First, some statistics. The Ohio State University enrolls nearly 57,000 students at its main campus in Columbus. Of that number, 29,000 are men and 28,000 are women; 43,000 are undergrads while 14,000 are graduate or professional students. More than 12,000 come from outside Ohio; and 5,600 (or 10% of the total) come from outside the US.
Most OSU students do not come from Columbus, and most will not live and/or work in Columbus after they graduate, although many will. Most will return to other parts of this state, or to other states, or to their home countries. All will take with them the effects, influences, and benefits of their experience while they were students at OSU.
For many, perhaps most, the effect and influence of their university experience will be almost completely secular, and the benefits will be almost entirely intellectual and social. For a few, their university years will be a time when their Christian faith was nurtured or the time when they encountered, and embraced, the Christian gospel for the first time. There are some Christian ministries doing a good work in relating to university students, sharing the gospel with those who have not yet believed and providing encouragement and fellowship for Christian students in the midst of an environment that can be hostile to faith.
In this regard, more—much more—can and should be done. For Christians in the Columbus area, and for Anglican Christians especially, this is the mission field on our door step. And this is the context for ministry at the center of the vision God has implanted in my heart for St. Patrick’s Anglican Church.
To my knowledge, there is, at present, no evangelically orthodox Anglican church in the Columbus area whose ministry is targeted toward university students. In some ways, I can understand that. It’s a difficult field. Students can be brash, arrogant, and thoughtless. Their passions and enthusiasms, whatever they might be, have not yet been tempered by real-world experience. They can be idealistic (or ideological) to a fault. They generally have little money. And they are a transient population.
Many of their liabilities are potentially their greatest strengths as well. If their energy can be harnessed and their idealism guided into productive expression, they can make tremendous contributions to a community (including a community of faith) even if they leave after they graduate.
I believe that, among those 57,000 OSU students, some are looking for precisely what orthodox Anglicanism offers. They would like to explore questions about religion, faith, and ethics in an environment that respects their integrity, allows them the freedom to explore, and encourages all of this in a setting that is non-judgmental while still committed to the authority of Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God. There are many students, I believe, who would prefer to attend a worship service marked by reverence and rejoicing, where tradition is respected while every effort is made to communicate in a way that recognizes the character of the culture out of which they come and amid which they live their lives.
A church aimed at college students will face enormous challenges from the get-go. It will not be financially self-sufficient, so it will need to depend on some kind of subsidy from some other source(s). It will need to recruit members from the local neighborhood while acknowledging, up front, that, more often than not, decisions will likely be made which favor the student constituency over the locals.
But the potential rewards are limitless. In what other setting does a church have the opportunity to impact a young life with the gospel, for the Kingdom, knowing it is likely that that young person will return to his or her home community, or a new community, or a foreign country, as an ambassador for Christ and the Kingdom of God because of what they experienced in a church that cared enough to devote its resources to reaching out to them?
When I first shared the rudiments of a vision like this with Bishop +Roger Ames about a year ago, I have to admit that I was most concerned for describing a place where I could use my ministry gifts. The more I have nurtured this vision, however, the more I desire to see it become a reality, whether I am involved in it as a primary leader or not.
How can this not be a worthy vision? How can this not be a vision around which the entire Anglican community in central Ohio can (and should) rally? How can this not be worth the sacrificial commitment of time, energy, and money to help make it a reality? Can somebody… anybody… help us?
What do we need? We need everything. The first thing we need is a core group of people who will own the vision, in response to the call of God, and commit themselves, their energy, and their money, to bringing it to pass. Out of this group one person needs to emerge who will serve as treasurer, a necessity before we can incorporate or begin to receive contributions from those who are willing to help in that way. This is also essential since I resolutely refuse to be involved with the finances of St. Patrick’s, except in the most general ways. I will not control the church’s purse strings, nor will I be aware of who does or does not contribute on a regular basis to work of the church. That is between them and God… and, of course, our reliable, ethical, and competent treasurer, whoever that may turn out to be. (See, I told you we have very basic needs.)
I was having coffee last week with a good friend at Stauf’s Coffee Roasters, one of the best coffee shops in the Columbus area (and it just happens to be located right in the heart of Grandview Heights, around the corner from our office). We were discussing the vision for St. Patrick’s, and at one point he leaned forward, across the table, and said, “Do you want to know why I am so eager for St. Patrick’s to become a reality? Because my son lost his faith as a university student, at least in part because there was no orthodox Anglican church, in the vicinity of the campus, to which he could turn for worship, fellowship, and an answer to his questions.” I have played that exchange over and over in my mind in the days since we had that conversation, and each time it moves me more. We Anglican Christians in the Columbus area need to do everything we can to prevent that from happening again. When a student wants to seek answers to questions about faith in an Anglican context, let’s do everything we can to see that there is a place to which he or she can turn.
I have very limited gifts and talents to bring to this venture, but they are all on the table. As they say in poker, I am “all in.” So is my dear wife. So are a few others whose circumstances prevent them from joining us in person. You’ve heard my vision; now here is my heartcry. Will somebody please help us?
If you’d like to follow up on anything you have read here, you can leave a comment below, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.