Campus Ministry: Providing Space for Food, Conversation & Spiritual Reflection – Adam Walker Cleaveland

Read Abby King-Kaiser’s Essay, “Enjoying the Privilege”
Read Seth Thomas’ Essay, “Mission of a Campus Minister”
Read Kally Elliot’s Essay, “Roles Change as Life Changes in Campus Ministry”

In my current position as Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Ashland, Oregon, one of my charges upon arriving was to bring new life into our College Ministry to the students of Southern Oregon University. We had a volunteer who had been doing a great job of engaging with a few students, and so I was able to build on her success and continue to develop new ideas for connecting with students.

What I found was a group of students who were a lot of fun to hang out with: engaging, smart, active and committed to a variety of diverse activities at the university.

What I also found was a group of students who didn’t need one more thing added to their Todo Lists and who didn’t want a program-heavy college ministry. If I tried to plan a lot of events, it became difficult to get folks to show up for things. My first year, I had put some time into scheduling a College Group Broomball night…only to have about 4 students show up. And if you’ve played broomball before, you know that it can be pretty exhausting when you have to be on a team of only 2 people.

So, I’ve become more convinced that while programming has its place, a highly programmatic college ministry was not the direction I wanted to go. While our group is still on the smaller side, we have a core group that does come for our minimal programming, which is focused on food, conversation and reflection.

Food: We eat together. And we eat well. Sometimes that means that we’ll gather after church at Starbucks and enjoy some warm drinks, cookies, bagels, donuts…all of the necessities for a quality campus ministry program. One of the first programs I instituted when I arrived was College Group Dinners. The idea was simple: we’d meet for dinner at the homes of some of our congregation members, make dinner, enjoy a meal together and and then have a fellowship activity, game or a spiritually-oriented discussion. This was also great, because we had quite a few older congregation members who wanted to host our college group, and relationships that probably wouldn’t have formed otherwise were able to begin. Also, I found that anytime I had pizza, there were guaranteed to have a few students showing up.

Conversation: Just finding ways to get together to talk, share our lives with one another and engage in some interesting discussions was a favorite activity for our college group. There are some great resources for getting conversations started. My three favorites were If…Questions For the Soul, Chuck Klosterman’s HYPERtheticals: 50 Questions for Insane Conversations, and Rainn Wilson’s SoulPancake: Chew on Life’s Big Questions. All of these resources got us into some super fun, bizarre and really meaningful conversations that we might not have had a chance to otherwise. We also had some wonderful dinner conversations with church members who had varied life experiences and thoughts on religion and their spiritual journeys to share with our interested college students.

Spiritual Reflection: This was a piece that continued and grew out of our conversations. We would also find ways to engage with scripture, be that a traditional Bible study, or practicing lectio divina with a short Bible passage, or watching one of the Animate Faith videos and discussing it, or getting out the crayons and markers and praying in color. The spiritual reflection piece was a critical part of my ministry with college students, and they were always eager to engage this aspect and grow in their spiritual journeys.

The above are just a few of the ways in which I’ve found work for our ministry in our setting. I think there are a lot of ways to do campus ministry, and I’m excited about hearing from 3 people this week who work with young college people in varied settings. I hope you’ll join the conversation this week.

Rev. Adam Walker Cleaveland is a husband, father, pastor, blogger, runner and social media buff. He blogs about technology, ministry and theology at and can be found on Twitter at @adamwc or on Facebook at

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