Forty years ago this fall, I walked on to the campus of PLU as a young seminary intern assigned to the Campus Ministry. In some ways it feels like “deja vu all over again” as Yogi Berra used to say. Back then I was long on enthusiasm but short on wisdom and experience. Patient mentors helped me to not only survive but thrive during a year that was life-transforming.
This fall, I’ve returned as the Interim Campus Pastor during a time of transition for campus ministry with an opportunity to “pay it forward” as the saying goes. The University has grown dramatically over the past 40 years and, as the old hymn puts it, “new occasions teach new duties.” In response, we’ve undertaken a year of discernment in which we’re asking some “big enough questions” about campus ministry. What does excellence look like when it comes to the engagement of religion and religious diversity at PLU? How does PLU maintain a strong Lutheran identity while also remaining genuinely hospitable to the diverse expressions of religion and spirituality present on campus today?
Some things haven’t changed in 40 years. Once again, I’ve experienced gracious hospitality and patient mentors throughout the University and especially in Student Life, where campus ministry now resides. But in other important ways, PLU is a different campus than it was 60 years ago when the first campus pastor, Robert Lutness, was called and certainly 40 years ago when I showed up on campus. The university has been enriched by a more ethnically, racially, and socioeconomically diverse student body, faculty, and staff. People from all over the world come here to study and PLU students and professors carry on their work on all seven continents. This mobility has brought a rich diversity in religious and spiritual outlooks that was not present in prior generations. For example, Lutherans, who once comprised the vast majority of students, faculty, and staff, are now less than 17% of the student body. Yet with all its diversity, in one way or another, all of us have been drawn to PLU by the Lutheran understanding of and commitment to liberal education.
Our year of discernment began last May with the formation of a Campus Ministry Review team made up of representatives of the University and congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the church body to which PLU is related. The review team met with students, faculty, administrators, staff, area clergy, honorary chaplains, alumni, and others to gain a better understanding of the strengths and challenges facing campus ministry in this new context. Some of their preliminary recommendations (for example, going from three chapel services per week held in Lagerquist Hall to one Morning Prayer service each Wednesday in Ness Chapel) have already been put into place. Others, like the reconstitution of the Campus Ministry Council and a renewed commitment to Interfaith dialog and ministry are in process.
The second part of the review–a campus-wide Spiritual and Religious Life Student Survey–is currently underway. All students are encouraged to take part in the survey and make their voices heard. Together, the conversations with stakeholders and the student survey will provide the basis for shaping the next iteration of Campus Ministry at PLU and the search for a permanent Campus Pastor this spring.
It’s good to be back at PLU and to have an opportunity to contribute to the life of a place that was so important in my own formation and sense of call. It’s exciting to see all the ways that God is at work during this time of discernment and transition.
Interim Campus Pastor
Here is the Spiritual and Religious Life Student Survey. All students are encouraged to take part in the survey and make their voices heard.
for returning students:
for new students: