Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Evangelical Catholic & Peer Ministry

This coming week I am excited to be accompanying two of our Peer Ministry students to Malvern, PA, for five days of training from The Evangelical Catholic.  The Evangelical Catholic is an apostolate that seeks to equip college students to be better able to live their Catholic faith and evangelize their peers on campuses across the country.  Each year they put on numerous Evangelization Training Camps where campus ministers and student leaders from different universities come together to learn how to better evangelize on their campus.  It's a wonderful training experience for members of our peer ministry team.

Our two student leaders and myself will surely come back from this experience with renewed energy for our faith and our ministry, with lots to share with the other peer ministers and students on our campus.

I want to take this opportunity to talk about what a peer minister is and why our peer ministry team is so important.

As the name implies, a peer minister is someone who ministers to their peers -- in this case, college student ministering to college student.

As an adult campus minister, I come from a different place than the students I minister to.  I am married.  I have children.  I have decades more experience in the world.  I've had the opportunity to study the faith, pray it, and live it, to an extent that college students have not.  In other words, I am able to bring a lot of knowledge and experience to this ministry that someone in their late teens and early twenties simply will not have.  And that's a good thing.

But I'm not in the classrooms with you.  I'm not experiencing dorm life with you.  I can relate to you like a mentor, coach, teacher, father or uncle but not as a brother, teammate or a friend.  This is where our peer ministers come into play.

A peer minister is able to support college students on a peer-to-peer level.  These are your fellow students.  They are in your classes.  They live in your dorms.  They face the same challenges and obstacles as you.  They have the same fears and concerns as you.  And they are there to help uplift you and encourage you in the faith as a brother, sister, friend or room-mate would.  It's a different sort of relationship, and one that I find greatly augments our ministry on the WCU campus.

So what do our peer ministers actually do?  The answer is: lots of things.

I rely on the peer ministers to help keep me abreast of what's going on with the students on campus, and what the general needs and concerns of the student body are.  I also rely on them to help me be aware of any specific concerns of our ministry.

Peer ministers help me to plan most of our activities and events.  Peer ministers currently serve on one or more teams, depending on their availability, interest and the needs of our ministry.  One team coordinates our Wednesday night programs.  Another leads up our small group Bible studies.  And a third team plans the retreats we put on each semester.  Peer ministers may also be asked to help with other things that come up, such as helping to organize service activities.

In a more general way, peer ministers are ambassadors for campus ministry (and by extension, the Catholic Church) on our campus.  They are evangelizers in the classrooms and dorms, a welcoming presence to any who come through our door.  They are to offer Christian support to their fellow students.

Of course, all Christians are called to evangelize and be ambassadors for Christ, not just peer ministers.  But peer ministers help to do this in a specific way.

So how does one become a peer minister?  Peer ministers agree to serve on a per semester basis.  The peer ministry team for a given semester is selected at the end of the semester previous (so our team for the Fall semester was selected last April).  We don't hold elections or anything like that.  The usual process is for students to recommend someone -- usually these recommendations come from current peer ministers, but any student can recommend a peer whom they think would do a good job.  Someone students with an interest in peer ministry will recommend themselves.  Sometimes I may approach a student whom I think would bring helpful gifts to our ministry.

I take all recommendations seriously, and discuss with the individual student what being on the peer ministry team entails.  We discuss their interest, their commitment to the ministry, and their time availability for the coming semester.  Then I make the final decision based on the qualifications of the individual and the current needs of the team.

What we look for in a peer minister is someone who not only is a faithful Catholic, but also someone who has demonstrated a commitment to campus ministry.  A student must be active in our campus ministry for at least a full semester before being considered for peer ministry (so freshmen coming in now would be eligible for peer ministry in the Spring semester of 2017).  We are looking for students who faithfully attend Mass, who participate in a small group Bible study, who regularly come to most of our Wednesday dinners, and generally participate in our events.  In other words, someone for whom campus ministry is an important part of life at WCU.

Good prior knowledge of our faith is a plus, but it's not as important as a willingness to learn and a desire to be faithful.

If you think you may be interested in being a peer minister, the best thing to do is to be a faithful and active member of our campus ministry community.  Look for ways to express servant leadership throughout the semester.   Then come talk with me about serving as a peer minister in the coming semester.

God bless,

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