Traditional college chaplaincy programs are making room for “peer ministry,” which consists of college students who help their fellow students on spiritual matters, reports the New York Times (Oct. 15).
Modeled on campus resident assistants who help their fellow students with day-to-day life, peer ministers add a spiritual dimension to their work and are more often appointed by the campus ministry rather than the university administration. Even religious schools are recognizing that professional staffs of campus ministers can only go so far and value the way peer ministers can relate more to students’ problems and questions on religious matters, especially as the importance of peers has steadily grown among young adults..
At some colleges, specific religious groups run peer ministries, while at religious colleges the ministry may be based on one tradition but are also ecumenical in spirit and open to any student. Hillel, a Jewish student organization, runs several peer-minister-style programs, seeing it as a way to help students discover their Jewish identity.
Catholics value the way peer ministers can supplement many incoming students’ lack of Catholic education. The added help provided by peer ministers tends to shift the role of campus ministers and clerics, making them freer to concentrate on administration and sacramental life. However, some peer ministry programs allow students to give sermons and perform other clergy tasks, thus grooming a new generation of leaders.