November 27, 2023

Help Grow a College of Grace

This article is adapted from the remarks that Dr. Bryan Bademan gave at the Evening of Amazing Grace. During the dinner, which featured a lecture by Dr. Bruce Hindmarsh and a short musical performance by Jearlyn and Billy Steele, Bryan cast a vision for a Christian third way of engaging public-research University for the good of all. Read below for an elaboration of what makes a "college of Grace."

As we enter this season of Advent and giving, I wanted to thank you for being a part of our extended community of supporters who are helping make the University of Minnesota a great place to get a Christian education—by growing a College of Grace. Let me explain.

Last month, we hosted 350 guests for An Evening of Amazing Grace at the University, where historian Bruce Hindmarsh helped us mark the 250th anniversary of John Newton’s hymn Amazing Grace, Jearlyn and Billy Steele led us in song, and I shared how Anselm House, as a College of Grace, is poised to grow in love and service to the University of Minnesota. Two of our Fellows, Josiah Misselt and Alana Rodney, shared their stories.

Josiah Misselt is from Minneapolis and decided to enroll at University of Minnesota in part because of Anselm House. Since his freshman year, he has been a mainstay of our student community. He will graduate this spring from the Carlson School. Watch his story here.

Also, Alana Rodney is originally from Louisiana, and is enrolled in a dual PhD/Genetic Counseling program here at the University of Minnesota. Last fall, a professor pointed her to Anselm House, and she never looked back. Read her entire story here.

Also sharing were Dr. Andrea Sterk (Associate Professor of History) and Dr. Robert T. Tranquillo (Distinguished McKnight University Professor of Biomedical Engineering) from the faculty community of Anselm House. Andrea and Bob are two of dozens of Christian faculty who we help gather and equip as they one encourage another to Christian integrity in academic vocation.

In thinking about Anselm House as a college of Grace, then, I invite you to think with me about grace and the modern university, the University of Minnesota in particular, and pose the question: “How might God’s grace be present to the modern university?” I want to make a case for a community like Anselm House being a special kind of grace for a university like ours.

Of course the first thing to say is that universities are a product of centuries of grace. The university is one of the great achievements of God’s grace working in human civilization over the last millennium. Even our humble UMN is approaching its 175th anniversary. 

Universities are places where hundreds or even thousands of people come together, forming a community committed to the patient study of the world in all its astonishing variety, and the human place in it. It’s simply amazing that when we as human beings, whether we’re Christians or not, apply our minds to the world around us it yields fruitful knowledge: together, we can learn good and useful things about growing resilient crops, or the English Civil War, or about how to lead a company that truly serves the common good. Here at Minnesota we think of Earl Bakken’s invention of the portable pacemaker or Norman Bourlag’s life-saving wheat varietals, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize. The list could go on and on. 

Universities at their best contribute in countless ways to human flourishing. Their accomplishments are astounding, even as their missions are noble. 

Listen to the echoes of grace in our university’s mission statement: “The University of Minnesota, founded in the belief that all people are enriched by understanding, is dedicated to the advancement of learning and the search for truth; to the sharing of this knowledge through education for a diverse community; and to the application of this knowledge to benefit the people of the state, the nation, and the world.” 

That’s a mission that Minnesotans who are followers of Christ can get behind and support.

But I won’t be the first to tell you that all is not well with the university, and not just from a Christian perspective. The loss of committed religious knowing within academia has coincided and perhaps even helped contribute to a larger loss of meaning and purpose in the university as a whole. 

In the words of some prominent academic insiders, the university has “given up on the meaning of life,” gone “academically adrift,” and even “lost its soul.” Without seeing how all things hold together in Christ, the pursuit of truth is at best partial and at worst misguided.

What does the university need in these times? Well, a lot more grace, and in many different forms. Here at Anselm House we believe the university needs grace in the form of a Christian community deeply and actively engaged in its work.

But can this happen here? Is it even possible? 

For most of our lifetimes, there have been just two basic models for how Christians have brought Christian faith together with higher education.

One is the campus ministry, led by the campus minister. (This by the way is an AI generated composite of every campus minister on the Internet.) Campus ministries are wonderful grace. They are highly decentralized, rarely require credentialing for their employees, they are agile and perhaps even a little scrappy—in a good way! They equip for a fairly narrow purpose, and certainly an important one. They have the feel of a church community for college students, they largely work with undergraduates, and they exist across the country almost everywhere there are college students.

The one place where campus ministries rarely serve, for obvious reasons, is at Christian colleges. Christian colleges are also an amazing grace. In some ways they’re institutionally the opposite of campus ministries. They are resource-intensive, all-service institutions, requiring lots of credentialing and delivering a lot of wonderful Christian formation, and of course they need to charge lots of money for their services. They are institutionally strong, but relatively inflexible. But perhaps the biggest difference with campus ministries is they educate broadly, and (importantly) they do bring faith into the work of this broad education.

