Members of the Catholic Student Association participate in mass at Our Lady of Malibu in 2017. CSA has existed since the mid-90s and the group continues to attend Our Lady of Malibu frequently. Photo courtesy of Thomas Vandergon
Clarification: The article has been updated to clarify policy surrounding campus visitors and how that relates to clergy.
The creation of the Hub for Spiritual Life affected campus ministry and spiritual outreach in many ways including service, worship, fellowship and mentorship opportunities. Another affected group was student-led ministries.
The Hub reaffirmed Inter-Club Council policies regarding off-campus visitors and instituted new management of student and faculty leadership, impacting groups’ operations and access to off-campus clergy and deactivating chapters of larger student-led ministries.
“The changes, as I’ve experienced them, have been about seeking to centralize and coordinate student ministry,” said Jeff Walling, director of Pepperdine’s Youth Leadership Initiative and faculty advisor of Alpha Omega Waves.
Seaver College has six active student-led ministries, according to Peppervine: Alpha Omega Waves, Catholic Student Association, Celebration Chapel, Koinonia Campus Mission, Veritas Club and Word Up. Each group has a student executive board, is accompanied by a faculty or staff advisor and most meet weekly on campus.
Pepperdine’s student-led ministries have historically been a part of Inter-Club Council or Student Government Association, said Thomas Vandergon, a Biology professor and faculty adviser for the Catholic Student Association. Each year, student-led ministries resubmit their constitutions and apply for funding through ICC and are supervised by ICC rules.
The Changes to Student-led Ministries
Vandergon has advised CSA since 1994 and historically, he said the club did not face many rules on what it could not do. CSA was also the first student-led ministry not related to the Church of Christ, Vandergon said, which meant it also had a special avenue.
Most recently, under the guidance of the Hub For Spiritual Life and Associate Chaplain Rachel Collins, student-led ministries have had new restrictions.
Prior to the start of fall semester, student-led ministry leaders and advisers said they received communication regarding the updated policies, which have been in-use since.
Student-led ministries are now aligned to ICC’s policies for clubs and organizations, Chaplain Sara Barton wrote in a Nov. 11 email to the Graphic. Barton did not elaborate on what the policies entailed.
Under the new policy, student-led ministries must receive approval from the Hub for Spiritual Life before inviting any outside guests, including ministers and clergy.
The new restrictions have made some things harder for groups, advisers said.
CSA has always had a strong relationship with Our Lady of Malibu — the Catholic church a few miles off campus — with OLM even listing Pepperdine CSA as a part of the community on its website. Since 2008, CSA and OLM have hosted monthly masses on campus in Stauffer Chapel.
CSA must file paperwork indicating if clergy will be on campus for what event — which a faculty adviser must supervise. Vandergon also said the policy limits the frequency of guest visits, meaning ministers could not come on campus daily or several times a week even with paperwork.
The Rev. Matt Murphy of OLM would come on campus weekly to eat lunch with students and have casual interactions, but has not been able to do so recently, Vandergon said.
Collins clarified in an April 14 email to the Graphic that the Hub does not limit students’ access to clergy coming for casual visits, such as Murphy’s, but rather it was COVID-19 restrictions that limited access to campus.
“If an organization wants to invite a guest speaker, ICC has guest speaking forms for these occasions. Student led ministries use the same form,” Collins wrote. “ICC policies apply to student organizations, not to an individual who wants to invite a personal guest to campus.”
Vandergon also said the policy limits the frequency of guest visits, meaning ministers could not come on campus daily or several times a week even with paperwork.
Alpha Omega Waves is a student-led ministry group with members from international Churches of Christ, Walling said. AO Waves meets weekly leading worship, reading devotionals, doing service events and attending conferences.
Following policy updates has challenged the AO Waves student leaders to choose whether to host their event on or off campus, Walling said.
Business Professor Brian Link is CSA’s newest adviser and he said his experience advising business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi helped him be more familiar with ICC policies and how they now apply to student-led ministries, like using Peppervine.
While the policy changes shifted some of CSA’s processes, Vandergon said he understood the University’s perspective and goals.
“We were operating outside the norms of other student groups,” Vandergon said. “It’s frustrating, but I get it.”
Vandergon said some of the changes have improved CSA and its student leadership. Prior, the decision on who would join CSA’s executive team of student leaders came from inside the organization. Now Collins is involved in interviews and the Hub provides training for leaders, Vandergon said.
“We haven’t had any problems,” Vandergon said. “We’ve maybe had even stronger student leaders.”
Wallings was also complementary of the Hub’s involvement.
“Rachel Collins has been just a great support to them [student leaders],” Walling said. “And we’re very grateful for the work that they do, because they’ve got a lot of balls in the air to juggle with all the different ministries here.”
Collins declined to be interviewed for this piece.
A Few Less Student-led Ministries
The new policies completely removed other student-led ministries from campus.
“The primary concern was that outside organizations were no longer being on campus because of liability issues,” senior and YoungLife leader Emily McNutt said. “That term, ‘liability’ was used pretty consistently.”
McNutt has been a leader with YoungLife for three years and said the University told the group the concern was regarding outside organizations coming onto campus without being vetted.
YoungLife is a Christian group that provides student-ministries to middle, high school and college students around the country.
At Pepperdine, there were two divisions — YoungLife Beyond and leadership training, McNutt said. YoungLife Beyond is similar to a small group for college students and for leadership training, students serve in local Malibu and Santa Monica middle and high schools as small group leaders.
The University presented YoungLife Pepperdine with the opportunity to remain as a student-led ministry on campus without the title of YoungLife, but that would have limited the group’s opportunities, McNutt said.
“The problem with that, from our perspective, was that it was intricate and key to do both of those elements,” McNutt said. “[Engaging in leadership and campus ministry] is happening through YoungLife and we weren’t really given the opportunity — or at least we didn’t perceive ourselves as given the opportunity — to have a mentorship and leadership to others piece if we put ourselves as an on campus student organization.”
Pepperdine students continue to participate in YoungLife as YoungLife Malibu, serving in the same schools in the same way, just off campus and disconnected officially from the University. The group has met at Our Lady of Malibu and continues to attract Pepperdine students to join its mission.
“I think we wish that we could advertise a little bit more and partner up with them [the University] more through official means, but that is currently our situation and we’ve been able to work,” McNutt said.
The Importance of Student Ministries
Around 57% of Seaver students are non-Church of Christ Christians according to fall 2021 data from the Office of Institutional Effectiveness. About 18% are Catholic, and Orthodox, Jewish, Hindu, Budhdist, Muslim and Mormon students make up 7% of the student population. But only 10% of students have on-campus, University-funded ministry: Those belonging to the Church of Christ.
Data courtesy of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness.
Having student spaces on campus to experience religious ideas with peers and knowing the group is University-curated and supervised allows students to explore faith in secure ways, Walling said.
“I believe that student ministries are important because they give students what I would call a safe or maybe curated opportunity to look with others of their same age, and to experience that together in an environment that at least has some modicum of safety,” Walling said.
Student-led ministries also provide service opportunities and leadership roles, Walling said.
“There are ministries that help kids who need support and help in school, that help the folks who are without shelter in our community, the folks who may be undocumented and for that reason, have a challenge economically,” Walling said. “Our students step up and say, ‘We got to do something about that’ and what a great way to learn leadership skills — purpose, service and leadership.”
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