Change Font Size:   A A A

Jun 03, 2014 | Luke Blount

College Students Look For Authentic Communities

[Diolog MagazineA funny thing happens when some students leave home for college. Without the peer pressure from friends or guidance from parents, everything in their lives, including faith, comes into question. The irony is that sometimes, given the right environment, those questions lead to something better, something stronger. 

Enter college ministry in the Diocese of Texas. Designed as a temporary and seasonal spiritual home, college ministries (often called “Canterbury”) are a place for young people to rethink and rework their beliefs to fit their true selves.

“In college, there are so many opportunities where you can feel alone,” said Brian Champagne, a freshman at Texas A&M University. “So, feeling safe to ask tough questions with other people will open your eyes to see that you aren’t alone and there are people wondering the same thing but just afraid to ask it. This is the first time I’ve really confronted why I believe what I do.”

The Rev. Matt Wise, director of Texas A&M’s college ministry, encourages hard-to-answer questions. As an A&M alumnus, Wise clearly recalls his student days as part of the Aggie college ministry. 

“Canterbury was a big part of my life and really shaped me and shaped my vocation to the priesthood,” he said. “College ministry is important because college students are wrestling with the same questions that everyone in the Church is wrestling with, except that college students are much more bold and willing to ask those questions out loud. It is an amazing gift to the Church to be able to name those things.”

Wise hosts around 50 students every Wednesday night for a free meal and Eucharist. Most attendees are Episcopalians, but the event is open to anyone. 

On a Wednesday in March, Bishop Andy Doyle visited and confirmed eight students, reaffirmed two and baptized one, a sophomore named Laura Morales.

Morales started coming to the dinners last fall with her Episcopal roommate, Kelsey Hicks. When Hicks left for a semester abroad in Germany, Morales kept coming, even attending services at St. Thomas’ next door on Sundays. Although she grew up in a Pentecostal church, Morales said she has grown to identify fully as an Episcopalian.

“I’m just really happy to be a part of this community. It is really welcoming,” she said. “I felt connected. I like the ability to think for myself and ask questions and get honest answers.”

Wise says the students want to hear the Church’s answer to the tough questions, even if they agree with it. 

“This generation of college students can see through inauthenticity in a second and they will call it out,” Wise said. “That is actually one of the areas I have enjoyed teaching about. I tell them that anyone who tells you that the Church is ‘always right’ is full of it. The Church has never been always right and never will be. We are a flawed group of people trying to do our best to make the kingdom of God a reality in every way we can, but we don’t do it well sometimes. In fact, we do more harm than good sometimes.”

Emily Vandewalle, Wise’s graduate student intern, says that honest approach is something unique. “I think that’s what sets Canterbury apart, and the Episcopal Church apart, from other churches in the Bryan/College Station area.”

Wise believes that the millennial generation is more willing than previous generations to accept a mysterious God and a church that admits to not having concrete answers to every question. But he also emphasized that students want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. “To be accepted and a part of something like the Church that has been going on for millennia is something they find intriguing and fascinating and engaging,” he said.

In his address to Diocesan Council in February, Bishop Doyle emphasized the importance of strengthening college ministry. New funding is being allocated for existing programs, and a new ministry is planned at the University of Houston. Last year, college missioners from around the Diocese introduced themselves to incoming freshmen during a “Road Show” at churches and schools in Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Dallas. Additionally, the annual College Retreat continues to grow, welcoming more than 75 students in 2014.

The hunger for community and a deeper faith remains avid on college campuses.  

“College students are a very precious part of the Church that we have not traditionally and historically done a good job with in the Episcopal Church,” Wise said. “But these kids are really willing to go deep. The more I share and teach, the more they want.”


If you are headed to college next fall, or have a child attending college, contact John Newton to find a Canterbury contact at your school. or call him at 713.520.6444.