For all their differences, though, these two models share one striking thing in common: they are both largely peripheral to the life and work of the modern public research university; you might say they leave the mainstream university alone. Christian colleges are often worlds away from major universities, both figuratively and literally, while campus ministries serve the personal faith lives of students but rarely engage with graduate students, faculty, or the academic missions of universities themselves. Friends, this situation has had tragic consequences, as it’s contributed to a widening divide between faith and knowledge in our universities, churches, and lives.

But what if there was another model of Christian engagement with mainstream university life? A third way? An institution established and resourced like a college, but existing not just for the welfare of the Christian community but for the life and work of the public university. By God’s grace working through countless people, there is.

Let me share with you today how Anselm House, as a “college of Grace,” carries out its work.

We do so in three distinct, but overlapping ways:

First, Anselm House is a place of extravagant hospitality. Melrose Station is an open study center with free wifi, beverages, and areas for study and community fellowship, and ping pong, pool, and other activities. In addition to daily rhythms of public prayer and an afternoon tea time, a free meal is provided for the entire campus each week during the academic year. Nearly 100 unique guests are visiting Melrose Station most every day, and more than 30 different campus ministry partners host their campus Bible studies and meetings at Melrose.

Were you to visit with any regularity, you’d quickly realize Melrose Station is not just another study space; it’s the home of a community, a place where people know your name and look you in the eyes. At Melrose, we’re creating a Christian collegiate culture of deep and lasting relationships, ordered to God’s Kingdom.

Second, our college of grace takes up the task of Christian education and formation. The University teaches knowledge, and in many respects does this very well. But it has not done so well in the formation of persons (perhaps because the work of formation gets you quickly onto moral and religious ground).

As you heard from Josiah, Anselm House’s signature student program is the MacLaurin Fellows Program, a completely free, 1- to 4-year co-curricular program of Christian formation open to all UMN students pursuing a degree. Gathering every other week over a home-cooked meal, our student Fellows work with tutors to apply Christian truths to academic pursuits. Intentionally co-curricular in nature, we now have nearly 300 alumni over the last 10 years. Since the opening of River House last year, 12 of our Fellows, like Josiah, are living in an intentional Christian community.

Also, in addition to around 60 current Fellows, this fall more than 70 students and community members have enrolled in short courses on Christianity and Medicine, Justice in the Christian Tradition, and a primer on How to Read the Bible. And there are more formation programs in the works.

Third, and finally, integration. The goal of Anselm House’s hospitality and formation programs, as it was for St. Anselm himself, is the deep integrity of faith, life, and vocation that characterizes every mature disciple of Jesus Christ. And men and women of integrity in a university environment have a special calling to bear witness to another kind of integrity in God’s good world, and that’s the deep compatibility and mutual interdependence between Christian faith and rightly-ordered human reason. This is why a few years ago Anselm House launched its Center for Faith & Learning, led by physicist Dr. A.J. Poelarends, who joined our mission after ten years as a Physics professor at Wheaton College. We’re praying that in the years to come the Center will contribute to a flourishing of Christian intellectual life on this campus, empowering our faculty and graduate students and all Christian members of the university community for courageous witness and loving service, such that it will be said that the University of Minnesota is one of the best places to go to receive a Christian education!

A college of grace, Anselm House, working with and alongside campus ministries and Christian colleges, has the potential to engage the work and life of the University of Minnesota in unprecedented and transformative ways, and we’re institutionalized so that we’re able to commit to the long game. We love the U so much that we moved in next door!

The writer Andy Crouch put it this way:

“The most effective presence of Christians within secular institutions happens when Christians find a way to create lasting patterns of presence, which is to say mini-institutions . . . and [they] make a multigenerational commitment to Christian presence. [And then he said:] Probably the most encouraging movement in our time is . . . [that of] Christian study centers . . . with deep relational connections to the faculty and administration of the university. They are intended to exist for a long time, accompanying the university in its own quests of teaching, research and service, but in a Christian way.”

Needless to say, we simply couldn’t do this without an extended community of people who invest their time, talent, and treasure to help the University community experience the public graces of the living Christian tradition.

Through the end of our fiscal year (June 30, 2024), we are asking God to provide more than $900,000 towards our annual fund. Through the generosity of a few supporters, the College of Grace Challenge Match is matching dollar-for-dollar (up to $200,000) all gifts from first-time and re-engaged donors (last gift before July 1, 2022) as well as increased giving over last fiscal year.

You can make a gift online here. 

To give by check, make gifts payable to “Anselm House” and mail to:

Anselm House

P.O. Box 141007

Minneapolis, MN 55414

For other ways to give, including via stock and through planned and legacy giving, learn more here.

Thank you for your prayerful consideration of a gift to sustain and grow a College of Grace.

Dr. R. Bryan Bademan (PhD, Notre Dame) taught American history and the history of Christianity before joining Anselm House as Executive Director in 2009. He is the Finance Secretary for the American Society of Church History and serves on the boards of CityLife Church in St. Paul and Pacem in Terris in Isanti, Minnesota. He is married to Tess, and they have two adult daughters.

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