The conversation devolved from there, but I did offer to call the Board Chair and have his concern placed on the meeting agenda. Then I went and found a quiet place to look on the mountains, restore my emotional balance, and consider my next steps.

Newly composed, I called the Board Chair, we met for lunch and mapped out a strategy which would result in the Board taking steps to both educate and examine its building use policy. My next step was to arrange to meet with the Bishop. I needed to know where he was going to be on this. If he would be supportive, great; but if not, I needed to know. Surprisingly, I was able to get on his agenda fairly quickly.

I’ve had some pretty difficult conversations with bishops over the years, so I approached this one with a certain level of dread. Of course by the time I sat in his office in Richmond, he was well aware why I was there. Nevertheless, he asked questions as though he was hearing this for the first time. The questions were insightful and helpful to my thought process. But the take home for me that day was two statements he made that I will never forget. First he said, “Your job is to give the Board the information they need to make a good decision. I trust boards to make good decisions.” I took a deep breath of relief. Then he said, “And we want to make sure this isn’t about you.” My interpretation: “I have no intention of moving you over this.” Deeper sigh of relief.

With that affirmation, I returned to Charlottesville and began the tasks of equipping students, board members, local laity. Our Board moved to offer a six weeks series of conversations on the church and homosexuality, using the UMC curriculum readily available at the time. The sessions were led by others: former campus ministers, ordained clergy faculty, local church clergy. We extended invitations to the local churches in the Charlottesville area, but attendance was low and the audience was by and large “the choir.” There were one or two lay members of the church next door who attended because they were genuinely looking for insights on the issue, but by and large most in attendance were students who were already supportive of the stand the Board had taken years prior. For some, these were their very friends who were “under attack.”

The second action the Board took at that meeting was to name a task force that would examine the building use policy, seek like documents from other ministries, and come to the Board with recommendations for potential revisions. They went to work, and at their last meeting of the academic year in April of 1997 they presented their report: recommended revisions to the building use policy that was more welcoming and affirming than the one that had been in place for many years. The Board approved the policy by a vote of 17-2.

Fast forward one year. In June of 1998 I was appointed, “on loan,” to be the Director of the Wesley Foundation at UNC Chapel Hill, following the twenty two year tenure of Manuel Wortman. The Wesley building, like the one in Charlottesville and many others across the country, had been built in the 1960’s and its use was always being redefined. Shortly after my arrival I was welcomed by the Sunday morning “tenants” of our chapel, the Revs. Rick and Jill Edens, pastors of United Church of Chapel Hill. A year or two prior their sanctuary had been “condemned” and so the congregation was worshipping in the Wesley chapel while they conducted a building campaign and program for a new campus north of town.

Two or three weeks after arriving, Rick and Jill came back to visit me, this time to inform me that Jimmy Creech was scheduled to preach in their worship services in September. Rick and Jill, having had roots in the Western North Carolina Conference, were well aware of the potential repercussions of this for me. They offered to worship elsewhere on that Sunday. I declined their thoughtful offer. At the time, Jimmy was still ordained in the UMC, though he had charges against him and was awaiting another church trial. Jimmy was a guest of this UCC congregation. Wesley was not endorsing or sponsoring; we were landlords. In my mind there was not a single thing wrong with having him preach for these guests in “our house.” So I let it go, though I was personally disappointed because I had made a commitment to preach in a congregation in Virginia that weekend, so I could not be there.

In the meantime, I made an appointment to meet my new District Superintendent, for no other reason than for him to know who I was, a pastor on loan from Virginia, appointed to ministry on a campus in his district. We met for an hour or so, exchanged call stories, and I went on my way. When I got to my car to return to Chapel Hill, I had my hand on the door handle when I thought “You forgot to tell him about Jimmy Creech.” For about thirty seconds I stood there, “Do I go back? Do I let it go? Do I go back? Do I let it go?” My intuition prevailed: “You didn’t think of it while you were in there. Let it go.” And let it go I did.

Late August brought students back to campus. It was an exciting time, an exhilarating time. New faces. A new to me campus. Lots of energy, joy and opportunity for ministry. In early September, however, I walked into the office one morning and listened to a voicemail from my Board chair. “Call me as soon as you get this.”

