Friday, February 24, 2012

The Crisis in Campus Ministry

 The following article is forthcoming in the Redeemer Reflections, the monthly newsletter of Redeemer Lutheran, Huntington Beach. Please keep the chapel at UCLA and ULCMN and all campus ministries in your prayers and financial support during these difficult times.

Lutherans have been on college campuses since 1517, active in Word and Sacrament ministry from the early days of the Reformation. Today, the doctrine rediscovered by Luther and the reformers – that man is justified freely by God’s grace through faith for Christ’s sake by his cross – continues to be proclaimed on college campuses. From Wittenberg to Westwood (UCLA) and throughout the world, the Church continues to declare and defend the Gospel for students, professors and communities in need.

In recent months a growing, and disturbing trend, has begun in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS). The strong bridgehead our church once had onto secular campuses has begun to wane as of late. With the impending and increasing threat of financial debt and distress in district bureaucracies around the synod, many district leaders have turned to short-sighted property sales in exchange for financial relief, coming, tragically, at the expense of long standing, prominent (not to mention valuable and irreplaceable) campus ministry facilities.

First, in mid 2011, the University Lutheran Chapel at the University of Minnesota (ULCMN) was given notice that their long-time, and thriving, campus facility was going to be sold out from under them by the Minnesota South District Board of Directors. Should the sale of this invaluable property proceed, in place of sacred space dedicated to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, a luxury dormitory will be constructed. Apparently you can put a price on Word and Sacrament ministry: $3 million dollars to give a rough estimate.

The ULCMN is home to a faithful congregation of more than fifty years, a congregation that has sent dozens of men to seminary not to mention their continued on-campus presence and outreach to a major secular university. Should it happen that this home for so many is destroyed, the wrecking ball cannot take away the Gospel from the ULCMN, her members or Christ’s Church. The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, even when those gates are swung heavy at consecrated brick and mortar. And yet there is much we can do: we can pray that the property sale at ULCMN does not go through. We can pray that the MNS District would repent of their decision to sell this bastion of Good News. And we can support our campus ministries everywhere, from Minnesota to California both in prayerful and financial support.

Second, on January 11th, 2012, the Pacific Southwest District Board of Directors voted to put up for potential sale all seventeen of the district’s properties currently owned. Of those seventeen properties considered for sale, are the only three campus ministry facilities the district owns: University of California - San Diego (UCSD), University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA), and Arizona State University – Phoenix (ASU). The decision to put these properties up for sale comes as a result of the staggering debt that the Pacific Southwest District has accrued of roughly $8 million dollars. While it is clear that some of the properties will have to be sold in an attempt to reduce the existing property debt, this must not be done at the expense of existing ministry, especially our precious (and rare) campus ministry facilities. All congregations of this district ought to be concerned not only about the potential sale of active and thriving campus ministries, but also the proper stewardship of the financial responsibilities entrusted to the care of leadership in the PSW District.

The chapel at UCLA has been particularly influential here at Redeemer. Pastor Mark Jasa has – and continues to be – a dear friend of Redeemer as we work together in the mutual labor of declaring and defending the Gospel, not only at UCLA but in Huntington Beach. This, in part, has been the purpose of the ongoing Declare and Defend series at Redeemer Lutheran, HB. Through Pastor Jasa’s lectures and seminars we are better equipped to share the Gospel in our own community and we, in turn, also have the opportunity to support the work of evangelism on campus at UCLA. This is the work of the Church at her best, working together in mutual care to teach the faithful and reach the lost, caring for all as we are given opportunities in our vocation.

Now the chapel at UCLA is threatened with potential sale as well. This is cause for great concern. These brick and mortar congregations provide a physical outpost and hub for campus mission and ministry and a haven for college students facing an increasingly secular environment hostile to Christianity. UCLA is home to a congregation who serves their campus community, including a growing population of international students. The sale of this chapel – and the ones at UCSD and ASU – would signal a significant retreat of Lutheran presence on campus, at a time when Word and Sacrament ministry are needed now more than ever.

While it’s true that the Lord of heaven and earth cannot be contained in a house built by human hands, it is also true (and thankfully for our sakes) that the Lord of heaven and earth came and took on human hands and built himself a house of human flesh. The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, John 1:14 says. God is a god of physical location. He loves being with his people. And he promises to locate himself specifically to bless his people (Exodus 20:24). Physical presence in the community has always been a priority – indeed, an essential and vital part – of ministering to the local community. No wonder God locates himself for us in specific places: font, altar, pulpit and lectern. These physical locations are no less important on college campuses. In fact, I would argue, they are just as important, if not more so, given the needs and demands of campus ministry in our culture and at secular universities.

Now we are in peril of losing ground in mission work for the sake of reducing debt. There is no doubt that the sale of these properties in such prime locations is irreversible and will greatly diminish our Lutheran presence on these college campuses. We as the Church can’t support campus ministry while at the same time defunding our campus ministries or selling their facilities. These campus properties were purchased and developed by the Pacific Southwest District with monies expressly set aside for the purpose of establishing a campus ministry and ought not to be set aside so quickly.

How can you help? Locally, you can support the work of UCLA and Redeemer will have the opportunity to do so in the near future. This means both prayerfully and financially. If you, or someone you know, has benefited from campus ministry, give support. This call for support rings out to include  any and all alumni of UCLA (or ULCMN for that matter), whether you attended the chapel or not. If you care about campus ministry, every dollar will help.

And campus ministry is also going on in our backyard; Pastor Schuldheisz and Pastor Jasa send time locally here at Goldenwest College once a month. You are welcome to join them anytime. Watch the bulletin for announcements about upcoming events. We can also support campus ministry in our prayers as we pray for God’s faithfulness to continue to abide with the students, professors and communities our campus congregations serve. Also, pray that the Lord would work to change the decision of the Pacific Southwest District Board of Directors so that the chapels at UCLA, UCSD and ASU would not be sold.

Make no mistake; there is a crisis in campus ministry in our Church today. But there is hope. The Lutheran Reformation that began on campus at Wittenberg with still goes on today. Today, that Good News continues to go out into the world at our campus ministry outposts. May God, the source of every good and perfect gift, grant us a full measure of wisdom as we pray for and work on behalf of the future of campus ministry in the LC-MS.

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