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Western Campus Ministry at 50: A Global Christian Witness at Western
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Published November 2019

Western Campus Ministry at 50: A Global Christian Witness at Western

Western Campus Ministry at 50: A Global Christian Witness at Western In the Fall of 1969, Christian students at the University of Western Ontario felt the need for pastoral support on campus. There were plenty of churches in the London community that they attended on Sunday mornings. This desire was for a pastor who would join them on campus for community building and intellectual engagement in the midst of university life. The Christian Reformed Churches of southwestern Ontario responded by founding Western Campus Ministry (WCM), a Christian ministry at Western that has grown and thrived for the fifty years since then.

Western Campus Ministry at 50: A Global Christian Witness at Western Today, WCM is a vibrant Christian ministry run by Rev. Dr. Mike Wagenman. Since his appointment to Western in 2005, he has cultivated relationships with a wide range of students, faculty, and staff from his office in the basement of the University Community Centre at the heart of the university. When asked, he says the goal of WCM is to “bear witness to the person, presence, and power of Jesus on campus.”

WCM offers a diverse set of programs for both discipling Christians and reaching out to those not currently identified with the Christian faith. Through an Alpha course each Fall, students are invited to consider the person of Jesus for themselves. This is also an opportunity for international students to learn about a dimension of Canada’s history since Christianity has been a significant factor in Canadian life from the beginning. Wagenman leads a weekly Graduate Christian Fellowship where grad students find a “home away from home” and are equipped to integrate their Christian faith and academic or vocational pursuits in authentic and meaningful ways.

Western Campus Ministry at 50: A Global Christian Witness at Western Wagenman can often be found in one of the campus pubs engaging students in discussions about current events or important topics through Jesus on Tap.

In partnership with London churches, WCM also hosts events and programs for international Chinese students, Christian faculty, and students interested in developing leadership skills.

This fall, WCM partnered with Forest City Community Church to offer a special edition of the annual Global Leadership Summit specifically geared for young adults. The event drew more than one hundred attendees and has set the stage for further opportunities for young adults across London to find community and make a positive impact in our city.

Western Campus Ministry at 50: A Global Christian Witness at Western Over the years, many students have taken up student leadership positions within WCM and then have gone on after graduation from Western to make a positive difference both in churches and in the broader culture. Some have become pastors of worship or discipleship in local churches. Others have worked for Christian organizations helping to support refugees to Ontario. Some are providing medical care in Rwanda. Others are teaching at universities in Vancouver, Zimbabwe, and Korea.

Many former students regularly write to Wagenman to update him on their marriages, the births of their children, or their on-going questions about faith and life. As Wagenman said, “Being a campus minister is a cumulative ministry; each year my circle grows wider. It’s a very joyful and rewarding calling to meet students at this important point in their lives and then stay in touch with them for years afterwards.”

Wagenman never knows what’s going to happen when someone new walks into his office. One day, a staff member came to him and the conversation started with the typical, “I have a problem.” In this case, the problem was that they were Jewish but had felt for the previous two years that they were being called to follow Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and Lord of the whole world. Through a series of weekly meetings discussing the Gospel of Mark and the many questions that came up, they eventually put their wholehearted faith in Jesus, were baptized, and joined a local church, all despite tremendous family objections.

Not every story that Wagenman tells is positive, though. Students regularly meet with him to discuss the challenges they’re facing. Stories of addiction, depression and anxiety, and disappointments are numerous.

Faculty often seek Wagenman out to discuss career dead-ends, family breakdown, or their own faith struggles in an aggressively secular setting. Wagenman encounters many who have been deeply hurt by the church or Christian leaders. And when suicide strikes, he is often included in the response of support offered to students.

Wagenman is both an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church and a professor at Western. He has pastoral experience in churches in Minnesota, Michigan, New York, and Ontario. He earned his PhD at the University of Bristol (UK) and teaches courses in theological anthropology (what it means to be human in community, culture, and society) and biblical interpretation. He has published academic and popular books on the power of the church, biblical interpretation, and a world-engaging form of Christian faith. One main area of both ministry and academic interest is the question of the church’s power in a post-Christian culture.

Wagenman’s academic credentials mean that he is also deeply embedded in the mainstream of the university’s intellectual world.

Wagenman regularly teaches courses at Western at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. He advises and coaches graduate students in their coursework, research, and thesis writing. He has served as a thesis examiner for graduate student programs. And when other faculty need theological expertise that falls outside their own area of concentration, he is sought out. This means that WCM has strategic influence on campus that most Christian organizations and student clubs lack.

Western Campus Ministry at 50: A Global Christian Witness at Western This academic and ministry experience is also regularly brought to local churches as Wagenman preaches widely, speaks to congregations on a number of topics, and coaches congregational leaders through change and conflict. Partly this is a natural and joyful part of Wagenman’s sense of calling but it also reflects the nature of WCM as a charitable Christian ministry. WCM is entirely funded by donations from individuals, churches, and Christian businesses. Many Christians today want to bear witness to their faith in Jesus but don’t often know where to begin. WCM is one way they can have a meaningful part to play in both evangelism and discipleship right here in London, Ontario, but reaching around the world through Western’s strategic global reach.

Now, fifty years after its founding, WCM is far more than a small gathering of Christians at Western from one particular Christian denomination. WCM has experienced God’s blessing in now having an opportunity to reach deeply into the fabric of life and academics at Western as well as being a key influence in the lives of an international network of alumni. WCM has found that sometimes you can be a witness for Jesus to the world, right from where you are in London, Ontario.

For more information about Western Campus Ministry or to connect with Dr. Wagenman...

Michael R. Wagenman, PhD
Western University
1151 Richmond St.
London, Ontario N6A 3K7

University Community Centre, room 38C
Phone: (519) 661-2111 x82795