Year of Listening Results Summary

Executive Summary Year Of Listening,
May 2014 – May 2015
College Ministries, Luther College, Decorah, Iowa

Submitted by Rev. Ramona S. Bouzard, January 11, 2015

Luther College is a mission driven community of learning that focuses on educating students in ways that respect and expand their academic, vocational, spiritual, and developmental needs. After eight months of a fairly comprehensive program of listening sessions with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and partner constituencies, it is clear that the work of a vibrant College Ministries program, pastors, and staff, continues to be one of the essential reasons that Luther College remains a place where learning, meaning-­making, purpose, and faith meet on an everyday basis.

The following Executive Summary will highlight key themes that arose in the eight months of the listening process. The themes came forward as outside consultants (Ramona Bouzard and Rebecca Rudquist) reviewed the responses gathered from listening sessions, phone interviews, alumni and student surveys, the college pastors, and meetings with the Listening and Visioning group appointed by President Paula Carlson. A full report, including an expanded narrative of the topics covered in this executive summary, is being completed by Pastor Bouzard and will be available for review.

Key Themes

  • Luther College Ministries is seen as a key participant and essential partner in growing a diverse, thriving, and united community of hope. This sentiment was a theme regularly expressed by students, faculty, staff, and alumni.
  • College Ministries is a leader in providing guidance and opportunity for open conversations surrounding the sometimes uncomfortable topic of the character and mission of Luther College as a place where learning and faith meet.
  • The work of College Ministries (not only the pastors) is understood to be an essential cornerstone for the continued college-wide focus on learning and faith as an interconnected part of Luther’s mission.
  • College Ministries is experienced as the center of community and pastoral care for students, faculty, staff, and administrators.
  • On a daily basis, College Ministries is seen as exhibiting the spirit of Luther College as expressed in its mission statement. The pastors and staff foster a sense of community that welcomes all and that seeks to honor the contributions of all.
  • Students, faculty, and staff report that College Ministries supports and expands students’ spiritual lives and invites students, faculty, and staff to explore the ways in which they find meaning, purpose, and faith lived out in their daily lives.
  • College Ministries is seen as a leader and valued partner in diversity work on campus and justice issues on and off campus.
  • College Ministries is an important connector for Luther College to the mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, ecumenical partnerships, service-oriented groups, and community partnerships with students, faculty, and staff.
  • Faculty, staff, students, alumni, and outside constituencies are highly complementary of the work and reputation of the college pastors. Outside constituencies in particular are impressed by the ways in which the pastors have utilized their personal gifts in college partnerships that support students’ ongoing spiritual journeys and equip them for active and informed leadership in the church, their communities, and the world.

Current State of Affairs

  • A high percentage of students, faculty, and staff reflect the consumer mentality by which U.S. society views religious faith and spirituality. That is, they view faith and spirituality as individualistic and purely personal. As a result, College Ministries is seen as a kind of delivery system for ‘spiritual’ goods.
  • Luther students carry with them to college a societal notion that faith and academics are somehow oppositional rather than complimentary ways of thinking about life and meaning.
  • College Ministries has been carrying a large portion of the responsibility for service opportunities and service-learning work on behalf of the whole college.
  • Along with other departments and programs, College Ministries has been asked to meet the demand to provide more support for students, college departments, and partnership constituencies, while at the same time functioning with fewer staff.
  • It appears that staff, faculty, and students crave and would welcome increased opportunity to have open conversations that focus on Luther’s mission as a place where learning and faith intersect.
  • The College Ministries office and so also, the college pastors, push the human limits of time and space in order to provide the programs, pastoral care, and partnerships that exist on campus. At the same time, other departments expect the college pastors to provide the ongoing connections with outside constituencies on behalf of the college.
  • Students who are not part of College Ministries leadership, and sometimes faculty and staff, are often unaware of the fact that College Ministries work also includes partnerships across campus that are not directly identified with religious expression or spiritual life, such as health and wellness, diversity, and student life work.
  • It appears that those college departments that work directly with students are in conversation with College Ministries about partnerships and consult regularly.
  • It appears that those college offices involved in outreach (prospective students/admissions, alumni, development) are not in regular conversation and consultation with College Ministries.

Highlights of the ‘Looking Forward’ Responses

  • Expanded College Ministries partnerships with residential life program
  • Three college pastors with student, faculty/staff, and on-campus focus
  • Desire for a college schedule that provides opportunity for chapel and community time on an on-going basis in order to support the college-wide work of reflection and the search for meaning and faith in daily life.
  • Open up a position that is specifically charged with supporting the college’s connections with off-campus constituencies including congregations, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and other church bodies, camps, post-college opportunities for a year of service and/or intentional community, graduate theological education, social service organizations such as Lutheran Services (across the U.S.), and so on.
  • Fewer but more focused College Ministries activities and programs
  • More opportunity and support for open and on-going conversations on campus about faith, learning, and community.
  • Vocation conversations (holistic living) with students as a regular ‘gig.’
  • Student perspective indicates that College Ministries programs and staff need to be strengthened, not cut back.