“Every Morning is Easter Morning”
By Alice Riemer-McKee
My love for campus ministry started as a college student at Carroll University (then Carroll College) from 1957-1961. As college students, we met at First Methodist Church in Waukesha, Wisconsin with a member of the church as our leader. He introduced us to the Methodist Student Movement in Wisconsin, and for me the rest is history. I soon received a state leadership position and for the next three years, participated in jurisdictional events and national happenings. I met Jamison Jones from Nashville and the Board of Higher Education and Campus ministry and traveled with him to events around the country. My senior year in college I served as president of the state MSM for Wisconsin.
After graduating from Carroll, I took a teaching position in Neenah, Wisconsin. Because I was lonely as a single woman in town, and with the blessings of two of the area pastors, I started an Ecumenical Adult group for singles like me. The group grew quickly and at the end of the year, one of the pastors called me in to talk about going to seminary. I was flabbergasted! I didn’t know that women went to seminary, and I didn’t even know where the nearest one might be. He walked me through the process, the conference gave me a scholarship named Ideas Unlimited, and I broke my teaching contract for the next year. Soon I boarded the train for Evanston, Illinois and then Garrett Biblical Institute (now Garrett Theological Seminary). Thirteen women were enrolled at that time, and not one in the BD degree program (now Master of Divinity degree). It was my dream to return to Wisconsin to work with students on one of the major university campuses as a Christian Educator.
Soon a young man named Doug McKee arrived at seminary from Meadville, Pennsylvania, having graduated from Penn State and serving as president of Inter Varsity. We met and were married several months later. Doug finished Garrett and I was told by my bishop here in Wisconsin that they would give Doug an appointment as a pastor, but there was no place for me. It was something about couples not working in the same conference! I never asked what that meant, and I am sure he was glad I didn’t push it further. So, instead of finishing Garrett, I taught second grade in the inner city of Chicago. Doug was later ordained in the East Wisconsin Conference where he served local churches for almost ten years and then was called by a senior pastor in Colorado Springs in 1975 to join his staff. We moved west and lived there for over thirty years. Doug joined the Rocky Mountain Conference.
In 1978, we moved to Laramie, Wyoming, where Doug was appointed to serve as Interim Senior Pastor, and I was asked if I was interested in exploring the idea of rebuilding the Wesley Foundation at the University of Wyoming, Laramie. It had been inactive for many years, and I was to get back to the conference in a year to tell them if it might be feasible. However, in less than two months, I had a group of students meeting with me at the church who wanted more than just talking about the future. They made it clear that they were ready to move forward now. Our funding at that time came from an oil well near Cody, Wyoming and five cents for every gallon of gas pumped at a local gas station in Laramie. The Foundation owned the land on which the gas station stood. The rest is history as there has been a campus minister appointed to the Wesley Foundation ever since.
In 1979, Bishop Melvin Wheatley called Doug and me, and asked if we would be interested in moving to Boulder, CO to serve as campus ministers at the Wesley Foundation there. We were thrilled to be asked and we spent eleven years serving the University of Colorado campus. Doug was appointed and I was hired by the local board. We defined the ministry as being a denominational ministry that worked ecumenically. We were proud of our roots as a strong and historic Wesley Foundation, but we were also just as proud of our work with the ecumenical community on campus and in the wider Boulder community.
Since my love of campus ministry was birthed in the Methodist Student Movement and Doug’s was nurtured through Inter Varsity, it became obvious very quickly that we appealed to two very different groups of students. I always said that if a student walked in the door and was wearing Docker pants, an Izod shirt with the collar up, and was a B School or Econ major, they were coming to see Doug. If the student was an Arts and Science major or Civil Engineering student, and glad to be dressed—they were coming to see me. I think this is one of the examples of why we were a good team. Doug talked an evangelical “language” that was new to me. I shared my love of a church beyond our walls with him, and it became a strong piece in how we did campus ministry. Bishop Wheatley said that if we did not offer Sunday worship to the students, he would reappoint Doug somewhere else. For the Bishop this piece was crucial. In those days, this model worked, and worship meant fifty to sixty students on a Sunday morning and communion every Wednesday night at 10:00 p.m. Maybe this is why during our time at Wesley, eight students entered full time ministry in the United Methodist Church, the Seventh Day Adventist Church and the United Church of Christ — one is now a professor at Phillips Seminary in Oklahoma. The United Methodist students are now serving churches in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado, Montana and Georgia. Today we also have students actively working in their local churches of many denominations here in the states and abroad.
