College can be a challenge of faith for many Christian students. For some it can be a crisis. It’s the first time away from home and congregation, a time when they must decide for themselves whether to get up for church or sleep in, a time when they are called to stand up and confess Christ on their own two feet in their own voice, often in an environment hostile to the Gospel. Their faith is challenged in the classroom, the laboratory, the library and the dorm. The social and spiritual pressures are considerable. The tangible presence of a faithful congregation on or near campus can make all the difference between confessing Jesus Christ as Lord or a long slow slide into spiritual apathy, despair and even atheism.
The campus congregation is a spiritual outpost in a wilderness of secularism, skepticism, relativism and atheism. While a building doesn’t necessarily make a congregation, it serves as a constant reminder of our Lord’s commitment to place and people. Lutheran campus ministry has always been more than just another congregation-less campus crusade. It is the sacramental presence of Christ on campus.
With much sadness we learned this week from our dear friend and Higher Things board member Rev. David Kind that the building in which his congregation gathered was being sold out from under them by their landlord district. University Lutheran Chapel has had a long and storied history of faithful service at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Rev. John Pless had served there before Rev. Kind. Many alumni of the University of Minnesota can point to their days at ULC as a significant point in their lives. A number have gone from there to careers of service in the church. In many ways, ULC was and is a flagship of LCMS campus ministry.
These are economically challenging times. Unemployment is high, wages are flat or declining, offerings are in decline as are contributions to districts and the synod. Our synod, its districts and institutions, and all our congregations are being forced to make difficult decisions as we endeavor to be wise and faithful stewards of the resources our Lord places into our hands. We all hope and pray for better times when our districts will not be forced to sell churches to make ends meet, but instead would be able to build even more churches on or near college campuses.
We at Higher Things are deeply concerned for the spiritual lives of our church's young people. We pray that this decision does not signal a synodical trend in campus ministry. We need to be audibly and visibly present on our campuses, unashamedly worshipping and confessing Christ on campus. Our students need a spiritual home away from home, a place where they can hear the saving Word of forgiveness and receive the Body and Blood of their Savior in fellowship with their fellow baptized believers and know that in spite of great changes in their own lives, Jesus Christ their Savior remains the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Let us pray:
Gracious Father in heaven, look down with kindness upon Pr. Kind and his congregation including the students who gather at University Lutheran Chapel. Grant them a place to gather for worship, study and fellowship and keep them from discouragement and despair. Turn their sorrow to joy and their loss to gain for Your kingdom. We dare not claim to know your will, and you have left these matters in the hands of men to decide. May this decision not be economically penny-wise and spiritually pound-foolish. Work all these things together for the good of salvation. Bless our campus ministries and congregations. Draw many to Christ on our campuses. Build up University Lutheran Chapel even as its building is sold and torn down. Remind us all that when we are weak then You are strong, when we are homeless then You are our shelter, when we become nothing You are everything, and that You alone are our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble. Hear us for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Rev. William M. Cwirla, President