Archived Sections, Lutherans in the Twin Cities

100 years of campus ministry

Lutheram Campus Ministry leaders are pulling out all the stops to celebrate.

Students from the campuses of the University of Minnesota and State University systems will gather April 14 at the Humphrey Institute in Minneapolis to celebrate 100 years of Lutheran campus ministry in the United States.
It will be a time for looking forward as well as back, leaders emphasize.
“This campus ministry centennial is a time to look back, remember, and give thanks to our gracious God for the many blessings that have come to the church and to students, faculty and staff through 100 years,” said Pastor Marcus Pera, an ELCA coordinator for campus ministry who is based in Minneapolis.
But, he added, “It is also a time to look forward. We want this wonderful and critically important ministry of the church to continue into the next 100 years. We look for this celebration to identify and activate a new and broader base of support for this ministry as it journeys into the future.”
The program for the centennial celebration includes a 4 p.m. worship service at which Patricia Lull, dean of students at Luther Seminary and former ELCA director of campus ministry, will preach. Music will be led by Bread for the Journey.
Minnesota storyteller Bill Holm will speak at the 5:30 p.m. buffet dinner and program. Music by former Minnesota Congressman Tim Penny and his band will follow at 7:30.
Lutheran campus ministry traces its beginnings to the action of a group of University of Wisconsin students in organizing a Lutheran congregation and calling the Rev. Howard Gold as pastor in 1907.
Lutheran student groups were formed on a number of campuses in the Midwest and New England after that, including the University of Minnesota in 1914. Some 20 to 30 students contacted pastors C.S. Thorpe of University Lutheran Church of Hope and C.A. Wendell of Grace University Lutheran Church and received their help in putting together a Lutheran student organization on the Minneapolis campus.
Many Lutheran students worshipped at Hope and Grace, and the new organization sponsored open houses, socials and program meetings at the two churches and the University YMCA. The group also sent representatives to a meeting in Toledo, Ohio, in 1922 at which the Lutheran Student Association of America was founded.
The Lutheran student organization at the Univer-sity of Minnesota became, in effect, a local chapter of the LSA. Lutheran students from the campus ministry in Minnesota have attended the very successful national retreats, or “ashrams,” sponsored by the LSA from 1936 to 1968 and the annual national conferences held since 1969 by Lutheran Student Movement, the successor to LSA.
In 1944 the University of Minnesota LSA teamed up with the Twin City Lutheran Student Foundation, which had been formed in 1939, to raise money to buy a vacant fraternity house at 1813 University Avenue SE for a student center.
At the start of the post-World War II era, the new center teemed with activity — meetings, parties, discussion groups, Bible studies, lectures — and the University of Minnesota became the site of the largest Luthern campus ministry in the United States.
“You’d just say something was offered and people came,” said Jerie Smith, a 33-year veteran of campus ministry at the University and current lay campus minister.
The Rev. Carl Lund-Quist, who headed the Lutheran Student Foun-dation from 1941 to 1946, was the first full-time professional staff leader to serve in campus ministry at the University. Up until 1957 the roles of campus pastor and director of the foundation were divided between two persons.
Since then the duties of campus pastor and the person responsible for such matters as staff, facilities and finance have been combined at times and divided at others, according to the need at the time, Smith said.
By the early 1970s the cost of maintaining the center on University Avenue had become too great. That, along with a new ecumenical spirit among Lutheran synods, led to a decision to sell the building and join forces with the LCMS at their University Lutheran Chapel at 1101 University Avenue.
The joint venture lasted eight years, but after the LCMS decided in 1982 to end fellowship and cooperative campus ministries with other Lutheran bodies, Lutheran Campus Ministry elected to move.
From 1983-1998, Lutheran Campus Ministry shared space with the Episcopal Church’s student ministry.
The building at 317-17th Avenue SE became known as the Lutheran/Episcopal Center. That partnership lasted 15 years.
Lutheran Campus Mini-stry moved again, merging operations with its St. Paul campus branch at 1407 N. Cleveland Avenue in 1998.
Three years later it shifted to its present location — a two-story house at 301 Walnut Street SE in Minneapolis, which it rents. The location is a block from Grace University Lutheran Church and close to the University’s medical complex. Jerie Smith runs operations there as lay campus minister.
For four decades following World War II Lutheran Campus Ministry received most of its financial support from the National Lutheran Council. Funds were appropriated by the Council’s Student Service Commission (later the Division for College and University Work) and sent to the Lutheran Student Foundation in the Twin Cities.
With the merger that created the ELCA in 1988, campus ministry was placed under the umbrella of the new church’s Division for Education (later the Division for Higher Education and Schools).
The result has been a “dramatic” decrease in financial support for Lutheran campus ministry in the Twin Cities, said Jerie Smith and Lisa Simonsen, former campus pastor in Minneapolis.
Of its $21,000 budget for the latest fiscal year, the local campus ministry received only $9,000 as its share of the funds contributed by the six ELCA synods in Minnesota to the campus ministry program in the state. Out of a mailing list of 600 students, 20-30 actively participate at any one time, Smith said.
The programs offered to these students include worship, which is their primary interest and includes the Sunday evening service at Grace Church as well as services in other local congregations; Bible study; small-group discussions; leadership training; and a variety of opportunities at the regional level of the Lutheran Student Move-ment.
More on this story appears at, where readers may learn what current student participants have to say about the ministry’s benefits as they’ve experienced them, and where leaders and planners discuss the ministry’s vision for the future.
* * *
The April 14 Lutheran Campus Ministry Centennial Celebration at the Humphrey Institute in Minneapolis is free and open to the public. An advance RSVP is required. To register, call Elizabeth Moriera, 612-379-1282.