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‘Good God, y’all!’ becomes a rallying cry for PC(USA) campus ministers

Attendees gather at Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center for the UKirk annual conference

by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Gini Norris-Lane, executive director of UKirk Collegiate Ministries, welcomes conference attendees on June 11. (Contributed photo)

“Good God, y’all!” is not just a figure of speech, a lyric from a pacifist anthem or a cry of disbelief; it was also the theme of a conference held at Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center last week.

From June 11–14, the 2024 National Gathering of UKirk Collegiate Ministries celebrated that there is a good God for all and how the message of love and the goodness of Creation has been spread throughout history, from the testimonies of the Bible to the songs of pop culture and the colloquialisms of popular speech. That begs the question, to whom do we attribute a quote featured prominently on the conference schedule: “‘I will always love you’:  Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston or God?”

With the increasing mental health crisis for adolescents and young adults, the message of unconditional and abiding love is an important one to communicate to students. Today there are a little over 200 collegiate ministries in the UKirk network. At the height of campus ministries in the 1950s, there were more than 500. “In the last 25 years, financial resources have dwindled significantly,” said the Rev. Gini Norris-Lane, UKirk’s executive director, “yet the call to support the spiritual, intellectual and emotional formation of young adults has only increased with more than 20 million undergraduate students in college today.”

UKirk leaders gather for the 2024 annual conference at Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center in Little Rock, Arkansas. (Contributed photo)

According to its website, “UKirk provides professional support, empowerment and community for those engaged in campus ministry on behalf of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” The UKirk network is “a central hub” for those facing the growing needs and challenges of campus ministry and approaches its mission with “caring, coaching, educating and advocating.”

Most recently, the UKirk Network supported campus ministries as they navigated the contentious issues and conflicts on campus surrounding Israel’s invasion of Gaza. Following the conference, UKirk has plans to develop a worship resource for its ministries, begin a fundraising training program over the summer, and launch a $350,000 development campaign of its own to expand the structure, resources and communications strategy of the national organization.

The annual conference was an opportunity to nurture connections and share resources. There were 50 participants and nine exhibitors at this year’s conference that featured plenary talks with the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, an author and the Moderator of the 218th General Assembly (2008); workshops and roundtable conversations; as well as plenty of time for fellowship over crafts, games and hikes around the campfire. Optional field trips were offered to a brewery and to Little Rock Central High School, which has been dubbed “America’s Most Beautiful High School” and is a national historic site for its role in public school desegregation in 1957.

The Rev. Dr. Matt Frease

“Over the past three years, I have come to look forward to the annual UKirk National Gathering. These gatherings have allowed me to retreat, renew my faith, connect with colleagues and friends, and share ideas. These gatherings have become invaluable to me, both personally and professionally,” said the Rev. Dr. Matt Frease, campus minister for UKirk Tallahassee, which serves undergraduate students at Florida State University, Florida A&M University, Tallahassee Community College and other post-secondary schools in the area.

UKirk is a ministry partner with the PC(USA) through the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s office of Christian Formation and one of five ministry partners in the Christian Formation Collective

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