by The Rev. Ken Howard
Community college campus ministry is likely the Church’s biggest blind spot, greatest overlooked missional opportunity, and even worse, a prime example of inadvertent systemic racism and classism. Which means it’s time we started asking ourselves, “Who are we missing?”
Over my 25+ years of ordained ministry, I have observed that as a general rule congregations and judicatories seem to put much more resources into campus ministry at 4-year colleges and universities than they do into 2-year community colleges. Not that campus ministries at 4-year institutions get all that much attention compared to typical congregation-based ministries, mind you. Most clergy seem to view campus ministry as a “junior varsity sport” when it comes to vocations, and those who start there quickly come to see congregation-based ministry as a better career move. The problem is that these types of missed opportunities can help spread institutional racism.
It is challenging to quantify this persistent observation, mostly because of the dearth of research on campus ministry in general, let alone at community colleges. There appears to be only one faith-based study that compares the numbers of campus ministers at 4-year and 2-year institutions: A National Study on Catholic Campus Ministry 2017, commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (UCCB) Secretariat of Catholic Education. (I do acknowledge the difficulty in making valid extrapolations from one study from one denomination, but it’s all we’ve got at present).
The Difference in Pastoral Presence between 4-Year vs. 2-Year Institutions is Huge
If the Catholic Campus Ministry study is at all representative of the larger Church, the gap between pastoral presence on 4-year institutions and community colleges is stunning: 1 in 4 four-year institutions have a pastoral presence vs. 1 in 60 community colleges. Which means community college students are nearly 150 times less likely to experience campus ministry.
Who Are We Missing?
The Pew Research study, A Rising Share of Undergraduates are From Poor Families, Especially at Less Selective Colleges, clearly demonstrates how our de facto decision to prioritize campus ministry at 4-year institutions over community colleges systematically excludes racial and economic minorities. In other words, how we have unintentionally (or at least not consciously intentionally) extended systemic racism and classism into campus ministry.[Read more…]