In prior to the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assemblies 2004, more than 130 people gathered at Virginia Commonwealth University last week for a “summit” on the future of the denomination’s mission in higher education in response to reports approved by General Assemblies in 2001 and 2003 which called for stronger relationships between the church and related schools, colleges and universities, and for a new mission strategy for campus ministry.
In welcoming the group, the Rev. Robert Turner, the denomination's associate for higher education ministries, said: “The church is captured by distractions that have led it into many valleys. It is important to go to a summit, to catch a vision from beyond where we now are.”
The topics that were discussed at the summit include “Renewing the Commitment” and “Reclaiming the Vision.” Participants at the conference reflected on their concerns in regards to the oldest form of Presbyterian mission and campus ministers. They engaged in intensive discussion on how to become a church-related college and provide ministry that is distinctly Presbyterian while meeting the spiritual needs of students from a variety of religious backgrounds.
The conference was attended by students, college chaplains, campus ministers, people engaged in congregational ministries with college students and PC(USA) partner churches.
“The transformation of campus ministry, for me, was discovering new ways of opening my eyes to the Gospel,” said Buz Wilcoxon, a student at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina.
Jeannie Hunter, a graduate of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL, who now attends a seminary at Emory University in Atlanta, said, “I was allowed to ask questions and found resources and fellowship to struggle through (difficulties).”
The Rev. Jerry Cannon, the conference worship leader, encouraged people at the conference to overcome the fear of impossibility when working for God.
As he was reminding his audience of the work that Jesus did, Cannon said, “We've got to get away from the fear that we can't do it, and believe the Bible when it tells us, ‘With God, all things are possible.'”
PC (USA)’s educational ministries were founded in 1746 when the Rev. William Tennant started the Log College, which became Princeton University.
As a follow-up to the summit, a task force will suggest ways of incorporating the participants' ideas in the church's higher-education ministries and a progress report by the PC(USA)’s National Ministries Division will be made at the 2006 Assembly.