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Finding Faith: Campus chaplain is a resource for students, staff in Moorhead

The Rev. Dominique Buchholz said Minnesota State University Moorhead officials noticed last year, coming back from the COVID pandemic, that campus counseling resources were swamped. MSUM leaders wanted to fill this important void. So they brought on Buchholz as chaplain to provide free, confidential listening and spiritual care to anyone: students, faculty and staff.

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I bet when most these days think about a college campus, they picture a debaucherous scene from the 1978 movie “Animal House” more than an interfaith international meal.

But they might be wrong, according to the Rev. Dominique Buchholz, who not only serves as pastor of Crossroads Lutheran Campus Ministry at Minnesota State University Moorhead, but also is now serving as the state university’s inaugural campus chaplain.

“Faith is a bigger part of a student’s life than a lot of people expect,” Buchholz said. “It’s a time of their life where they’re exploring everything about who they are, including their faith.”

As proof that young adults really are more faithful than they may profess to be, Buchholz shares that when first-year students are required to journal about their college experience, many openly share about their faith lives.

The longer we talked about her chaplaincy, the more excited I was about how an institution of higher learning would get that faith and spirituality are integral to people’s wellness. And rather than run scared from this, the home of the Dragons is embracing it.

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Buchholz said MSUM officials noticed last year, coming back from the COVID pandemic, that campus counseling resources were swamped. MSUM leaders wanted to fill this important void. So they brought on Buchholz as chaplain to provide free, confidential listening and spiritual care to anyone: students, faculty and staff. She works most closely with the school’s Wellness Center to offer spiritual wellness opportunities, and its Office of Diversity and Inclusion to offer interfaith educational opportunities.

Devlyn Brooks
Devlyn Brooks

It’s difficult to find good data as to how many U.S. colleges or universities have chaplains, but it’s certainly not a high percentage. Which is unfortunate because a seven-year study conducted by UCLA called “Spirituality in Higher Education” showed that “students who were part of spiritually practicing communities and had healthy spiritual experiences on campus … had higher retention rates, better graduation rates, higher civic engagement, and higher student satisfaction and lower instances of mental health [issues] than their peers.”

So what does Buchholz find herself doing as MSUM’s new chaplain? Well she spends a lot of time “accompanying people through difficult times.” That can be helping a student connect with a faith community on campus or off campus. Or it can mean organizing an interfaith meal for international students who have nowhere to go during campus academic breaks.

“Finding a community of faith is tough for anyone,” Buchholz said. “I help people find that.” Adding that her work is about helping people on their faith journey, while offering protection for religious freedom. She says that although her position is funded by Crossroads, the purpose is to serve people of all faith backgrounds or no faith background.

As a university, MSUM states that it’s mission is to educate a student body that is more globally aware and just. And to do so, Buchholz said, we must understand people’s culture, including faith traditions. “Religion is a place where many fears and misunderstandings begin.”

Ultimately, though, it’s her goal to share God’s love on campus. And she says, despite stereotypes, the students are open to receiving it.

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“They’re hungry for community, and they’re hungry for some kind of spiritual wellness of some kind,” she said. “There’s a lot of people who don’t want to be alone in a time of ‘aloneness.’”

Devlyn Brooks, who works for Modulist, a Forum Communications Co.-owned company, is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. He serves as pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Wolverton, Minnesota. He can be reached at devlyn.brooks@forumcomm.com for comments and story ideas.

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