Despite the pandemic, United Campus Ministry at Texas State University is thriving
by the Rev. Matt Curry for the Synod of the Sun | Special to Presbyterian News Service
SAN MARCOS, Texas — When Jesse Hernandez arrived at Texas State University four years ago, he and a friend began looking for campus ministries.
“We felt really comfortable with United Campus Ministry and felt very welcome in the space,” said Hernandez, 23, a theater major from Austin. “I stepped into the role of worship leader, and I definitely found a call to worship leader after that.”
He liked it so much he never left.
Even though he graduated last spring, Hernandez, who comes from a Wesleyan Church background, is still leading worship — “taking an extra lap,” he says.
Besides leading the band, Hernandez has done “an amazing job” with the music setup for outdoor worship and mobile recording for use in social media, said the Rev. Todd Salmi, a United Methodist minister who is the UCM pastor.
Hernandez is among a dedicated group of student leaders who work relentlessly to share the love of Jesus at the fourth largest university in Texas. The work is thriving as never before, even as the ministry follows strict protocols to ensure safe gathering during the pandemic.
United Campus Ministry is a multi-denominational partnership of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Methodist Church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ. UCM recently received a $2,500 grant from the Synod of the Sun for online worship and ministry equipment. The ministry has also received support from First Presbyterian Church of San Marcos, and UKirk, a PC(USA) campus ministry initiative.
When Salmi came to the program more than three years ago, he had one student. Today, more than 280 students stay connected with the ministry throughout the year. More than 1,000 people follow UCM’s Instagram account, a primary tool for reaching out to new students.
The reasons for success of the ministry are multi-faceted: an ability to adapt quickly to changing situations, online and in-person options for gathering, a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere that draws participants from various or no traditions, opportunities to build lasting friendships and a passion for following Jesus Christ.
The ministry’s mission statement is to “help students find authentic friends, find a place they can grow spiritually, and find God’s purpose in their lives.”
Ali Armstrong, a 21-year-old English Literature major from Houston, was eager to build the same type of relationships on campus that she had enjoyed at her home church, St. Dunstan’s Episcopal. She said she found exactly what she was seeking.
“A lot of people are looking for a purpose and a place to find God’s call,” said Armstrong, the new UCM student president. “We’re really good at opening our doors for anyone and everyone at the Texas State campus. It gives us a sense of family, with a foundation on Christ.”
Because of the impact of the coronavirus, students this year have felt increased anxiety. Many went home at spring break, not to return until the fall. Important connections were lost, Salmi said. Social media was not enough to fill the void left by the lack of in-person relationships.
During the summer, the ministry worked to create what the pastor calls a “culture of wellness,” leading to the launch of a weekly fall outdoor service with registration, temperature checks, masks, social distancing. It grew to about 45 students, close to the cap established for the service. Clips from worship are included on social media, including YouTube.
Outdoor worship provided students on campus a place to go when few other gatherings were occurring. The sounds of singing even attracted passersby.
Recently, with free COVID-19 tests made available on campus and the positivity rate dropping below 3 percent, UCM returned to indoor services. Only 40 chairs are set out in the 200-person sanctuary, the doors are kept open, and the same safety measures are put in place as were required for outdoor worship.
“We’ll gauge the decision on how we worship in spring based on public health, but I fully expect outdoor worship to be part of our regular worship life going forward — for sure on Easter Sunday evening!” Salmi said. “It’s a really visible way to share the light of Jesus on campus.”
Nate Beasley, 20, a junior education major from Austin who reached out on social media this summer to more than 800 students on behalf of the ministry, said it is a blessing to be able to help others stay linked to Christ and each another.
“It’s God,” said Beasley, the UCM’s student intern, “and it’s a beautiful thing to see.”
This story first appeared as a Good News Story on the Synod of the Sun’s website. The Rev. Matt Curry is in search of Good News from ministries throughout the Synod of the Sun that are making connections with their congregations and communities. Do you have an idea to share? Send Curry an email at email@example.com.
You may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.