Written by Carol L. Pavlik
Church helps students from migrant families
For three years, the Missions & Outreach Board at Union UCC in West Palm Beach, Fla., has been reaching out to students via scholarships. Each year, the board awards a $500 college scholarship to a student from a migrant farmworking family in Palm Beach County.
Church member Ilsa Dickenson, program specialist of the Migrant Program for the Palm Beach County School District, is the liaison for the project. She says that Union UCC is glad it can help some of the 6,000 students from migrant families in the Palm Beach county area get a college education.
Students who are awarded the scholarship must have passed the Florida High School Competency Test and have a 3.0 grade point average. Dickenson says the scholarship has helped raise awareness within the church concerning the situation of students from migrant families, and goes hand-in-hand with the support the congregation has given to the National Farmworker Ministry.
Campus ministry meets many needs
Relieved to be finished with finals, recent graduates celebrate with their church family at First Congregational UCC in Albany, N.Y. First Congregational UCC photo.
The Rev. Sandy Hulse gets her heart broken every year when the college students who have become part of her church family have to leave.
The students from the colleges and universities near First Congregational UCC in Albany, N.Y., graduate, get jobs and move to other cities, leaving Hulse and her congregation sniffling a little, but grateful for the time they've had together.
Hulse says the students who show up at the church are almost all UCC members looking for a familiar worship setting away from home. But that's where the similarity ends. The students are a diverse group, and include undergrads and Ph.D. candidates alike.
"It's kind of like church," observes Hulse. "We're all so different, but we've all got the one thing in common."
The self-named University Fellowship Organization (that's right: UFO) takes part in traditional Sunday morning worship, but Hulse recognizes that the students need to gather informally as a stress reliever. Once a month, the group has fellowship over pizza and a movie or some other activity and, during the summer, "Bibles and Barbecue" is a big hit—an outdoor worship service where participants do some grilling afterwards.
Being a presence on campus is key, says Hulse, who is part of an ecumenical consortium of ministers on one campus and sits on the Board of Protestant Ministry at another. Hulse advertises, sends letters to area churches and attends college fairs in the hopes of making it known to students that there is a welcoming place for them.
"They work really, really hard," says Hulse with a sigh. "They study harder than anyone I know. They take a little break, come out for air and a couple slices of pizza. I think that's an important ministry."
College ministry means keeping students involved
UCC student plays with a child from an orphanage in Mexico during a spring break mission trip. Karen Bush photo.
During Karen Bush's 16 years as UCC campus minister at the University of Illinois (Champaign- Urbana), she has seen six students of hers go on to become pastors. "I like to think [campus ministers] are making a contribution for the future of the church," says Bush.
Bush's home base is an office provided by nearby Community UCC in Champaign, Ill., and her ministry receives help from the Illinois United Ministries of Higher Education. But Bush feels that churches often forget about students once they go off to college.
Local churches are "willing to invest in nursery, toddlers, 8 year olds," she says, "but when it comes to college students, it's reflected in budgets: they're not here every Sunday, so it's going to be someone else's job."
Bush keeps the students involved via student leaders who plan events and brainstorm ways to keep college students connected with church life. She says it's a challenge to find ways to draw in the "rough and tough freshman boys who are homesick but would die before they admit it," while also pastoring and providing activities to everybody else.
And the students have stayed involved. Besides such activities as pizza parties and movie nights, students go on two retreats a year, plus enjoy home-cooked meals at members' homes every other weekend. Spring break is spent doing a service project, such as building a house for Habitat for Humanity, or serving in a soup kitchen. Last year, a group did flood recovery work in Rocky Mountain, N.C.
Bush says she tries her best to reach out to all the UCC students, but sometimes a few slip through the cracks. "I just had someone walk in five days before she graduated. She said, ‘I've been walking by the building for four years and I've always wanted to come by.'" A two-hour impromptu theological dialogue ensued, leaving Bush both excited and wistful.
"To find someone whose mind is just exploding with questions is invigorating," she says. "Then, there she goes!"
Bush hopes more churches will help their young members connect with campus ministries. Even though campus ministry is the arm of the church on campus, Bush says, college students still need the people from home.
Student finds spiritual guidance, friendships in campus ministry
"Campus ministry was a place I could go, meet people and have stability," says Rappe, who served as a peer minister for two years and became part of an ecumenical group that was instrumental in planning activities.
Rappe helped do away with Bible studies or sessions where students sat and listened—"college students do enough of that anyway," he says—and turned to more action-oriented and service projects. Fellowship became the cornerstone of the group, including outdoor worship services and Wednesday night theological discussions.
Even though Rappe recently graduated with a degree in history, he has been approached more than once about entering the ministry.
Rappe says he isn't sure, but adds, "Even if I don't become a minister, the UCC needs good laypeople, too. In a sense, we can all do something to be a minister, to help those in need, to invite people into our fellowship."
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