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Georgetown U. Ejects Private Ministry Groups

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By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 27, 2006

Protestant groups that have been ministering to Georgetown University students on campus for years say they are stunned that the Catholic university has decided to eject outside ministries from campus, a decision that affects only Protestant organizations.

Georgetown's Protestant chaplaincy, part of the office of Campus Ministry, told the six outside Protestant groups Aug. 17 that they would no longer be allowed to reserve rooms for weekly meetings, use Georgetown's name or organize on campus without an invitation from a student. Between 100 and 300 students are active in the groups, which include Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, national organizations.

Georgetown spokesman Erik Smulson said yesterday that the Protestant chaplaincy had recently been reorganized -- including making one of its three part-time chaplains full time -- and wants more control over its on-campus ministries.

Protestant students make up about a fifth of the student body at Georgetown, and there had been "communication and coordination problems" with some members of the private ministries, Smulson said. "It was hard for Campus Ministry to keep track of them," he said.

Although other campus faith communities have affiliations with private groups, such as the Catholic group Knights of Columbus or the Jewish group Hillel, Smulson said each of them is overseen by a Georgetown faculty member.

But leaders and student members of the Protestant groups were angry yesterday and met at a Capitol Hill home to trade complaints.

They said various private Protestant ministry groups have been welcomed on campus on and off for decades, and only in the past couple of years -- with new leadership in the Protestant chaplaincy -- has their goodwill been called into question.

A key issue has been whether those in the groups proselytize. Suddenly the university imposed new rules requiring them to come to Campus Ministry-sponsored events, and school officials asked questions about what they "tell students behind closed doors," said Kevin Offner, who oversees the InterVarsity program for graduate students at Georgetown, American and George Washington universities and the University of Maryland.

He said the other schools allow private ministries to reserve space and hold events, and they are "welcoming."

"It's felt over time that there has been a growing lack of trust," Offner said.

Group members said they won't press the school's decision, but they expect students, alumni and parents to speak up. Protestant students could establish a student group and access space that way.

Chris Wilson, 32, who is in a master's program in security studies, said he believes the Protestant chaplaincy is "micromanaging and being petty" because officials are upset that more students don't participate in school-run programs.

Wilson is a member of the InterVarsity Fellowship and said the university is biased when it asks evangelical Christians not to evangelize. "They don't want us sharing," he said. "They don't want us to make our presence known."

Smulson, however, said the decision is more of an administrative one.

There is a "desire within the Protestant chaplaincy to build the ministry from within . . . rather than rely on outside groups or fellowships," he said.


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