Only a score of years ago the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod began as a “late comer” to give serious attention to the nation’s campuses as major spheres of church activity. Even this late start was further retarded by World War II, which drained colleges and universities of their male students. By this time other denominations, more in America’s mainstream, had become strongly entrenched on campus borders with impressive churches and adjoining student centers. Their formula called for normal parishes in the immediate environs of the university, with additional facilities and staff workers to serve students.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod did not to any appreciable extent partake of this phase of the campus-community ministry. What congregations it had in university cities were usually located on “the other end of town.” Lutheran constituents on campus were of insufficient strength to draw congregations toward campus.

In the awakening period not a few complainants were heard to say: “We have missed the bus.” Relating as it did to the status quo, the complaint failed to take into account the possibility of fresh, new approaches. Indeed, although one bus was missed, other, perhaps better, modes of transportation soon appeared.


The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is now persuaded that it has more than made up for lost time by introducing a daring plan of outreach to students. From outside observers this venture elicits everything from predictions of failure to undisguised admiration. Confident of success, Missouri Synod claims no patent on its campus program. It invites other communions to assay the ingredients of a plan that is moving students from the periphery to the center of a Christ-centered gospel ministry. With campus enrollments reaching an all-time high of 3,160,000 and still mounting, new frontiers of faith must be found within our college-bred generation.

The Missouri Synod plan centers in student congregations housed in campus-side chapels. These are unfolding under the dynamic leadership of a man who now is the “patron saint” of college work to 600 Lutheran campus pastors. He is Dr. Reuben W. Hahn, Executive Secretary of the Synod’s Commission on College and University Work. “Reuben” to his brethren in the campus ministry and to religious coordinators at state universities, Hahn was induced in 1940 to leave his University of Alabama post to become “general student pastor” on a church-wide basis. He became the first full-time executive head of the then minor $5,000-a-year-budget Student Welfare Committee. Missouri Synod has since given him a Chicago office staff of five and an agency budget nearly 20 times its original figure. The 30-some geographical districts of the Synod provide the hard cash to build chapels and to salary the campus pastors.

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What is the primary component in the Missouri Synod concept of campus work? It is the primacy of worship, in congregations or assemblies established for and by students. The visible symbols of this philosophy are the chain of new University Lutheran Chapels—from the University of California to the University of Connecticut—built in the wake of World War II. Is the emphasis on corporate worship right? One observer recently said of college students: “There is increasing danger in our day that Christians are too much with other Christians and too little with Christ.” If this is so, how better can we bring students into communion with Jesus Christ than by worship?

Chapels, as both symbols and properly-appointed locales of worship, loom far above social fellowship halls or student centers euphemistically termed “homes away from home” as starting points for spiritual campus programs. They put communion tables ahead of ping-pong tables. Worship lifts the program, in Richard Celeste’s words above a “punch and cookies affair.”


The student congregation, served by a full-time campus pastor, spares the Lutheran collegian of a kind of ecclesiastical schizophrenia. Instead, he is provided with Sunday worship, week-day Bible study, Christian service opportunities, campus evangelism, fellowship, and pastoral counseling all in one package. Whatever the student’s church-related activity, from the high faith experience of partaking of Holy Communion on Sunday morning to a Thursday afternoon student center discussion with coffee and doughnuts, it is under the umbrella of the same campus church.

Other patterns of campus work, however meritorious, tend to split the student down the middle. Sunday morning he goes to the town-gown church and listens to the sermon of the parish pastor. Sunday evening and during the week he goes to the student center to be spiritually counseled by another person—the center’s director. If he manages to bring an unchurched or dechurched fellow student with him to the student center program and introduces him to the director, he will have to do the same thing over again when he takes him to church and presents him to the minister there. This requires double orientation, and between the two there is often a break-down. In the Lutheran plan, Sunday worship and student center activities are merged into one spiritual program. The student deals with one minister, who is to him all things: a full priest administering the sacraments, performing confirmations and weddings, and a student center director and counselor.

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Anyone who has done campus work knows that a serious offender, next to the student who doesn’t go to church at all, is the four-year “church tramp” or perennial visitor. Students know they must follow an orderly curriculum in their academic studies. They don’t all realize that a well-ordered spiritual course is just as necessary. So, many of them sample all churches in the community but grow roots in none. The Missouri Synod plan reduces the penchant for churchly roaming to a minimum, for it puts the campus church squarely into the laps of the students themselves. Students are the members and from their ranks the chapel council is drawn. Very rarely is “membership” in the chapel effected through a formal transfer from the home church. Commitment to the student parish is accomplished through some other procedure, be it granting associate membership, having students sign the chapel constitution, or issuing Communion cards.


Critics of chapel congregations point to the instability, immaturity, and high mobility of students as factors making the plan unfeasible. They call it “playing church,” the way children play in doll-houses. The Missouri Synod is not minded to underestimate student capacity for responsibilit By its definition the local church comes into being when Christians are gathered about the Word and the sacraments and intend to further Christ’s kingdom by word and deed. Lutheran campus pastors find their parishioners, sprinkled with faculty members and heavily interlarded with married students, entirely capable of being about their Father’s business.

The student congregation overcomes artificiality by structuring itself as much as possible after the normal pattern. It creates out of itself Gamma Delta as its arm for campus action, as well as the suborganisms familiar to the freshman from his past church life: choir, chapel guild, couples’ club, nursery, tots’ Sunday school, pastor’s membership classes, and the various assortment of parish committees, including the stewardship committee. It carries its load of missions and benevolence contributions. University Lutheran Chapel at the University of Minnesota, for example, adopted a current budget of nearly $30,000 for local and church-wide expenses. Of this figure approximately $12,000 is a subsidy of the supporting Minnesota District of the Synod, while the students contribute the remaining $18,000. By involving themselves in the financial program of the chapel, students learn to shoulder responsibilities and, through participation, acquire the skills of lay churchmanship. They will not have to rediscover the functioning church after graduation, for they have remained active in it during college years.

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Sophisticated Pilgrimage

We lift our praying hands

In thanks for life

And mutter chanted, meaningless refrains.

In chipped and splintered monotones

We paraphrase our boredom, and self-pleased,

Think God has listened and has heard

Our platitudes and hollow canticles

Droned forth in voices sharp as porcelain.

Stupored we weave disaster through the highway’s arms,

Oblivious to pain, and death, and time.

We wink at murder and condone deceit,

Racing for power and the greatest bomb,

The truest danger, and the fullest harm.

Over the scars and rubble of our latest crimes

We lift our praying hands

In thanks for life.


Samuel M. Shoemaker is the author of a number of popular books and the gifted Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh. He is known for his effective leadership of laymen and his deeply spiritual approach to all vital issues.

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