“I had a call from the District Superintendent. He says that Jimmy Creech is going to be preaching at Wesley and he wants to know what you are going to do about it.”

If that call came today I would say, “Seriously?” But it was 1998 and things were different then. Things were different. I was not!

“I’m not going to do anything about it.”

“You’re not?”

“No, I’m not.”

“But the DS said you have to.”

I proceeded to explain to him all that I had said to Rick and Jill that day: we are not sponsoring, Jimmy is still clergy in good standing, there is no ground on which to take action.

“OK. I will deliver the message.”

Apparently a letter had been sent from United Church to all the local churches in the Chapel Hill area inviting them to come worship at Wesley to hear Jimmy. And apparently there was (at least) one clergy recipient of that letter who took offense and wanted it stopped. To my resistance the DS said to my Board chair, “Well the Cabinet is meeting right now. and we will decide what you are going to do.”

That was the last I heard of it. The DS never spoke with me about it directly. And apparently he never got back in contact with the Board Chair.

Jimmy came and preached. I went to Virginia and preached. And when I got home that night and turned on the local news, there was Jimmy, standing and talking to a reporter right in front of the Wesley building. But I never heard another word.

Fast forward several more years. A beloved colleague who once held a campus ministry position in Virginia was now a District Superintendent. He had been invited to come spend some time with our Wesley residential community as part of a grant we had received for developing a culture of call through intentional residency. Come to find out from him that my story had become legend in District Superintendent training school because he had heard it from both of my previous DS’s. He said he had heard stories about me. When I pressed him about it, he said, “Jan is just being Jan.”

Well those of you who know me know how that made me bristle. This colleague came to talk with my students about his “ministry of reconciliation.” So I wasn’t going quietly into the night on this one. I looked at my colleague and stated with conviction that I had clearly been called to a ministry of holy hospitality that was no less valid or significant than his ministry of reconciliation. I think he “got it.”

Within just a few weeks of that I sat in a meeting of North Carolina campus ministers with Bishop Kammerer. We spent the afternoon with her. She shared her vision for campus ministry. She asked how she could support our work. Well you know me. Jan being Jan, just had to ask “Please tell us what you see to be the role of campus ministers with regard to the issue of homosexuality.”

I don’t remember her response with the same clarity that I remember the rest of this story, but I do remember her clearly saying these words, “As campus ministers, you have a ministry of hospitality. And in that regard your ministry should be open to all.” She said something else about her role as enforcer of the Book of Discpline, but as you can tell, I didn’t pay much attention to that part!

In the spring semester following, someone in the office of Student Affairs extended me the invitation to participate in a panel Q&A along with other campus ministry colleagues at UNC. The subject: how different faith perspectives view homosexuality. About twenty students attended, a few of whom were participants in ministries of Wesley, and one of whom was carrying what my husband would describe as “a Bible big enough to choke a mule.” The conversation was well controlled by the moderator, who had students write questions on pieces of paper that were placed in and retrieved from a fish bowl. The moderator tempered the language in a few instances. As the panel progressed it was clear to me that the students had an angry, biased agenda. They were not there to learn as much as they were there to inform. Perhaps they were using this as an opportunity to find out where they would most feel comfortable.

By the time the questions passed to me, I had determined that never again would I have this conversation with anyone who could not acknowledge that they had a friend or family member who was gay or lesbian. But there I was, so I had to speak. My message was simple and clear and came straight from I John. “Let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” Students pushed back, but I would not budge. I would not argue. I would not even state my position beyond that. I was finished with the conversation.

That portion of the story came full circle last year however, when one of those students in attendance was front and center at a wedding I performed for two young women who first met at Wesley.

Now, some twenty years after the debate began and, I pray, the UMC approaches the end of its debate on this subject, I give thanks for the presence of God who walked with me through the dark night on this issue. I know that my words and my actions offended some, but for many more they were words and deeds that brought healing and hope. That was not a journey I ever would have chosen, but I am confident that I walked it faithfully.