Madeline is a student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and a leader at The Crossing, an ecumenical campus ministry.
Where Are They?
If I am on the University of Wisconsin Madison campus walking east down University Ave, I go past the Crossing, where I have found a faith home. The Crossing is ecumenical, as it is supported by the United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, and American Baptist Church. Continuing eastward past the Crossing I come across Lutheran Memorial Church that is attached to the Lutheran Campus Center. Right next door to the Lutheran Memorial Church there is St. Francis House, an episcopal ministry. As you head further down University you get to East Campus Mall. On East Campus Mall there is Upper House, a christian student center. From East Campus Mall you can also enter the student activity center. The third and fourth floors of this activity center are the homes of a few other religious based organizations. On those floors Badger Cru has an office, along with Intervarsity, Badger Catholic, and Navigators. Then you leave East Campus Mall and head towards Library Mall. There you pass Pres House, the presbyterian campus ministry and the brand new Catholic Church, St. Paul University Catholic Center. This walk can take me less than 20 minutes. And these are just the physical buildings.
There are 63 registered student organizations at UW-Madison with religious ties, about three quarters of these organizations are rooted in Christianity. These campus ministries are diverse in theology, demographics, structure, religious affiliation, and orientation. Just like the diversity present in the Wisconsin Council of Churches. These ministries and organizations do impressive things with their involved students. They draw students away from studying, friends, Netflix, and parties and get them to come on weekend long retreats, Bible studies on weeknights, service trips during school breaks, and worship services at 9pm on a Thursday or at 5pm on a Sunday. There are students walking to campus churches every Sunday, there are bible studies happening in the residence halls, dining halls, and common areas, there are students studying everyday at UpperHouse, PresHouse, and the Crossing.
The Facebook pages of these ministries advertise events and share the testimonies of students. They share about mission trips to Kenya, or South Carolina, France, just about any country or part of the US you can think of. During welcome week all of the ministries are recruiting new members with their best swag, candy, and free food. They are all signing up a curious first year student for a bible study, or inviting them to opening worship. Some students join organizations that match with what they were raised in or they try something completely different. Some students take up leadership positions and attend almost every week and make every meeting. Some students come only when their schedule allows them to, this could be a few times a semester of once a month. And this is ok.
Christian life is thriving at the University of Wisconsin Madison, the state’s flagship, public research university. I would estimate about 2,000 students are actively involved in a Christian organization on campus. I know many that would like to be involved but haven’t found a safe religious home yet, or simply can’t find the time or energy to consistently participate, or are so overwhelmed with life as a young college student that going to church is the last thing on their mind. This is a lot of young people, a lot of young people seeking the church and growing and learning and supporting and sharing and loving.
There are also great things happening among young people outside of campus ministries and churches. Young people are leading the country to reclaim our lives from the horrors of gun violence, to help the country reckon with our original sin of racism and remind everyone that Black Lives Matter. Teach everyone that trans lives matter and that we need to believe survivors and that immigrants are welcome in this country. Young people are marching for the Dream Act, they are working to reclaim this Earth from climate change.
So the question I have for you is this: why am I one of the very few young people here? With this many active participants in religions, specifically Christianity. With so many young people seeking a just world for all, why are there not more of us here? Why are there not more of us here to listen and learn and discover and share today?
Ephesians 4 tells us that we are all called to travel together. To stay together. We all are from one faith, one God. But, why is there such a disconnect even though we all breathe the same religion?
The people gathered here today, I want you to know that the church is NOT dying. It is evolving. The only way that the church is not going to die is if it fails to allow for change. The only way we can walk down this road together is by acknowledging that we will walk differently. Young people don’t want to be entertained, young people don’t want perfect, young people want real. We want a church that will acknowledge that to see God you shouldn’t be looking up into the sky, you need to be looking at the person sitting next to you.
The young people are here. We are everywhere. The church just has to find us and the church doesn’t have to look hard. And know that once we are found find us, the church better be ready to listen and be ready to follow and be ready to evolve with us.
The text for the day was Ephesians 4:1-7