Participating in local and national mission projects was part of our yearly schedules. As I write this, I am remembering sending students to Haiti, to projects within Boulder and throughout Colorado and beyond. We taught our students the fine points of protesting such things as the manufacturing of triggers for neutron bombs at Rocky Flats—located between Boulder and Golden, Colorado. Sunday nights at 4:00 p.m. you could find us as a group sitting along the road across from the plant and having worship. That plant finally closed.
A lot of energy and time went into monitoring the many cults and sects that found the Boulder/Denver area attractive. At one point, it was estimated that there were close to a hundred groups in the area. We documented such things as how large the group was, where they were located, who the leader was, the average length of stay for a person who joined, what they were eating and wearing as well as the daily routine. Some were very small, others were known nationwide. Names that come to me now include The Unification Church at 777 Broadway—a former sorority house on campus; the Church of Scientology which had a large office building right down town in Boulder; the Boston Church of Christ and their infamous chocolate chip cookies that they passed out during exam time in the dorms; and my favorite because of their very brightly painted bus—Jesus Christ Lighting Amen, who spent summers in Boulder and winters in Florida.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention fund- raising which was a major part of my position as director. In those days, I found it easy to raise money for campus ministry from the conference, the local churches, parents and alums. I am sure I could not do it again today. Doug and I also held very visible conference positions—I chaired COSROW and he chaired Board of Pensions and Health Benefits. This put us in front of the conference in ways beyond campus ministry which I think was a plus.
The local ecumenical campus ministers were very active as an organization and we always presented a united front when approaching the university and other organizations for recognition or information.
Many of the students still write about the power of the retreats we held each semester as well as the classes taught, like Disciple 1 and 2. They also remember Easter Eve services that sometimes included a baptism of a student, Easter Sunrise Services up on Flagstaff Mountain and singing “Every Morning is Easter Morning” by Avery and Marsh as their theme song at many worship events throughout the year.
It was not all work and no play. Social activities were popular depending on the year.
Thanks to the UMC Board of Education and Don Shockley, we were able to secure grant money for an Ethnic Ministry Center. For at least five years we had three ethnic pastors doing part time work on campus working with students.
In the midst of serving the campus, Doug and I raised two sons in Boulder. They were as comfortable on campus as were the students. They could dumpster dive at the end of the semester like pros, have summer jobs on campus, enjoy some special friendships with the students, live in a home located right across the street from campus that was open to students day and night, experience rock concerts in the football stadium which was almost in our front yard, watch Frank Shorter train for the Olympics as he ran by our home, get paid for being in a live segment of Mork and Mindy, and benefit from the excellent Boulder schools.
In 1990, I decided to complete my seminary education and work towards ordination. We both asked for local church appointments in the conference, and we were sent to western Colorado where we served separate local congregations. Obviously, it was no longer a problem for couples to work within a conference so I enrolled at Wesley Seminary in Washington, D.C., and through a special summer program I finished and was ordained in the Rocky Mountain Conference. We were asked in 1998 to serve together at Hilltop UMC in Salt Lake, and we retired from there. Doug had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1994 and his cancer returned while we were in Utah. It was his wish to die in Colorado so we moved back again to Grand Junction, Colorado where he passed away in 2002.
I moved to Wisconsin in 2004 as I have a son and family here. And as life often goes full circle, I am now on an area committee looking at the possibility of bringing campus ministry back to the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. As I share some of my long ago experiences with campus ministry with the group, I wonder how I would serve the campus today. This is what I am trying to discern as a committee member.
Doug and I made a strong commitment to participate in jurisdictional and NCMA organizations, where many of you reading this became our friends. As I am enjoying your writings and stories, I am recalling some special times shared with many of you. Thank you for all that you taught us and for your friendships.
Thanks be to God who called all of us to serve the campus then and now.
“Every morning is Easter morning, from now on. Every day is resurrection day, the past is over and gone!” Amen.