Big changes ahead for ministries

The Campus Ministries Task Force seeks to increase attendance and interest in SPU’s weekly chapel services. Above, the Tuesday service.

The Campus Ministries Task Force seeks to increase attendance and interest in SPU’s weekly chapel services. Above, the Tuesday service.

Hope College and Bethel University have about the same number of undergraduate students as Seattle Pacific. Both schools host a weekly, voluntary chapel that about 1,000 students attend, according to Doug Strong, dean of SPU’s School of Theology. That number at SPU? It’s more like 150 students … on a good week.

Provost Jeff Van Duzer commissioned a University Ministries Task Force to review the current ministry climate and make future recommendations. On Friday, Van Duzer emailed faculty, staff and ASSP core leaders the task force’s findings. The recommendations include new requirements and expectations for chapel attendance and significant new funding for ministries. The task force also had several critiques of how ministries currently operate.

A chapel requirement

Possibly the most striking recommendation is a requirement that all freshman University Foundation 1000 and transfer UFDN 3001 students attend chapel for a quarter. Students would then be required to reflect on their chapel attendance as part of their UFDN class.

“We felt that it would be a beneficial experience for students to have a limited mandatory experience of chapel,” said Strong, who is the chair of the task force.

Along with that, all undergraduate leaders would be expected to attend an unspecified number of chapels. Faculty, staff and administration would be expected to attend three chapels per quarter. Strong said the expectations recommended for leaders, faculty, staff and administration are different from the requirements placed on UFDN students.

UFDN students would also be required to attend a weekly small group. Students who don’t identify as Christians or don’t wish to attend the small group would be given an alternate assignment. Strong said some UFDN classes currently incorporate small groups into their curricula, which has been received positively by students. According to the task force’s recommendation, the chapel and small group attendance would not count toward students’ grades but would be a graduation requirement.

Van Duzer said it’s unclear how or if this recommendation would be implemented. He said it’s possible individual UFDN classes could require it next year. The Faculty Curriculum Committee and Faculty Senate may have to approve a decision to make chapel attendance required in all UFDN 1000 and 3001 classes.

“I hope students see this less as a mandatory experience,” Strong said. “I hope that students would see this as an opportunity to experience community and worship rather than as a mandate.”

Strong said detailed procedures for how the attendance would be monitored were not part of their recommendations. Strong said the task force hopes there would be a culture of chapel attendance. The group also recommended all non-essential university offices close during chapel.

More funding

The task force  also recommended additional funding for ministry positions. In their report, the task force recommended hiring a university chaplain who would “lead, facilitate, and champion the Christian spiritual formation of the entire university.”

Stephen Newby most recently held the current version of that role until he vacated it for a full-time position in the music department. Newby is currently an associate professor of music, director of composition and director of the Center for Worship.

The chaplain would be someone with a master of divinity degree and preferably have a doctor of ministry or Ph.D., the task force said. The chaplain would report directly to the provost and sit on the Dean’s Cabinet. Strong said he hopes the chaplain would have a more visible role on campus.

“A series of decisions over many years have downplayed the role of ministry on campus,” he said.

The task force also recommended hiring four seminary interns and four upper-division undergraduate interns.

Another significant funding recommendation involved adding to the current funding for the student ministry coordinator program. Under the recommendation, SMCs would receive a stipend of $3,300, costing the university a total of $130,000 per year. This new funding would come from University Ministries- or its new recommended name of Office of Christian Community and Ministry. ASSP would continue to provide the funds that they provide now.

Strong said the task force came to this number by subtracting the average off-campus room and board costs from the cost of living in the dorms and purchasing a meal plan at Gwinn Commons. Currently, only SMCs in Emerson Hall receive a stipend from ASSP to offset the extra cost of living there in comparison to Hill, Moyer or Ashton Halls. Strong also said Emerson SMCs would get more than $3,300 to reflect that additional cost.

