Campus Ministry staff will begin the process this fall of transforming the current hall chaplain program into a peer ministry program, and when the new program is fully implemented by the fall of 2011, undergraduates serving as peer ministers will entirely replace live-in hall chaplains.
“This past year we took time to seriously consider how we’re doing outreach on campus,” said Assistant Director of Campus Ministry Don Beyers. “We found many successful programs at other colleges depended on peer-to-peer relationships.”
The new peer ministers will be undergraduate students chosen through the student leadership selection process and will live in the halls, like resident advisors. Their job will be to invite their peers into the campus faith life by doing things such as hosting prayer sessions or retreats and by being there to offer spiritual guidance to fellow students, Beyers said.
“When we talked to students, they said they were more comfortable talking to peers and their initial contact when they have problems is with a peer,” Beyers said. “It’s not that the hall chaplain program didn’t work, we’re just trying a new model of ministry.”
They will be trained to be ecumenical, Beyers said.
“Motivated by our Catholic tradition, they’ll seek to engage people of all faiths,” he said. “We’re not asking them to be Catholic – they can be of any faith background. The qualification we’re looking for is to be open and willing to support the work of Campus Ministry…They’ll never be sent out to convert or evangelize people.”
Peer ministers will be expected to maintain similar standards of confidentiality as hall chaplains currently do, but if peer ministers encounter life threatening problems, they can get in touch with a peer ministry coordinator or another trained adult, Beyers said.
Four of the seven hall chaplains from this past year will continue on as “Resident Outreach Ministers” during the 2010-2011 school year and will expand their ministry beyond their respective halls.
The nine peer ministers who will replace them will be chosen in the spring of 2011 and will start their new jobs in the fall of 2011. They will live in Ireland, Dowling, Brady, Cretin and Grace residence halls and will also be expected to minister to the entire campus, not just their specific hall, Beyers said.
The peer ministers will receive free room and board, just as the hall chaplains did, but they will not receive an hourly wage as the chaplains did for working 20 hours each week. Two peer ministers will share one room. The switch to peer ministers saves the university and Campus Ministry money, said Peer Ministry Coordinator Molly Bird.
“The rooms the chaplains used can be divided up and used to house students and bring in income,” Bird said. “We showed Residence Life they would actually save money by going to this model.”
Hall chaplain Dominic Bruno will be continuing as a resident outreach minister this year, and he said he is excited to see the peer ministry program implemented.
“I’ve worked with a lot of capable students with spiritual talents and gifts and it’ll be great to see those tapped more in this program,” Bruno said.
He said he’ll encourage students to apply to be peer ministers and thinks the peer ministers will be “more plugged into campus life” than hall chaplains were because the new peer ministers will have classes with their fellow students and will encounter them more regularly. But he also said there could be drawbacks.
“One of the differences I see is the ability to offer an adult presence and perspective,” Bruno said. “The chaplains are able to bring a perspective a few years removed from the college environment and some are married with families and offer a certain stability. They have that ability to guide students both in spiritual journeys and give more life counseling.”
Bird said she is planning to work alongside the chaplains this year to see what they’re doing with the students and use some of those same ideas with the peer ministry program. She said she hopes the peer ministers will promote unity among students and be positive role models on campus like the hall chaplains.
Beyers said it will be four or five years until the success of the new program can be measured.
“We’re excited about this, but it’s a huge shift in how we do ministry and there’s always a period of growth where you try to find the right balance,” Beyers said.
Katie Broadwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.