The St. Thomas Peer Ministry program celebrates its first birthday this fall, but the Peer Ministers, who replaced the previous hall chaplain system, are still trying to tell students who they are.
“Making ourselves known more on campus has been a goal,” Peer Ministry Coordinator Molly Bird said. “I think that we’re starting to reach that.”
The Campus Ministry website describes peer ministers as students who “live out the Gospel message through outreach to the student body.”
Two years ago, St. Thomas had hall chaplains who lived in each of the dorms and did programming and ministering there. Peer ministers differ because they are students who provide opportunities for student leadership, and it is a more outreach-based program.
In one year, Bird said she thinks the Peer Ministry Program has helped to bring unity to Christian denominations on campus.
“Before Peer Ministry, I saw the Catholic community over here and the non-Catholic Christians over here, but I really think that Peer Ministry has helped to integrate Christian unity on campus,” Bird said.
Junior Steve Joerger, a second-year peer minister, worries that with only eight peer ministers and 6,000 undergraduate students on campus, the program won’t be able to effectively reach out to everyone.
“Sometimes we feel that our program isn’t having a campus-wide effect,” Joerger said. “We feel that we can’t reach as many students as we would want to.”
With that dilemma in mind, this year’s Peer Ministry team is implementing a new model of ministering called discipleship. Under the discipleship model, the eight Peer Ministry team members focus specifically on two or three students. Those students will, in turn, do the same for more of their peers.
“It’s kind of a multiplication effect. That way we can focus on our ministry a little more so we don’t feel so spread out,” Joerger said. “It’s more diving in deeper with a few individuals than on the surface with a lot of individuals.”
Sophomore Emily Casey, a new peer minister, said she is proof that the discipleship model works. Last year, Casey said junior peer minister Emily Hoffman helped her develop her faith.
“If I hadn’t gone on the (freshmen) retreat and had her as my small group leader, I would not have grown in my faith as much as I did last year,” Casey said.
Bird said ideally, the future of the Campus Ministry’s program won’t rely solely on hired peer ministers, but on the regular students at St. Thomas.
“In an idealistic world, I would love to grow the program to have more peer ministers on campus, but I think there’s a lot of peer ministry going on here that isn’t necessarily in the formalized roll,” Bird said. “I would look at any faith-based club or organization and see those students as essentially peer ministers.”
Laura Landvik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.