In the recommendation, the task force said this stipend would “encourage greater quality and maturity in SMC applicants.” Strong said representatives from the SMC program told him there could be greater maturity. Strong believes the cost of serving as an SMC discourages junior and senior students from applying.

“We’re not saying current SMCs aren’t mature, but we could have more maturity,” Strong said.

According to Van Duzer, some adjustments could be made to the recommendations to make them more cost efficient but said there’s an “enhancement” line item in the yearly operating budget that could fund some of them. Van Duzer said the university takes cost-saving measures in the overall budget and then puts the savings into a line item. Different departments or groups on campus can petition to receive a portion of that line item for enhancements. Van Duzer added that each year more requests are submitted than approved. Van Duzer said some years there may not be any money for enhancements but in others there could be $100,000 to $200,000.

“Some of this may need to be phased in,” he said. “We may do it in a way that doesn’t cost as much.”

Current critiques

In their report, the task force noted several problems with the current ministry programs. The report cited a survey that 57 percent of students have never interacted with an ASSP ministry and 37 percent of self-identified student leaders have never interacted with a ministry. The report said, “This may suggest a culture of complacency among a number of our students.”

It said chapel is not supported by the entire SPU community.  It also noted a lack of attendance and clarity about the focus and purpose of chapel. The task force said the style and format of worship on campus does not represent minority populations. The report also mentioned several disconnects and lack of communication between ministry groups.

“There is not a coherent structure/vision within and among the multiple departments that directly address Christian formation,” the report said, specifically mentioning University Ministries, the Center for Biblical and Theological Education, the John Perkins Center, and ASSP. “There are silos between them,” the report said.

Specifically, the task force said there’s a “structural disconnect between [University Ministries] and [the John Perkins Center that] seems to illustrate a lack of understanding of our Wesleyan theological commitment to holistic ministry.”

Senior Scott Jackson is the current vice president of ministries. He said his role is the only one that currently works with every ministry group.

“I can’t create a vision for all the ministries, and a student shouldn’t be in that position,” Jackson said. “I haven’t tried to do that because I know I can’t.”

Jackson said he welcomes the recommendation of hiring a university chaplain who could lead the vision and purpose of campus ministries.

“There hasn’t been a person to give a clear answer to that,” Jackson said.

The Process

Van Duzer picked the ministry task force, and the group started meeting in October 2013. In the task force’s charter, Van Duzer said several factors contributed to the decision to form the task force. Some of the factors included the end of mandatory chapel, the significant decline in chapel attendance and the increase in students who don’t identify as Christians, according to the charter. Strong said the meetings usually lasted two hours and the group met at least every other week.

Jackson said he and ASSP President Isaac Gunderson voiced their concerns to Van Duzer that no current students were appointed to the task force.

“I would have liked to have seen current students on it,” Jackson said.

Jackson said Van Duzer was receptive to the criticism. He also said he was glad to see that the task force sought input from students.

Audrey Riddle, last year’s vice president of ministries who has since graduated, participated in the task force. Riddle said the group spent a lot of time listening to students and other members of the campus community. They looked at surveys and spoke with Senate, she said. She said the task force had more freedom since they were only making recommendations and not rules that would go into effect immediately.

On Thursday, Van Duzer and members of the task force will hold a meeting to hear feedback from the campus community. That meeting will be held in Weter 201 from 12–1 p.m. While Van Duzer stressed that the task force’s findings are only recommendations, he said he’s thankful for their work and is supportive of their conclusions.

“They are technically recommendations,” he said. “But I take what they’ve said very seriously.”

Editor’s note: In the original story, The Falcon incorrectly reported where the funding for the student ministry coordinator program would come from. The ministry task force recommended that ASSP continue to provide the funds they provide now, and any new funding that is approved will come from the University Ministry budget. The story has been updated to reflect this.


This article was posted in the section News and tagged .
Cory Minderhout

News Editor Cory Minderhout is a senior journalism major.

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