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Classis Huron: 50 Years of Campus Ministry

October 25, 2023

What began in the early 1970s as a way to minister to young adults who traditionally grew up in the Christian Reformed Church has today transformed into a holistic missional vision that serves students from diverse backgrounds and shapes campus culture from within.

As Classis Huron celebrates 50 years of good and fruitful work in the lives of thousands of students attending the University of Guelph, the University of Waterloo, and Wilfrid Laurier University, Resonate Global Mission is joyously praising God for his steady hand along the way.

Roots Planted

In the early 1970s, rather than settling down and starting their careers right after high school, young adults, many of whom grew up in local Christian Reformed churches, began leaving their home communities to seek a university education. As a result, campus ministries began to take root as local churches sought to help their young adults deepen their faith commitment while away at school.

In agreement with local church sentiment, the CRCNA developed strong convictions highlighting the need for campus ministry. Home Missions, an agency that today is a part of Resonate, adopted campus ministry as a missional vision—and in 1973, Classis Huron began serving students from the Christian Reformed Church at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Guelph, later expanding to the University of Waterloo as well.

Ed Den Haan served as campus minister of the University of Guelph throughout the 1980s and 1990s, a transformative time that saw campus ministry grow from mainly outreach evangelism to a more holistic approach with pastoral care and mentoring for spiritual formation. Den Haan noted that both he and his predecessor in Classis Huron’s campus ministries, Dr. Remkes Kooistra, felt that “a main interest in gaining new converts” was “too narrow,” so they worked to develop “a wider kingdom focus.”

Growth in Diversity and Formation

As time moved forward and diversity in faith, economic background, race, and ethnicity increased among students on each campus, so did the need for a space that nurtured connection. The evolving richness of diversity provided the opportunity to learn about and walk alongside a multitude of people while building a welcoming and compassionate ministry that embraced the whole person.

Brian Bork, who served as campus minister of the University of Waterloo from 2008-2023 and now serves as Resonate’s Campus Ministry Leader, shared that this time period “shifted thinking into better alignment with the compassion of Christ instead of solely on theology.”

Sara DeMoor, currently serving as campus minister at the University of Guelph, said she has seen the same movement on her campus. She smiled brightly when describing the people-centered ways campus ministry has progressed.

“We’ve seen a necessary shift from thinking about having the ‘right’ theology or worldview, to embodying that worldview through holistic discipleship and formation—to what it means to follow Jesus as a whole person today,” said DeMoor.

The majority of students in a given campus ministry today don’t come from a Christian Reformed background, and some don’t come from a faith background at all. Both lean on campus ministries to show them how to follow Jesus as students in today’s world.

Meeting Students Where They Are—and Where God Is

Bork and DeMoor said it’s important to embrace community, encourage connection, and provide compassionate care for young adults today, who often describe themselves as battling a heavy sense of loneliness and a desire for improved mental health.

Campus ministry today provides a space for listening, prayer, and Jesus-pointed conversation surrounding big worldview questions. University students are at a pivotal crossroads in their lives, and having a community of faith helps them recognize that their work is a calling from God—and that there is a way to live with a holistic understanding of life in the presence of God.

“You can know God through learning psychology, chemistry, or philosophy. Campus ministry says, ‘Let’s see how God is at work in these areas,’ and join him in that work,’” said DeMoor.

“Campus ministers and ministries are on the cultural vanguard in so many ways, aware of intellectual trends and new ideas and sensibilities—and our job is to speak warmly across divides,” said Bork.

He described hosting an informal yet trusted space at the campus pub, where people were welcome to ask existential questions about faith and doubt; and how God was at work at a faculty book club, where longtime professors found understanding in the message of the cross of Christ.

In all of these spaces, campus ministry aims to walk alongside individuals as they wrestle with big questions and navigate life. Leaders said they have seen a rise in students lately who are ready to give up on faith. They may have histories of trauma, or they may have been hurt by the church and Christian leaders. That’s where the love of Jesus steps in, said DeMoor.

“The majority of my work involves trying to emulate Christ as I walk with students who are wrestling with these big questions,” she said.

She explained that often this work happens over community meals: “We feed students all the time, because that’s what Jesus did.”

A Future of Compassionate Ministry

As Classis Huron’s campus ministries look forward to the next 50 years, Bork said, they plan to keep the Kuyperian sentiment of “every square inch” at the center of their work. The famous quote from Abraham Kuyper highlights how Jesus claims every square inch of creation as his, and that all of our efforts, including studying and learning, can be done before the face of God for his glory.

“Campus ministry, above all, is rooted in a holistic understanding of the gospel; it carries a desire to serve and love and bless the whole campus of all faith walks and backgrounds,” said Bork.

And in an era of polarizing worldviews, DeMoor said, she hopes that campus ministry continues to be a place where people can ask hard questions without harsh judgment.

“There is a layer of humility and faith required in accepting that we may not have the answers; that God is sovereign and we are not,” said DeMoor.

She said she prays that campus ministry can lean into that space with grace and continue to be a community that resists a culture of canceling one another and instead demonstrates the curiosity, love, and reconciliation of Christ.

The Classis Huron campus ministries celebrated with an open house, program, and dinner on Oct. 14th at Water Street Church in Guelph, Ontario.

Den Haan summarized the overarching vision of campus ministry, saying, “Universities have the mission of shaping our leaders; let’s help them do it well in Christ.”

And Resonate staff and campus ministers added, “Thank you for joining God in what he is doing on university campuses around the world!”