UB Today Alumni Magazine Online - Spring|Summer 2003
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Road to Hollywood
A Multiplicity of Ministries
Sounds that Echo Still

Top to Bottom: Muhammad A. Furqan, Muslim adviser on campus; Rabbi Avrohom Gurary, convenor of the Campus Ministries Association; Sarah Dimiti, UB senior and a student leader for Brothers and Sisters in Christ; and Reverend Monsignor J. Patrick Keleher of the Roman Catholic Newman Center.

As of February 2003, UBís Campus Ministries Association listed the following groups on its membership roster:

African Methodist Episcopal (AME)
American Society of Muslims
Anointed Ambassadors University Student Ministry
Bahaíi Faith at UB
Baptist Campus Fellowship
Brothers and Sisters in Christ
Campus Church Connexion
Campus Crusade for Christ
Chabad House/Jewish Student Center
The Chapel 1824 Group
Chinese Christian Fellowship
Christian Medical and Dental Association
Council of Orthodox Ministries
Elijah Ministries
Episcopal Campus Ministry
Frontier Baptist Campus Ministry
Humanist Society of Friends
InterFACE Ministries
International Students, Inc.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
Korean United Methodist Church
Latter Day Saints
Living Water Campus Ministry
Lutheran Campus Ministry
New Song Community Church
Newman Center
The Tabernacle Campus Ministry
Zion Dominion

Source: Campus Ministries Association

a Multiplicity of Ministries

UBís Campus Ministries Association prospers in multicultural environment

Story by Grace A. Lazzara

Photos by Rhea Anna

  man praying
Our ministers working together can do things for the campus and students that academic departments or Student Affairs canít do."

Guess the originator of the above quotation. An administrator from a Jesuit university? From a Wesleyan college? Guess again. The speaker is Dennis Black, vice president for student affairs at UB, a state-assisted institution that is part of the SUNY system.


Black doesnít think you should be. The doctrine of the separation of church and state "doesnít say we have to be faithless," he notes. "It says the campus canít promote or get in the way of the practice of religious faith."

The ministers and students involved in UBís Campus Ministries Association (CMA) and its member groups would agree that UB is anything but faithless. Made up of religious groups and their leaders that minister to the campus community, CMA is university sanctioned but doesnít receive any funding from the institution. CMA and its member ministries, however, do play multiple roles on campus.

In the nearly 20 years since its inception, the CMA has grown and changed in substantive ways. The most obvious change is in the number of member groups. The Reverend John Mansfield, minister for the Campus Crusade for Christ, has been a member of the UB community for almost 25 years and has witnessed firsthand the ministriesí growth. "In 1979 we had 10 or 11 members of CMA," he says. "Now we have around 25." The exact number of ministries is 29, according to CMA records.

Much of the growth has come from faith-based (versus mainline) ministries; this growth mirrors the proliferation over the past three decades of faith-based ministries in the United States. Indeed, the American Religious Identification Survey 2001, released by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, reports that the top two "Ďgainersí in Americaís vast religious marketplace appear to be Evangelical Christians [and] those describing themselves as Non-Denominational ChristiansÖ"

"Thirty years ago on campus," says UBís Black, "you had a rabbi, a Catholic priest and one Protestant minister. Today, we realize that doesnít begin to cover the range of religious choices." Over the years, CMA also has welcomed groups devoted to the practice of Islam, Bahaíi and other world religions (see CMA list on page 21). This multiplicity reflects the diversity of faiths practiced by UB students.

Muhammad A. Furqan, the first Muslim advisor on campus, agrees: "When everyone comes to CMA meetings, itís like a religious United Nations."

Not only has the number of ministries grown, but the amount and type of CMA-initiated activity has increased, too. Once, a campus minister would tend to his or her flock and participate in ecumenical programming. Now UB ministries, both as a collective and individually, provide a full slate of events and activities: dinners, seminars, readings, discussion groups, sports teams, "alternative" spring breaks featuring volunteer service and much more.

For instance, Mike Hoff, a junior history major, is a peer counselor for the Lutheran ministry, which trains its peer counselors in helping skills and theology. According to the Reverend Gail Riina, pastor for the Lutheran ministry, these peer ministers, as they are called, serve as "the arms and legs that I canít have."

Senior history major Sharon Ruppar is actively involved in the Campus Crusade for Christ, leading Bible-study groups, emceeing weekly meetings, organizing an Easter outreach banquet and the like. Her and Hoffís experiences have influenced their choices for the future.

"After I graduate, I hope to work in New York City with Campus Crusade," says Ruppar. "Participating in a ministry while in college has given me so many opportunities not only to grow in my faith, but also to learn how to share my faith with people who question it." Adds Hoff, "Iím starting to consider the seminary, which has been directly influenced by my experience with the ministry here."

Interestingly, CMA ministries frequently participate in joint activities. For instance, they recently held a campus-wide Prayer for Peace. The Lutheran ministry sponsored this yearís Crop Walk to raise money to feed hungry people, but all the ministries participated.

Rabbi Avrohom Gurary, this yearís CMA convenor, explains: "CMA tries to show that even with our diversities, we are all part of one unit and are supportive of one another."

Adds Furqan, "Everyone seems to respect everyone else. We disagree sometimes, but without being disagreeable."

The amount of activity associated with UB ministries has diversified, but campus ministers still take on their time-tested role of trusted friend when students have issues related to spirituality, relationships, loss and stress. Parents, too, feel free to call their childrenís minister if they have concerns or need to relay information.

