October 11, 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 that has touched the lives of thousands of students across the University of Guelph, the University of Waterloo, and Wilfrid Laurier University, we are joyously praising God for his steady hand along the way.
Campus Ministry Roots are Planted
Our journey begins in the early 1970s, at a time when university enrollment was rising and the landscape for what life looked like post-high school was changing. Rather than settling down and starting their careers upon graduation, young adults, many of whom grew up in local Christian Reformed churches, were leaving their communities of origin to seek a university education. Their home churches could no longer pour into their daily life, and they needed a way to help their young adults deepen their faith while away at school. In agreement with local church sentiment, the CRCNA developed strong convictions that highlighted the need for ministry on campus.
Home Missions, an agency that today is a part of Resonate Global Mission, 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 adding the University of Waterloo into the ministry.
Ed Den Haan was campus minister of the University of Guelph throughout the 1980s and 1990s, a transformative time that moved the needle from thinking of campus ministry as only evangelism to a more holistic approach with pastoral care and mentoring for spiritual formation. He followed in the footsteps of Rev. Dr. Remkes Kooistra, who was there at the start of Classis Huron’s campus ministries.
Den Haan shared what that season was like, and how he and Rev. Dr. Kooistra leaned into the need for a broader ministry practice. “At that time, a main interest was in gaining new converts – but both Rev. Dr. Kooistra and I felt that was too narrow, and we developed a wider kingdom focus.” God knew what he was doing when he laid this vision on their hearts, as the need for campus ministry and the makeup of its body of students would evolve in the coming decades.
Growing 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 the campus minister of the University of Waterloo from 2008-2023, shared that this time period “shifted thinking into better alignment with the compassion of Christ instead of solely on theology.“
“We’ve seen a necessary shift from thinking about having the ‘right’ theology or worldview to embodying that worldview through holistic discipleship, formation, and what it means to follow Jesus as a whole person today.”
Meeting Students Where They Are – And Where God Is
Bork and DeMoor expressed a need for embracing community, encouraging connection, and providing 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 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.
Over five decades, all three campus ministries have creatively met students and faculty where they are. “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 describes hosting an informal yet trusted space at the campus pub, where people felt 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 cross.
“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."
A Future of Compassionate Ministry
As Classis Huron’s campus ministries look forward to the next 50 years, Bork says they plan to keep the Kuyperian sentiment of “every square inch” at the center of their work. The famous quote by 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. He elaborated, “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.”
And in an era that is filled with polarizing worldviews, DeMoor 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 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.
While each campus ministry shared a common theme of embracing the whole person, Den Haan summarized the overarching vision with simplicity when he said, “Universities have the mission of shaping our leaders; let’s help them do it well in Christ.”
“Universities have the mission of shaping our leaders; let’s help them do it well in Christ.”
By supporting Resonate, you walk alongside young adults at university campuses around the world – and make it possible to provide a warm space with compassionate care, like the campus ministries of the University of Guelph, University of Waterloo, and Wilfrid Laurier University. As we celebrate 50 years of Classis Huron’s campus ministries, thank you for joining God in what he is doing on university campuses around the world!
The campus ministries will celebrate with an open house, program, and dinner on October 14th at Water Street Church in Guelph, Ontario.