Jesus changes students, students change the world
Because of the time constraint during the 2015 session of the Upper New York Annual Conference, Rev. Preuninger did not have the opportunity to present the following report on the status of ministry on campus.
It is an honor and a joy to stand as a representative of Jesus Christ on behalf of the Upper New York Conference at the intersection of faith and identity formation for the students on campus. I am the only fully-funded United Methodist University Chaplain in New York state. Through our campus ministry, Jesus is changing our students – and our students are changing the world.
The university time is a uniquely fertile and formative time in the life of young adults on campuses across our Conference, country, and globe. It is imperative that we, as Christ embodied, make a priority to send our servant leaders to be guiding and clarifying presences of Christ’s acceptance, love, and grace. As a chaplain, I am privileged to stand at the intersection of faith and identity in the lives of our students and point to the transformative presence of Christ in the midst of it all.
My message to you is simple: College ministry matters because our students need Jesus. They need to hear the counter-cultural, boundary-crossing, marginalized, empowering voice of God in their everyday lives on campus. They need Jesus. And that’s why you sent me to Syracuse University. You, Upper New York, are making a difference on our campus. Through your support, Jesus is changing the lives of our students, and our students are changing the world.
The way we approach ministry on campus is to offer as many doors as possible into the grace and love offered to all people in Jesus Christ. We seek to be a radically inclusive community guided by the presence and teachings of Jesus, committed to asking deep questions about life, faith, mercy, and justice. We seek to do this by creating environments where students can engage with these values, and our ministry is bearing fruit.
Our programs are growing every semester. The programs are exciting and diverse, connecting students from different ethnic, national, social, and theological backgrounds, offering an opportunity to create authentic relationships with one another, leading to growth in self-understanding, and helping students gain theological and exegetical skills in a way that encourages spiritual growth, ecumenical collaboration, and interfaith understanding.
One of our most popular weekly activities is our “connect dinner” on Thursday evenings. It’s growing faster than we could have ever hoped or imagined – so much so that we are gleefully scrambling to find extra funding! We started this dinner as a companion to our weekly worship service in an environment that might be a less formal entry to Jesus than a worship service. The space was intended to express a robust theology of Wesleyan grace – especially the prevenient kind – as a way to create a Spirit-steeped environment of welcome, hospitality, and grace, where students from all backgrounds could see and experience the face of Jesus in one another over a shared meal. In spring of 2014, we served an average of 30 students a week. At the end of spring 2015, we averaged 130-150 students per week. The most ever served was a whopping 382 who RSVP’d for our #curryonthequad event in mid-April. God is so good.
We connect our students to local congregations and faith communities to serve, including Immanuel UMC in Camillus, Fayetteville UMC, University UMC in Syracuse, and the ROAD at West Genesee UMC in Syracuse. We put the students in environments where they can speak to students with religious beliefs that are different from their own. We journey with them to conferences and other learning opportunities to help them hear and discern God’s call for their lives.
Upper New York, we are making a difference in our students’ lives, and our students are changing the world. It is a joy to serve you and Jesus Christ as the UME chaplain. I thank you for your continued support. If you would like to get involved in what we’re doing on campus or help us pay for the ever increasing cost of feeding droves of hungry students on Thursday nights, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Rev. Preuninger currently serves as the United Methodist Ecumenical Chaplain at Syracuse University and SUNY ESF.