The Lutheran Campus Ministry program at the University of Montana has a long, colorful history of inclusivity and partnership that dates back to before World War II.
During the 1940s and mid-1950s, student ministries were conducted through the local congregations. As the American Lutheran Church (or ALC, which preceded the formation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, better known as the ELCA) saw a boom in congregational growth, however, the pastors found it difficult to juggle both their home congregational needs and the associated student ministry tasks. It wasn’t until 1954 when Jan Hollings, a counselor from Berkeley, California, was hired to organize student ministry.
It was during Hollings’ tenure that the Montana Lutheran Student Foundation (LSF) raised money to purchase a building for a dedicated Lutheran student center that would also allow for a live-in campus pastor. Initially two houses were considered for this purpose, the first choice being what is currently known as The Ark (538 University Avenue) and second choice, the Emmaus House (532 University Avenue). The latter was purchased for $23,500 in 1957 for its ability to house both a student center and an adjoining apartment for a campus pastor and was named the “Lifeboat.”
With the newly-owned Lutheran Student Center, the Missoula committee of LSF called on its first ordained Lutheran campus minister, Al Mattson. The living conditions for the Mattson family in the student center apartment were less than ideal, however, and so Pastor Mattson resigned and was replaced in 1963 by Pastor John Jones.
Pastor Jones envisioned an ecumenical campus ministry program, but to do so required a much larger facility. He set out to raise funds during his term from 1965 to 1967 to purchase the adjacent house from Burley Miller, a former professor and Dean of Students at the University. The LSF committee discussed with Miller the overall contribution such a house would make to the campus ministry’s impact. Miller, who always strived to help his students in every way, agreed to designate in his will that the house be offered first to the campus ministry program for purchase.
Jones’ successor, Pastor Jon Nelson, was the campus pastor when Miller passed away in 1970. Accordingly, LSF was offered the option of the house’s purchase, and so discussions began between the Lutherans, Catholics, United Campus Christian fellowship members, and the Wesley Foundation to pool their funds and buy what they would name “The Ark.” Not all parties involved were interested in a long-term investment of capital, but they all desired an inclusive Christian ministry center that would have leased offices. Three parties provided the capital needed to buy the property, including the Missouri Synod, United Christian Campus Fellowship (UCCF) and LSF, and four pastors occupied The Ark office space, including those who were Methodist, Lutheran (including the American Lutheran Church or ALC, the Lutheran Church in America or LCA, and Missouri Synod), and UCCF. Thus arose the formation of Christian Campus Ministries (CCM) in 1971 and its “CCM Student Center” at the Lifeboat which was leased to the affiliated religious organizations by LSF under the newly incorporated CCM designation.
Many changes to the original investors of the Ark began in the 1980s. The Missouri Synod found that it needed to withdraw its stake in The Ark and so transferred its share to the Methodist Wesley Foundation in 1983. During the late 1980s, the UCCF as well as the ALC and LCA Lutherans encountered their own internal reorganizations. UCCF had previously been a consortium of the United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian Church, and Episcopalian Church and was in the process of reconstruction. Meanwhile, the ALC and LCA Lutherans were in the process of forming the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) which was formalized in 1988. The partnership of many different religious groups’ use of The Ark and Lifeboat continued well into the 2000s; the upstairs of The Ark served as offices for Lutheran Campus Ministry, the Presbyterian Resource Center, the International Student Christian Fellowship, and Young Life while the Lifeboat became a center for ministry and community gatherings.
The Episcopalians and United Church of Christ approached the local LSF committee in 2006-7 with a desire to partner with the Lutherans under a non-denominational name; the ministry was christened “Emmaus,” chosen from an Easter morning story in the Gospel of Luke:
Two scared disciples were walking home from Jerusalem and met a stranger on the road. They talked with the stranger about the happenings of the day and the stranger listened and shared his own wisdom. When they arrived in the city of Emmaus, they invited the stranger to dinner, broke bread, and then realized the stranger is Jesus—and then Jesus disappeared.
“It is a mysterious and spiritual story of friendship, sharing, welcoming, and for a brief moment, revelation,” explains Pastor John Lund. “It seemed to be a lot like the campus ministries’ spiritual paths: we walk together, share our stories, eat a lot, laugh, and once in a while understand how God is present in our lives.” What was once known as Christian Campus Ministries would dissolve to become the newly formed Emmaus Campus Ministry. This newly named ministry would continue to operate with oversight from the Lutheran Student Foundation of Montana within the ELCA but would have local direction from its partnerships amongst the Lutherans, Episcopalians, and United Church of Christ.
In 2008, the Presbyterians negotiated and sold their share of The Ark investment back to LSF who would thereafter have sole ownership. With this change came the rebirth of what was once office space into rental property to generate enough income to maintain the properties and deepen the student ministry by providing student residences to those involved with Emmaus programming. 2009 saw the major renovations of The Ark and newly named Emmaus House into several single and double rooms with shared bathrooms, kitchen, and living quarters in addition to the construction and rehabilitation of three total apartments between the two properties. The renovation also allowed for continued use of a business office for administration and the primary office of a campus pastor at the Ark. The undertaking was possible through a generous response to a capital campaign, assistance and an investment from National Lutheran Campus Ministry, and a Mission Investment Fund loan for construction expenses. With all the beautiful updates in place, Emmaus Campus Ministry began leasing in the fall of 2009.
The Lutheran Student Foundation of Montana under the ELCA continued to direct operations of both Emmaus in Missoula and its sister campus ministry program in Bozeman on a state level until January 2013 when its oversight was dissolved and steering of the organizations was turned over to their local Board of Directors. Financial support from the Montana Synod and ELCA continues as it had in the past under LSF, but the dissolution of the umbrella organization has granted the local Board to plan for the future of Emmaus Campus Ministry and to refine communication, finances, and efficiency.
Emmaus Campus Ministry aligns closely to the all-embracing attitude with which the campus ministry program commenced in the 1960s, working in partnership with multiple denominations in the local area and devoted to its students’ wellbeing, vocations, and futures.