Religious group breaking barriers

Part of the reason Mary Ellen Burke is involved in Lutheran Campus Ministry is that she isn't Catholic. Then again, she isn't Lutheran either.

Burke, a Christian Charismatic, is one of the 40 or so members of the Lutheran offshoot of Campus Ministry, whose low-key services, social events and Bible studies have created a core following and are attracting new members of different religious faiths.

Attendance at the Ministry's Sunday night service has increased in each of the past four years Pastor Brad Brown has been here.

"When I first arrived at the Ministry, there were about six people who came," Brown said. This year, the average is about 40. "Each year, we gain around 10 percent" more people.

Lutheran Campus Ministry has succeeded in attracting non-Lutheran Protestants because of its open-mindedness, according to Peer Minister Matt Etzel.

"I think the reason why we do a pretty good job of getting everyone involved is that we don't always identify ourselves as Lutheran," said Etzel, a junior in the College of Business Administration.

"It's basically a Protestant service," said Burke, who is also a peer minister. "Kids who are not Catholic can come, and we are more than happy to receive them."

"Lutheran Campus Ministry as a whole is really open, no matter what background you come from," said Angela Schnell, a peer minister and junior in the College of Arts & Sciences.

Perhaps because of this openness, Lutheran Campus Ministry has members of many different political views, personal philosophies and even religious outlooks, according to Burke, a College of Communication sophomore.

"That can be divisive," she said, "but it's not. We're all able to join in unity under Christ's name."

"I'm happy to say that we have a very inclusive and diverse group at Lutheran Campus Ministries," said Peer Minister Griff Sellnow, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences.

Last semester, the chairs of College Democrats, College Republicans and Students for Bush all worshipped together at the Ministry's services, according to Pastor Brown.

"There have been some barriers that have been broken down because of this," he said.

The low-key services, frequent social outings and student-oriented services also factor in.

"The topics we discuss are more relevant to students," Burke said, and services "are a lot less formal. As a student, it's a little difficult to get involved at mass. What I liked about Lutheran Campus Ministry is that you can get involved."

"I like the fact that it's small and close-knit" Etzel said. "We've gotten much more involved this year."

A glance at Lutheran Campus Ministry's calendar gives a revealing cross-section of the Ministry's activities. Beginning Thursday, the Ministry kicks off a discussion group on Rick Warren's book "The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?" as part of its recognition of Lent. But lest one should get the impression that they don't have fun, on Feb. 11, it will also host "Sketchy Singles Night," a movie-and-dessert night out.

"We have tons of things," Schnell said. "We try and get everyone involved."

This involvement forms an oasis for some of Lutheran Campus Ministry's members, who said they would feel a little out of place at a Catholic university without it.

"It is a Catholic university and obviously they should promote Catholicism and Catholic values, but without Lutheran Campus Ministry, I think a lot of non-Catholic kids would feel alone or lonely," Burke said.

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Feb. 10 2005.