The Reverend Monsignor J. Patrick Keleher (known on campus as "Father Pat") is a Roman Catholic priest who has been part of the campusís Newman Center (UBís largest ministry, with more than 500 students, faculty and neighbors) for 15 years.

Notes Father Pat, "Every day, we have kids who come in and close the door and start sobbing. We provide lots of individual support for students who need to talk. If someone has a severe problem, we help where we can, but we always direct him or her to the appropriate campus resources."

The flurry of activity organized by ministries is in the service of a higher purpose, of course.

"When students come to a university, theyíre in a time of transition," says Reverend Riina. "People are often searching for meaning, for identity. The ministries provide a safe place to explore the spiritual dimensions of identity, where questions can be asked and different ways of doing things can be explored."

Adds Rabbi Gurary: "Our role is very important. We offer students a way to connect to their religious denomination here at UB, even when theyíre away from their homes. When students are in college, it is an opportune time to focus on who they are and what they believe. Many students who donít come from a religious background have a chance to study and observe one of the faiths."

Students indicate that the ministriesí collective mission has proved fruitful. Julia Markman regularly attends Jewish services at Chabad House.

"The presence of the rabbi on campus was encouraging. I started attending Friday night services once in a while and then went more and more often," she says. "Iím more involved now in my religion than I was while growing up."

Senior political science major Elizabeth Fox-Solomon is involved with the Newman Center. She likens the Catholic community on campus to a "home-away-from-home. It provides a relaxing, welcoming atmosphere in what can be, in your early years, an intimidating environment."

Within the academic community, interest is increasing about the role that "spirituality" plays in higher education.

Schools such as UB and Indiana State University, among others, have run conferences exploring the topic. At UB, an event last November was titled "Fostering Ultimate Meaning: Spirituality as a Legitimate Concern for Higher Education." The keynote speaker was UCLA education scholar and theorist Alexander Astin, who is nationally recognized for his efforts to get academicians to conceptualize, acknowledge and recognize the role that spirituality plays in "unfolding and enriching the lives" of everyone living and working on a college campus.

According to a recent article in the Journal of College and Character by UCLAís Linda Sax, a major research study directed by Alexander and Lena Astin at UCLAís Higher Education Research Institute and funded by the Templeton Foundation, is under way to assess the role of spirituality in higher education via a national survey of college students.

The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators last spring held a conference on student spirituality, with a follow-up conference last December titled "Spirituality on Campus: Reflection and Practice."

North Carolina State University at Raleigh held a national student conference in October on student spirituality titled "Inward Bound."

The Newman Centerís Father Patrick Zengierski, who holds a doctorate in education, notes that more and more articles on this issue are appearing in education journals and other periodicals. Several new books, he adds, have been published dealing with the topic of student spirituality, including Spirituality And Campus Life: A New Book For College Administrators, edited by Margaret Jablonski (Jossey-Bass, 2001) and Transforming Campus Life: Reflections on Spirituality and Religious Pluralism, edited by Vachel W. Miller and Merle M. Ryan (Peter Lang Publishing, 2001).

For his part, Reverend Mansfield believes that students are more interested these days in exploring spirituality: "Iím seeing more of an openness. Itís a nice door to discussion, but [the downside is] they will believe almost anything."

Father Pat agrees: "Maybe itís a response to the materialism of the times," he says. "Some might call it New Age, but itís also a search for meaning. Itís not always deep enough, but itís a step in the right direction."

A recent study on studentsí first year in college confirms that interest in "spirituality" doesnít necessarily translate to standard religious practice. Conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute, the study found that while the number of freshmen interested in "integrating spirituality" into their lives increased during the year, from 47.7 percent to 56.7 percent, the number attending a religious service during the past year declined substantially, from 84.7 percent to 59.6 percent.

In many cases, CMAís presence extends into the campus as a whole. Among other responsibilities, campus ministers serve as chaplains at campus events, as speakers during conferences or in classes, or as leaders of workshops such as "Faith in Medicine" in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

As well, some campus ministers teach at the university. Rabbi Gurary teaches in the Judaic Studies Program; Reverend Mansfield teaches courses in the Religious Studies Program. Several UB faculty members teach courses that are cross-listed with Religious Studies. For example, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Diane Christian teaches "The Bible in Literature," an English course cross-listed with Religious Studies, while Jeannette Ludwig, of Modern Languages and Literatures, teaches "World Religions." Students may plan a special major or a special minor in either Judaic Studies or Religious Studies.

The events of September 11, 2001, resulted in members of CMA taking a lead role in the campusís reaction, at the universityís request. Within 12 hours of the collapse of the Twin Towers, CMA had organized a memorial service at the South Campus for the university and surrounding community featuring prayers in English, Arabic and Hebrew, as well as music. Campus ministers were also prominently featured at a Center for the Arts service two days later, in which UB President Greiner and others addressed members of the university community who gathered to mourn the countryís loss and commemorate the heroism of rescue workers. In a campus service of "remembrance and healing" one year later, religious leaders representing diverse points of view again provided their special brand of comfort.

The aftermath of 9/11 provided a visible instance of UB looking to CMA and its leaders for support, but UBís Black emphasizes that ministries have always served a special purpose: "When we suffer a loss, having a campus ministry gives us a place of faith to gather. We have a need for reflection or prayer in times of crisis. We benefit continuously from their presence as individuals and as a community, and we appreciate it."

Grace A. Lazzara is a freelance writer based in Buffalo.

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