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A second family

When Light of the Valleys, Reno, Nev., discovered it was going to have a vicar for the first time in 2021, it decided to embark on a new ministry opportunity—a campus ministry. The congregation—along with its two sister congregations in the Reno area—gathered resources from WELS Campus Ministry and started putting together a core group of students to determine how to minister to and reach college-age adults.

Group of teens
April at her confirmation in June 2022 with members of the campus ministry group. Sam and Maddie Schulz (back row left) helped get the group going as part of Sam’s vicar year at Light of the Valleys, Reno, Nev.

Enter Sam Schulz. Sam, a student at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., was assigned as a vicar to Light of the Valleys in May 2021. When he and his wife, Maddie, arrived a few months later, the campus ministry was just getting started. Sam and Maddie got to work making contacts and planning events.

“We tried to make it inviting, casual, starting with meeting at our apartment,” says Maddie. Besides studying the Bible, the group always did some sort of activity—things like playing games, bowling, rock painting. “We were solidifying friendships first, so they were comfortable talking about uncomfortable things,” says Sam. The group started small but grew to about a dozen who regularly attended the twice-monthly gatherings. Members of the group started bringing their friends and even began getting together socially outside of the scheduled meetings.

But the group wasn’t only about fun and games. “Members were so dedicated and so excited to get into God’s Word,” says Sam. “They really wanted to study it and they really cared about each other too.”

That friendship and trust is important. Ask Madeline Benson, a junior at University of Nevada, Reno, and one of the founding members of the group. “The world is full of things that society and the devil use to try and undermine the faith of young Christian adults,” she says. “With groups like this, we create an environment of friendship and fellowship by strengthening our hearts and minds with God’s Word, so we can stand firm in our faith and fight back against the sinful cultural norms that are being forced upon us every day.”

The group also connected college-age adults more closely to their congregations, both in service opportunities and in worship life. “Campus ministry is a really nice doorway into becoming a more active member at church,” says Sam.

Teens holding up another teen
Members of the Reno-area WELS campus ministry group. College age adults from three congregations—Light of the Valleys and Shepherd of the Mountains, Reno, and The Springs, Sparks—are part of the group.

April is a prime example. April’s parents already had joined Light of the Valleys, but she only had been attending sporadically. The campus ministry group made her feel more comfortable, so she started attending Bible information classes and worship, where she was greeted with open arms. This past year, April was baptized and confirmed.

Joel Heckendorf, pastor at Light of the Valleys, recognizes the importance of ministering to this age group, one that’s often forgotten between youth and adult ministry programs. “We need to fill in the gaps and give them their own ministry so they can grow and serve within their congregations,” he says.

Sam and Maddie have now returned to Wisconsin for Sam’s final year at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. But the campus ministry they helped develop lives on. The group has already welcomed the new vicar at Light of the Valleys for another year of faith and friendships.

“This campus ministry group has become a second family to me,” concludes Benson. “Whether I need spiritual reassurance or friends to go bowling with, they are my go-to people. They have had such a big impact in my walk of faith, because without them, I wouldn’t have been able to experience some very thought-provoking conversations about the Bible or the joys of fellowship with like-minded believers in similar walks of life.”

Author: Forward in Christ
Volume: 109, Number 10
Issue: October 2022

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