Story and photos by Erik M. Lunsford
This ministry has helped me in my faith, helped me see the light in darkness,” said Jodie Olivia Werner, a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who attends University Lutheran Church in Champaign. “Going to church has really helped a lot.”
The Rev. Michael Schuermann, pastor of University Lutheran, is at work amid ever-changing circumstances on this campus, serving students, faculty, staff and members of the community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
On a Friday evening, students gathered outside the church for a trivia night event. They brought blankets and snacks. Schuermann circled the tables with trivia help while his wife, Katie, joined one of the teams.
When asked about the difference between this campus-oriented parish and other congregations, Schuermann noted, “In many ways, much of it is not that different. … They are sinners who need the Word of God, who need the Lord’s Supper, who need to be prayed for … who have questions, who wander off into sin. … They need a pastor who is there when they give in to the temptation to sin.”
About 350 miles northeast of Champaign is Cross and Resurrection Lutheran Church, the chapel at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) in Ypsilanti, Mich. The church hosts a walk-in outreach event every Friday night for EMU students. While volunteers mix homemade batter in the church kitchen, students eat free pancakes and waffles with their friends.
“A large majority of our students that come here are not Christians and are very upfront about it,” said the Rev. Bryan Schindel, senior pastor at Cross and Resurrection. “They don’t know anything about the church. They have not gone to church. They don’t have a church background and they also want to know why we do this.”
Through this outreach, members of the church share the love of Jesus Christ and serve their closest neighbors. “I love how nice and personable everyone is,” said student Paris Brister. “You can talk to them about normal stuff, but also about God.” Schindel’s daughter, Hannah, described the outreach as meeting the needs of a campus “starving for community.”
After 10 years of Friday night pancakes, Schindel reflects on his years as a campus pastor. “It’s a huge blessing,” he said, to be called into campus ministry.