From Campus Ministries to a ministering campus

Mollie Cummings didn’t want to go to college. “I came back from a mission trip to the Philippines my senior year of high school and decided I wanted to be an evangelist,” said the sophomore religious education major from northern Minnesota.

“I wanted to do mission work in the United States, but I didn’t know what to do,” she explained. “That’s how I ended up at Union.” Discouraged by the perceived roadblock to her life goals, Cummings was inspired one day when a professor talked about trying to make a major life decision. “God said to that professor, ‘I don’t care where you go, just take me with you,’” she said. “So I decided if God hasn’t sent me to be a missionary somewhere else, then I need to do mission work right here at Union College.”

Cummings chose to volunteer in Campus Ministries that first year, starting a unique ministry of her own, and then took a year off from classes to help train student literature evangelists as a task force worker at Campion Academy. Now happy to be back at Union, Cummings has joined the staff of a revamped Campus Ministries department, making it her mission to help create a completely new attitude toward spiritual life on campus.

The new Campus Ministries

Until this school year, 35–40 students have worked in Campus Ministries, and with the support of Pastor Rich Carlson, vice president for Spiritual Life, led out in at least that many ministries happening around campus, including everything from Friday evening vespers to weekly Bible studies, community services ministries and Project Impact.

But that has all changed. “Instead of having one person in charge of vespers, one person in charge of the Sabbath afternoon activity, etc., each student serves as a liaison to rally the troops within every division or other campus group and challenge them to get involved—whether it’s through volunteering at a homeless shelter, or taking children to the park, doing accounting work, or cleaning someone’s garage,” said Carlson. “Our Campus Ministries team goal is to assist every academic division in developing strategies to create a spiritual community. A number of groups worked together during Project Impact and started to unify their club or division in service. The ladies volleyball team, gymnastics team, honors program, physician assistant program and others worked as teams at Project Impact and hopefully will continue to be a part of campus spiritual life throughout the school year.”

As Women’s Ministries coordinator this year, it is Cummings job to help women in Rees Hall follow through with this idea and implement three phases of an active spiritual life: personal commitment, corporate fellowship and worship, and response through service and outreach.

Personal commitment

The first step is personal commitment. “I want to get to know every person in Rees Hall, do something for her, and let her know she is wanted here at Union College,” said Cummings. Sesame Street provided the inspiration for an idea she’s calling the ABCs of Prayer—something she will encourage her friends to try in October to help her reach that goal.

The idea started last school year when Cummings took a discipleship class while working at Campion Academy. “I was assigned to find somebody to help disciple,” she said. “I picked a shy girl who said she didn’t know how to pray with people and felt really nervous.”

Cummings suggested they go through the alphabet, one letter each day—like Sesame Street—and find someone whose name starts with that letter and pray with him or her. “The girl ended up praying with her soccer coach and other people she wouldn’t normally pray with. By doing the ABCs of Prayer, she was able to feel more comfortable praying with people. I like the concept because when you hear or see a certain letter, it will remind you to pray for someone.”

Photo of five young ladies, some wearing aprons, on a porch.
Cummings (center) and other student volunteers provide a home atmosphere for students on Sabbath afternoons.

Corporate fellowship and worship

“Our team wants to involve all of the women in either a small group Sabbath School or some other support group,” said Cummings. “We’ve found the most effective way to get people to come is by word of mouth. They are generally more excited because they were personally invited.”

And a ministry she started during her freshman year at Union also provides a unique way to create community. “What’s better than food, especially free food on Sabbath?” Cummings asked. Once a month her ministry, dubbed Soulfood, provides a Sabbath lunch for 30 hungry college students at a volunteer’s home. “It’s awesome because random people sign up and they all come together and associate with each other and become friends—just because of Soulfood.” Cummings hopes the ministry can grow large enough to accommodate everyone on campus. “It would be awesome if Union Market doesn’t even have to be open for Sabbath lunch.”

Response—outreach and service

Union has a strong traditional of community involvement through traditional service opportunities for Lincoln’s needy citizens. But Cummings is excited to see women in the dorm already thinking up new ways to connect with the community around Union College. “Pretty much everyone from Union has been to The Mill,” she said of a little coffee house and bistro across the street from campus. “One of the woman purchased a huge card, had everyone in the dorm sign it, and we gave it to employees at The Mill. They were so happy. I think we need to show the community how much we appreciate them and what they do.”

Making Jesus real

Although the school year is still young, Cummings sees God working in the women’s residence hall and has big dreams for the future. She is excited to see other areas of campus leading building a stronger spiritual community, as well.

“We want Jesus to be real on this campus,” she said. “I want to keep searching for news ways to help all Union students learn to be disciples.”

Facilitating, not legislating spirituality

For Union College spiritual leaders and faculty alike, creating a campus culture centered on a strong commitment to Christ has never been about legislating dos and don’ts, but about finding ways to help students develop their own spiritual journey.

To that end, the general campus Sabbath School has been replaced with a number of small group Sabbath Schools all over campus. “We believe these small groups will intentionally assist students in building spiritual support into their lives,” said Pastor Rich Carlson, vice president for Spiritual Life. “Just over a month into the school year, ten small group Sabbath Schools are already meeting each week across the campus and in parts of the community. We hope to double that number this year.”

But Pastor Rich is taking the idea one step further by launching a pilot program in spiritual mentoring. Students who have maintained a good worship attendance record last semester and have a desire to take personal responsibility for their spiritual journeys are eligible to join the program.

Each participant is paired with a spiritual mentor from Union’s faculty or staff and begins the journey by developing a spiritual plan based on the three phases of a healthy spiritual life: a personal commitment, fellowship and worship, and response through outreach and service. The student must meet with his or her mentor several times throughout the semester to review the plan and progress, and by doing so eliminates the worship attendance requirement.

Fifteen students joined the program to start the school year. “We feel that students are most likely to build a lasting walk with God if they can develop it in their own way,” said Carlson. “This pilot program is just one more way our campus can be a place of spiritual learning and growth.”