Amidst underfunding and pastoral changes, students and leaders in Lutheran campus ministry programs at Marquette and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have started the process of re-envisioning themselves.
The Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, which funds the ministries at Marquette and UW-Milwaukee, no longer had enough money in the budget for two full-time pastors. In March, the synod’s campus ministry board of directors asked the Rev. Christine Thompson to step down from her position as pastor at UWM, while electing to keep Marquette’s full-time pastor, the Rev. Brad Brown.
Brown left at the end of last semester to become pastor of North Cape Lutheran Church in Franksville, Wis. This semester, the Rev. Jessica Short became Marquette’s Lutheran pastor in a part-time role.
Kevan Penvose, a member of the synod campus ministry board, said the Lutheran ministries at Marquette and UWM received fewer funds over the last seven years, but the board never addressed the issue until recently.
The decision to remove Thompson, an African-American, sparked protest from a small but vocal group. Some members of the board even resigned. But Penvose said the reason for Thompson’s dismissal hinged on the lack of undergraduate participation in UWM’s ministry. When the decision was made in March, Marquette’s ministry had more than 35 undergraduates regularly attending worship and had eight peer ministers.
UWM’s ministry had zero active undergraduates.
“It wasn’t a matter of looking at which pastor we like most. It was just a matter of finance,” said Penvose, who is also pursuing a Ph.D. in theology at Marquette.
As Marquette and UWM’s Lutheran ministries continue to restructure, Penvose said he hopes the two will no longer function as separate entities, but as unified partners. He said the old model was no longer as strong or financially feasible.
“The catalyst that’s letting the organization move [in this direction] are the students at Marquette,” Penvose said. “The eight peer ministers have been the engine. They are amazing.”
One of those peer ministers, Caitlin Brock, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, said she is excited to see where the ministry is headed.
Brock said she hopes the ministry will form partnerships with other faith-related and social advocacy groups on campus. Although students are adjusting to the change in leadership, she said they are excited for the future.
“The transition has shaken us up a bit because someone we’re used to working with and someone we know well is no longer with us,” Brock said of Brown. “On the other hand, it’s an opportunity for us to re-imagine our ministry.”
Brown, who spent seven years at Marquette, said he had a rich and fulfilling experience working with students here. He said he would always remember the leadership of students who ministered to each other and engaged the community in outreach and service.
“I hope Campus Ministry continues to honor the gifts of young students,” Brown said. “I think young adults have a lot to offer the church. “
Short, the new Marquette pastor, said the university’s Lutheran ministry will change to meet the needs of students.
“It may look different than it did in the past, but that’s OK,” Short said. “I’m not challenged by that.”