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Some students renew commitment to spiritual values

When college students return to campus this fall, a number of them may be making a recommitment to spiritual values.

Bible study, marriage and family, and the individual's relationship to God are some of the primary concerns of many young people today, according to representatives for campus ministries of religious denominations.

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''There has been an inner spiritual questioning occurring among student leaders,'' says Robert L. Johnson, president of the National Institute of Campus Ministries (NICM) and a United Methodist minister.

There are approximately 8,000 individuals in the full-time ministry on US college campuses who represent specific religious denominations. The NICM estimates that nationally, 10 percent of the total university community are very active in some form of denominational worship.

What makes the current upsurge in spiritual questioning different from the recent past, says Mr. Johnson, is that ''This relatively small but potentially influential group of students will be taking steps within the mission of a given denomination at reaching out - in a Christian way - to the country and world."

These students appear to be seeking "some kind of rootage in a community that has a real identify,"he says, terming this movement, "something I would call 'neo-de-nominationalism.' "

''The movement or the attention is an inward one, a personal one, rather than an external focus or social action one,'' says David McDaniels, president of the National Association of College and University Chaplains and a Presbyterian minister. ''I see the inwardness as being a kind of blessing - in the richness that is being invoked - and a cursing, in that it runs the fine line of being self-serving or narcissistic.

''The challenge is how to honor and nurture students' evangelical passion and still engender a broader sense of mission, and I don't just mean conversion, but moral engagement,'' says Mr. McDaniels.

At least three major gatherings of students are discussing these and other issues this summer.

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* According to Mr. Johnson, ''Mainline Protestant groups (whose representatives met as a body the first week of July) have not been as effective or as strong since the 1960s. There was some confusion as to what their mission was on campus. Many got involved in social issues, and as social issues diminished their purpose did also. . . . The student of the 1980s is decidedly more conservative and career-oriented than his or her 1960s or early 1970s counterpart.''

* In an example of this renewed spiritual emphasis among college communities, more than 1,500 students and faculty members of Christian Science Organizations at universities and colleges from around the world are meeting at The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ Scientist, in Boston Aug. 2-4. One purpose, according to church official Donald A. Wallingford, is to ''confront the pressing personal, moral, and professional questions in college and university life today with a healing spiritual realism.'' The focus of the three-day conference stems from the biblical passage from Nehemiah, ''Let us rise up and build.''

* The Midwestern branch of the Lutheran church campus groups is meeting in Milwaukee the week of Aug. 2 as well. The National Student Ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention, Roman Catholic, and Mormon groups, all have conferences, seminars, or workshops scheduled. The Ministry to Blacks in Higher Education is gearing up for providing draft information when schools open in September.

Where there is a social action focus to the denominational meetings, three main issues stand out as most representative of concerns: the antinuclear weapons movement; world hunger; and draft registration.

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