Campus Ministry: A Warm Shoulder

By Dianne Farah (edited by Phyllis Meshel Onest)

How can the church be of service to college-bound members of her family? This article presents suggestions for a stronger campus ministry. Some ideas have been tested by other national religious bodies, some by Orthodox groups currently operating on campus.

The task of campus ministry belongs primarily to the local Orthodox communities. The college movement of the 60's showed promise, but when the national leadership moved on, local campus fellowships faltered and died? Why? Because the Campus Commission was limited to promoting relationships on a national level between Fellowships, and did not develop local structures and personnel. If we look at such programs as the Baptist Student Union, Canterbury House, the Newman Center, and Campion College, we discover that much of their success is due to strong local support. Their clergy, laity, faculty membership, and church families actively involve themselves as a recognized force in the universities. The national churches offer auxiliary support as the demands of the local centers grow.

Making Ourselves Visible

How can we improve our own programs? Visibility, credibility and dependability are crucial to any campus program. To succeed. Orthodox churches in a college area need to work together as a family. Interested lay and clergy members meeting as a Task Force on Campus Ministry need to name someone, preferably a priest or faculty member, who will represent Orthodox interests in the official contacts with university administration. (Permanent Orthodox faculty members at any college can sometimes carry on a program when there is a turnover of parish priests in an urban area.) This Orthodox liaison has several opportunities to make the Church visible, first by meeting the college chaplain and getting a list of declared Orthodox students on campus. To insure that any of these students who have problems or needs will be referred to him or her, the liaison can also meet with the deans of various departments of student affairs, letting them know that help and support for the students is readily available (and letting the Task Force know what is needed so that local parishes can canvass their membership for help.)

The liaison can make sure that the college library maintains a good stock of circulating Orthodox materials, offering to set up displays and furnish speakers on various aspects of the Church's teachings and life. In addition, the liaison can oversee production of a newsletter, support the efforts of student leaders working to keep the Orthodox group going, and establish some kind of outreach to students at orientation time.

The more effort the Church can put into campus ministry in terms of supplying full-time people, especially full-time priests, the greater the result. Not only can there be effective ministering to our own church youth, but we can draw in numbers of unchurched or uncommitted students.

Finally, families can host students. Many families enjoy having an "adopted" body or two around the house for a limited time. It adds life, interests their children, and breathes meaning into the scriptural admonition, "Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware." (Hebrews 13:2)

Fishers of Men

Like good fishermen, we need to learn how and where to cast our nets. The week of orientation and registration gives us a fine opportunity, because everybody has to register and therefore everybody will see whatever Orthodox display (perhaps including some eye-catching device, a sign-up table, and refreshments) is set up in the area.

We can offer students a booklet telling them how to get in touch with Orthodox clergy, faculty members, and host families. It can include titles, times and places for Orthodox programs, as well as a questionnaire to discover their needs and interests. The booklet can also list medical services, ethnic restaurants, job possibilities with Orthodox employers needing house-watchers or babysitters, and area and campus maps with points of interest described.

On the day of registration, upper class Orthodox students can work in shifts to greet students at the display area, with local clergy, faculty and parishioners on hand as much as possible. With this kind of effort, we can locate Orthodox students and match them with local parishes, host families, campus leaders, and programs. The Church can be part of their college life right from the beginning. (We should therefore encourage parents of college-bound students in our own parishes to let those in the university area know that their children are coming. Greeting students and knowing something about them, even just their names, is a giant step toward establishing a "family" milieu.)

The Meeting Place

Although not an essential part of Christian ministry, meeting places lend a permanency to a movement. Our own pile of bricks is best; borrowing another's space will suffice. If we extend our imagination we can try a rented house near the campus. Staffed (lived in) by students, preferably graduate students, who maintain the house in exchange for free lodging, this type of setup is a flexible solution to permanent housing. It can be funded by an energetic local Church (or a group of area parishes) committed to monthly rent payments, supported by yearly fund-raisers or appropriations from the parish budget. What can we offer with a house? A room might be used as a chapel, in which regular brief services may attract students to worship. At least one school has a five-minute sermon each Wednesday, delivered by a faculty member, and a Friday sermon assigned each week to a student. The house could also provide a common room, lending library, and meeting place, all with posted hours.

Following Up

Having established contact with students, as well as a place to meet and activities to meet for, we need to do the very important work of follow-up. What forms might this follow-up take?

  • The first week of classes, all host families should be asked by the Task Force to call or visit each Orthodox student on campus, so as to discover needs such as rides to church, and just to become acquainted. Those needing rides should be paired up with a host family from the student's chosen parish, and should be given the family's name and number as well as a clearly-stated time for the first pick-up.
  • Host families should be encouraged to invite "their" students home for lunch occasionally after church. For even more socializing among the students, a progressive dinner, planned for the end of the month when most students are broke and could use a good meal, gives a chance for light-hearted mingling.
  • Once students know that a local church welcomes them and will be there for friendship and help when needed, the students can be invited to share their talents and to become involved in parish activities to the extent their very limited time permits. For students who do want to become involved, invitations to join the choir, teach church school, come to work parties, help with church events, or simply join in fellowship affairs can be extended.

