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May 25, 2018 | Carol E. Barnwell

Full-Time Missioner Strengthens College Ministry

Students gather for weekly Bible study and dinner at Waco’s Episcopal Student Center.

Until recently, college ministry in Waco did not have a dedicated full-time missioner and struggled to be sustainable. Today, the Rev. Keith Pozzuto oversees the Episcopal Student Center (ESC) near Baylor’s campus and works with the Diocese of Texas and all three Episcopal Churches in Waco to help support the ministry.

Historically, the college missioner at ESC also served as curate at St. Paul’s, and was a newly ordained assistant clergy person who would be there no more than two years. Even with the most dedicated person, effective college ministry needs more than a part-time leader. It requires a full-time ministry of presence according to the Rev. Aaron Zimmerman, rector of St. Alban’s, Waco. “It needs a person who is there long term to build relationships and encourage students,” he said.  

Zimmerman saw the Episcopal Student Center at Baylor University as a growing edge, for both the students and for the Church. “For many years, this was a vibrant college ministry,” Zimmerman said, “but more recently, I saw the other denominations’ student groups growing at a much healthier pace.” He noted the long-term leadership of other campus groups and said the divided energies tied to a part-time missioner and the “different rhythms” of parish and college ministry challenged the struggling Student Center.

That’s when he approached the other two Episcopal rectors in Waco to suggest they collaborate and partner with the Diocese to secure a full-time missioner for the Episcopal Student Center who would be better able to serve, not only Baylor, but Texas State Technical College and McLennan Community College.

“We’ve had wonderful campus missioners, even if they were only here for a short season,” Zimmerman said. “These students want to make a difference in the world. It’s a great place to raise up new ordained leadership. They are already interested in questions of faith and the Episcopal faith is perfectly suited to respond,” he added.

Pozzuto  agrees. “I want to make sure our students always look at their motives and challenge themselves,” he said. “I want them to follow where the Holy Spirit is leading them … these guys really want to serve others. They are not that into material gain,” he said.

Today, 25 students are regularly involved in the Episcopal Student Center. Many served as camp counselors at Camp Allen and several are acolytes and chalice bearers at Episcopal churches. One was confirmed during Bishop Dena Harrison’s Palm Sunday visit and at a recent Thursday evening Bible Study, out of eight students in attendance, half voiced their desire to seek ordination or enter a career of service.

When the college ministry became a partnership of the Diocese and the Waco churches, Zimmerman said one couple in his congregation helped fund the position with an initial $10,000 gift. The support has proved mutual. When St. Alban's launched a capital campaign for a building project, one student made a pledge, saying: "This place means so much to me that I want to make sure St. Alban's is here for other students, even though I will have graduated and moved on." Other students joined in, pledging a total of $10,000. With matching gifts from generous parishioners, the college students' pledge became $30,000. 

Pozzuto says being full-time helps build long term relationships and allows for sustainable growth. Some of his students were brought up in the evangelical church, but no longer find it responsive to their lives. One student was kicked out of the Mormon church.  They have found the Episcopal Student Center and the Episcopal faith healing. Pozzuto  offers context during the Bible study, ably led by Jonathan Gay, who begins with a pop quiz of the previous chapters of Romans. They read through the chapter, talk about judging others, commenting on how to lover one another. Inclusivity, living in harmony, not being obtrusive to neighbors … they conclude with a discussion about how to talk to their family and peers of other denominations. “There are always outsiders, but you find they are all in the lineage of Christ,” they decide. “We can’t just read Scripture with our own context,” Gay said. “That’s why the Church needs all of us.”

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