"I'd appreciate some respect!" said James Darnell, co-moderator for the UCC/Disciples' Student Ecumenical Partnership (STEP), raising his voice at a floor microphone at General Synod on July 4. He was objecting to an amendment that he believed "watered down" a proposal to mandate funding for a national campus ministry staff position.
Endorsed by STEP, the original resolution was submitted by the Central Atlantic Conference.
The resolution — as eventually adopted by General Synod delegates — stopped short of calling specifically for Local Church Ministries to find funding for the position eliminated because of recent national staff cuts. Instead, the resolution was changed to ask local churches to contribute more to Our Church's Wider Mission, so that the national setting will have funds to support important priorities, such as campus ministry.
The adopted text calls on "Conferences, Associations, and local churches to become knowledgeable about local campus ministries in their region," to offer "resources and hospitality to ministries of higher education" and "listen to the wisdom of those involved in campus ministry as they offer insights into the ways that such ministry might renew the church."
The Rev. José A. Malayang, executive minister of Local Church Ministries, has long maintained that he would love to reinstate the staff position, as well as others, but its removal is indicative of declining support for OCWM.
Believing, however, that funding should be a priority of existing funds, Darnell said, "It is certainly frustrating being a young adult in a denomination that claims to support young adult and campus ministry, but won't put anything behind its claims."
After the amended resolution passed, Darnell organized a meeting of STEP students to discuss their concerns.
Michael Fales, director of church relations and campus ministries at UCC-related Olivet College in Michigan, serves as a representative of the UCC Council for Higher Education on the UCC Executive Council. He shared concerns for those on both sides of the funding flap.
"This is a very difficult issue that relates to cutbacks that had to happen," Fales said.
The Rev. Elena Larssen, campus minister at Stanford University, says she's grateful for the passage of the resolution.
"I'm deeply appreciative of the vote of support that came from Synod, and I appreciate that now Kimberly Whitney [Minister for Higher and Theological Education, Local Church Ministries] has taken on that ministry as a part of her whole portfolio," Larssen said.
Darnell and other STEP members shared that sentiment, but wondered if campus ministries will get overlooked because of Cleveland's belt-tightening environment.
"After the Minneapolis Synod called on LCM to examine staffing processes around young adult ministries, they reexamined staffing processes by cutting one of the few staff persons related to young adults, which obviously directly contradicts that resolution," said Katelyn Macrae of Maine, a recent graduate of Colgate University.
Both Larssen and Shelly Dieterle, a campus minister at the University of California, Berkeley, said they shared students' concerns about the rise of fundamentalism on campuses.
"We have to magnify our voice in the face of fundamentalism on campus," Larssen said. "We in the UCC are frequently drowned out by a loud chorus of conservative voices, but especially on campus."
Added Dieterle, "To make a corporate analogy, campus ministry is the [research and development] branch of the UCC and the progressive, mainline churches. We see everything first. If we don't train [student leaders] for the church, they'll be leaders somewhere else."
Heather Iriye, a recent graduate of the University of Arizona who is working as an intern with the UCC's Stillspeaking Initiative and The Pilgrim Press in Cleveland, says campus ministry inspired her to enter seminary.
"I was headed to med school," Iriye said, "and I would have never considered a call to seminary if I had not had that idea planted for me by my campus minister."
The Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia, a General Synod volunteer newsroom reporter, is associate pastor at Orinda (Calif.) Community UCC.