During this same period, an organizational meeting should be held to choose or introduce the chosen student leaders. Planning programs such as a talk by a clergyman, a social event, or a service followed by refreshments is a good idea. Once an event is planned, it must be publicized, and more events should be planned for the future, even if the response to the first one is less than overwhelming.

To expand the group, foreign students (many of whom may be Orthodox or Coptic) should also be sought out and included. They need all the friendship such a group can offer, whether they are Orthodox or not, and the school's foreign student adviser can be informed that we are interested in having them as part of the group.

It is a good idea then, to call a meeting of the Task Force of local church representatives. Discuss the results of the orientation day program, plan fundraisers, hand out names and phone numbers of new students and make sure they are on the church rolls, and set up plans for joint parish ventures on behalf of the students, assigning parishioners specific tasks. Women's groups can also be recruited to contact married students and their families; some of these relocated and homebound people need attention and friendship as much as practical service.

Such a meeting can also be the place where a budget for student activities is drawn up. It can include costs for refreshments, literature, stipends for speakers, and rent moneys. Maintenance and repair costs for the rented house, if there is one, should also be included.


At Kansas University in Lawrence, Kansas, campus ministry is spearheaded by a law student and his wife from an Antiochian church in Wichita. Locally the movement is nourished by an O.C.A. parish in Kansas City. Speakers are drawn from the clergy and laity in the surrounding areas. Every Thursday night during the school year, students meet for a lecture and discussion. During the week the Orthodox students meet in the apartment of the student leaders to talk. On the weekends some drive 45 minutes to Kansas City to attend church services.

It took hard work, trial and error, and determination to keep the movement going. Student leaders counted on encouragement from a local parish priest, and the local church welcomed the students. Resources from several parishes helped sustain expenses of advertising.

What are some programs that other student groups attend? Bible studies are popular, most held weekly. Chapel attendance is another attraction. The Baptist Student Union on campus holds weekly meetings in the cafeteria. The same body appeals to parents for contributions to put together "care packages" during finals. The care packages, containing food and a scripture verse, are distributed to each room so that all students (Christian and non-Christian alike) get one.

Under Orthodox influence on campus several commendable programs can be established.

  • A St. Panteleimon's Society can visit local hospitals, the home-bound, or group homes for children once a month.
  • "International student fairs can draw Orthodox youth in America closer to Orthodox youth from foreign countries. Both groups can work together to create an ethnic extravaganza complete with food, costumes, cultural and religious exhibits.
  • Student fairs of any kind, with music, food, and fun will draw Orthodoxy to the attention of the rest of the campus, and possibly to the rest of the local community.

Local churches can complement campus programs, too, using ideas like those of the Cookeville Women on Campus, who began a yearly loan closet. Each fall local churches collected items needed by students. When school started, students opened a rented space on campus and distributed these items for a small fee. Borrowers carted what they needed to their rooms and apartments. At the end of the year students returned usable items to the loan closet and much of the fee was refunded.

The Importance of College Ministry

Chris Chichura, a freshman engineering student at Kansas University, has stated the need for practical ministry at the university. He writes, "College is a very critical and demanding time. For the student with weak faith and knowledge it is too easy to become overwhelmed. On the outside a student tolerates unethical actions, but on the inside he continues to say, 'No, this is not right for me.' But he doesn't speak out for fear of rejection or loss of a friend. He becomes two-faced. A warm shoulder or the firm support of the church can help the student overcome his/her times of despair and separation from God." Chris expresses many of the needs and feelings of freshmen who look to the Church for help, warmth, relationships, friendly Christians to talk to. The pressures of peers, grades, finances, illnesses, and personal problems weigh heavily on what the media chose to portray as a fun-loving, irresponsible crowd of college students. What we need to be is warm, intelligent, responding Orthodox ministers.

(This article appeared in its entirety in The Orthodox Educator, Summer, 1984.)

Dianne Farah is a graduate of St. Vladimir's Seminary (M.Div.). Long active in Holy Trinity Church, Kansas City, she has also been a Religious Education Coordinator in the Detroit area, where she lives now.

Phyllis Meshel Onest is a graduate of Holy Cross Seminary (M.Div.). She has served as a Youth Director in Akron, Ohio, including campus ministry at the University of Akron and Kent State University. Phyllis is currently active in Presentation of Our Lord Church, Akron, Ohio, and serves on the Department of Lay Ministries Task Force on The Resource Handbook and Other Publications.

Taken from the OCA Resource Handbook for Lay Ministries