Our Life in Campus Ministry by Bob and Shirley Cooper

 

Probably not too many seminary graduates have spent their entire careers as campus ministers, but for Bob and me it seemed a natural thing to do. We both were active in a student group while in college – in fact, we met at a national Methodist Student Conference in Urbana, Illinois. We both have vivid memories of the first worship’s opening hymn: 3500 voices from all over the world joining in singing “For All the Saints.” After we married, we followed in the footsteps of role models we admired as students, Maye Bell at the SMU Methodist Student Movement and Cecil and Faye Matthews at the Texas Tech Wesley Foundation.

The Texas Methodist Student Movement had recently been organized when Bob finished at Perkins in 1952.. He was happy to be appointed to serve with Ferris and Marion Baker at the Wesley Foundation for schools in Denton, now called North Texas University and Texas Woman’s University. The ‘50s offered opportunities for state and national student conferences to enrich Methodist students’ spiritual, intellectual, and social awareness. They also fostered a deep trust and commitment among campus ministers. Local retreats, worship services, cell groups (called prayer groups and other names in the anti-communist years to come), service projects and recreation were offered. We lived in the second floor of the Methodist Center at TSCW, now TWU. The early morning prayer group saw us off to the hospital to have our first child.

Counseling was always needed, since students were mostly young in those days, and suffered the stresses of growing up, succeeding in school, choosing a career and often a mate, as well as meeting challenges to their faith. Older students often had settled some of these issues, but had other stresses instead.

After our four years spent in Denton Bob was assigned to what is now Texas A&M, Canyon. That became a one-year assignment when Bob refused to sign a “loyalty oath” required of all teachers during the worst of the McCarthy persecutions. Our friends Bob Monk and Bob Breihan found a way to finance a position for Bob Cooper as part-time program director for the state and regional meetings and part-time associate director at Texas A&M in College Station. After a year Bob Monk left for graduate work at Princeton U. and Bob Cooper was Wesley Foundation director for three more years. Then we were off to Drew University in New Jersey for a Masters Degree in Theology. (In those days, three years at seminary entitled students to a Bachelor of Divinity Degree only, and some universities required those who taught Bible courses to have a Masters degree. Yes, Texas allowed campus ministers to offer courses for college credit back then.) As was our custom, we moved towing a U-Haul trailer and car packed with boxes and a baby bed mattress on top. We had two little boys and another on the way. My feet were on a box and our turtle was in his bowl on my lap. Finishing his degree, Bob was appointed to Texas A&I in Kingsville as minister for Presbyterians, Disciples, Episcopalians and United Methodists, and to S.M.U. for 27 years, where Bob was first director as part of the Wesley – Presbyterian – Christian Fellowship. This morphed into the United Campus Ministries which included Roman Catholics, Campus Y, and others. Later, Bob’s job title was changed to Associate Chaplain, an office which included many of his former duties along with some new ones. These included a shared responsibility for the Sunday chapel service and coordinating a campus ministry organization of all religious groups on campus. This group planned all-campus service projects and encouraged cooperation between ministries.

In 1984, while Bob was serving as Acting Chaplain at Westminster College, Oxford, the students were intrigued that SMU, with 10,000 students, had only two university chaplains, while every college (15) at Oxford (each with 3oo-400 students) had at least one chaplain and usually two.  Bob explained that SMU had 14 football coaches!

The styles of clothing, music, political and economic philosophy, and even theological viewpoint changed cyclically through the years, but students, staff and faculty all were still people with the same basic needs.

Our three sons cut their teeth on the campus upheavals of the ‘60s and ‘70s, but also had the unforgettable experience of hearing in Sunday Chapel great preachers like Claude Evans, Schubert Ogden, John Deschner, William Sloane Coffin, etc. and great music led by Lloyd Pfautsch, Carleton Young, and Robert Anderson. And our children enjoyed the extra attention the students gave them. We remember 8-month old Glenn sitting on the ping- pong table while a friendly game was played over his head. Graduate psychology students, who were required to test children, found the boys to be willing subjects.

Before SMU, Bob worried that he had to spend too much time on maintaining Wesley Foundation buildings and grounds, and so was pleased and relieved that SMU would give us space in the Student Center that someone else cared for. Imagine our surprise when the next campus minister thought that being at a separate building was a primary need!

As times change, ministers and ministries change, but Wesley’s challenge to unite “knowledge and vital piety” remains.

 

Shirley and Bob were at Denton Wesley Foundation from 1952-56, West Texas State 1956-57, Texas A&M 1957-60, Graduate work at Drew University1960-61, Texas A&I 1961-65, and SMU 1965-92.  Since retirement I’ve been active at Casa Emanu-El UMC, Dallas Area Interfaith, Lake Highlands-White Rock Democrats, and play tennis twice a week.  Shirley taught three and four year olds in day school and was younger children’s secretary at Highland Park UMC.  She became secretary for the Dallas Hotel-Motel Association and then for the North Texas Conference.  “We are now moving into a retirement residence where some good church friends live.  (C.C. Young)  We hope to get ahead of the need.”

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