Good Conditions for Fraternities at Universities

Earlier this week I linked to a post by Andrew Fulford which proposed that some of the challenges facing today’s churches could be met by fraternities. Today I consider how this might be achieved at universities, as well as what changes would be desirable.

One larger mission sodality

One thing that would usefully be replaced by fraternities, I think, is the proliferation, particularly in America, of parachurch ministries (or sodalities, as one UCCF statement has called them) that all do very similar work. One parachurch web site, which may not even be especially bad, expressly compares the joining of a campus parachurch ministry to a consumer choice:

An analogy we like is the comparison between McDonalds, Burger King, Wendys, and Culvers. All of these restaurants serve fast hamburgers and fries. But each tastes a little different, each has different branding and packaging, the service at each is a little different, and overall the experience you’ll get at each brand is a little different …

Imagine describing Dominicans, Franciscans and Augustinians in these terms, and perhaps it will be clear how odd the comparison is. I understand the need for multiple parish ministries around a university campus, distinctive perhaps in the way they develop the Christian tradition, but having multiple parachurch ministries catering to varying tastes is exactly the wrong message to send, both to young Christians and to those outside the Church. The consumeristic metaphor, moreover, I find not a little disturbing: to pander in speech is to abuse true rhetoric, and to pander in campus ministry is to abuse true piety.

Particularly troublesome, in my opinion, is the proliferation of ethnically-based Christian groups. At UC Berkeley, for example, the InterVarsity chapter is subdivided into one group for the Blacks, another for the Filipinos, another for the Latinos and another for the majority East Asians and Whites; likewise, on other campuses, Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) also runs Epic, a ministry focused on Asian Americans. No doubt all these ministries do a lot of good work, but this ethnic division is not a good sign, either of the one Church or for the future of that one catholic Church.

It were far better, I think, that ethnic-specific groups took on a different role from the larger groups, and that the larger groups were something like the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union, which serves as Cambridge’s most prominent student Christian organization. As Wikipedia describes,

There are weekly meetings in almost every college during term time – these include Bible study, prayer and praise. The college groups then meet together as a whole for Bible Teaching and prayer each week. The CICCU organises weekly talks, explaining what Christians believe, and discussion groups (Christianity Explored courses). The college groups organise termly events in the colleges where people can come and find out more about Christianity. Every year there is a high-publicity main event, during which events are held in most of the colleges and there are lunchtime and evening talks.

Having a single, broader-based group at a university facilitates a common evangelical commitment to make Jesus Christ known to students there, resisting ethnicist and sectarian tendencies; meanwhile, the local parishes, maintaining strong ties with the Christian Union – often volunteering speakers for weekly main meetings – would retain their proper place in Christian students’ lives.

Fraternities free to flourish

In these conditions, smaller and distinct organizations, including fraternities, would be free to focus on more specific needs and interests. The configuration at St Andrews, I think, is a helpful example, in which multiple groups are associated with the main Christian Union. Their events are often announced at the CU’s main meetings, and most of their members are also active in the CU. At the same time, these groups, having a separate identity, flourish freely in their various activities.

At the core of each student group could be a fraternity, held together (as Andrew has suggested) by the following three purposes:

  1. Worship/Piety: members should regularly pray together.
  2. Fellowship: members should gather together regularly, both for the sheer joy of it, and also to encourage one another to growth in virtue and knowledge.
  3. Service: members should actively plan, and carry out plans, to do good for the wider community/society/city.

As the service of the fraternities is, as suggested above, differentiated from that of local congregations and broad parachurch societies, students will increasingly learn to use their own gifts ‘outside of church’, yet in a way that edifies the Church, through an example of piety, of Christian fellowship and of works of charity in the public square.


2 responses to “Good Conditions for Fraternities at Universities

  1. This is a better setup than what’s happening right now, I think? Right now, UiC at Berkeley is an intellectual necessity but a practical in-necessity.

    Where do churches come into this? Are Churches associated with Fraternities? How does the ‘splintering’ effect carry into into that, which I think it does, but you might not (if so, I’d like to know why or how you’ve already addressed it).


    • UiC puts on InterPraise and kind of exchanges event information, but real-life stuff happens but rarely between different fellowships.

      What should happen with churches, I think, is that they should elect someone whom everyone highly respects to be a focus of local unity: a bishop of sorts, even if without juridical authority across churches. Fraternities do very different things from the ministry of word and sacrament, so they need not be tightly policed by the clergy; they can, therefore, be a means of actually bringing together people from different congregations, and this is a good thing when the weekly liturgical assemblies also have a clear and respected role.


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