D. G. Hart
Going to college is a rite of passage for most Americans. It is a time for young adults, not only to learn and find a vocation, but to gain independence from parents and begin to take responsibility for themselves. Sometimes this transition also includes young men and women finding an expression of Protestant Christianity different from their parents. Sadly, sometimes college students leave the faith altogether.
For believers who take the covenant seriously and want to pass on the Reformed faith and its covenant theology to the next generation, college education can be a wrench in the spiritual works.
An important way to prevent covenant children from leaving the faith is by finding a good church home near to campus. For instance, at Covenant College, a popular institution among Orthodox Presbyterians, Cornerstone OPC has a college-friendly ministry that is always looking for ways to include members of the OPC. The same can be said for Bethel OPC close to the campus of Wheaton College. Some OPC congregations, such as Hillsdale OPC in Michigan, have started and grown through concerted efforts to reach students, faculty, and residents of a college town. But the proximity of OPC congregations to colleges is not only true for Christian institutions. State universities like the University of California, Berkeley (Covenant OPC), or Penn State University (Resurrection OPC) , or Ohio State (Grace OPC), or University of Arizona (Covenant OPC), or West Virginia University (Reformation OPC) also have congregations nearby that seek to minister to children of the covenant.
A great resource for parents, elders and pastors is the OPC.org’s "Find a Congregation" feature which allows searches for churches in the denomination near a specific location. Encouraging college students to attend the nearby church may enable Orthodox Presbyterian youth to find a church of faith and practice like the one in which they were reared.
Another way for Orthodox Presbyterians to use this feature of OPC.org is to contact the pastor and session of the congregation near the university or college a young person is attending. Officers and members in churches near campus are often eager to hear of new arrivals in town and willing to provide rides to church, hospitality, and fellowship. As an elder in a church that meets on campus (Hillsdale OPC), I know that our session seeks information about all children of the OPC attending the college. (Anyone from a NAPARC congregation reading who has a child attending Hillsdale, please also be in touch with our session.) Even if students do not attend regularly, knowledge of their presence in town provides a way for pastors and elders to be on the lookout for ways to encourage and counsel.
Of course, we have no guarantee that our children will remain in the OPC. But establishing better ties between denominational members at home with those on campus is one way of maintaining continuity of ministry for our members who are on the move, both geographically and vocationally.