This semester marks new beginnings for Mercer’s Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM). Due to budget cuts and restructuring in the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, BCM’s minister Chris Fuller was laid off in the spring of 2019. Now, the student organization is adjusting to the changes with the help of their leadership and volunteers.
Amy Jenkins, president of BCM, said the organization is a place for “people from all backgrounds” to “learn more about God and to grow together in their relationship with God.”
On average, BCM’s weekly worship meetings draw 80 or more students.
“One of the great things about BCM is that it’s a student-led organization,” Fuller said. “It is amazing that this organization is continuing on just as it did before, just as strong as it was before.”
After being told that BCM would lose Fuller, Jenkins said it was difficult to process the news because of his involvement with the organization and his importance to the students.
“It’s one thing to be allowed a lot of freedom to make decisions when there is still someone serving as the mentor figure to kind of give you advice on whether or not your ideas are good,” Jenkins said.“It’s a lot different to not really have that person there anymore.”
Fuller and his wife Dianne moved to Macon in the late 1990s after he ministered in Savannah for over 10 years. In Macon, he ministered for Wesleyan College and Mercer University.
“I like ministering to college students because they are so open to the truth, open to adventure… college students are very inquisitive,” Fuller said. “And of course, Mercer students are exceptionally bright … I like working with people who are smarter than I am.”
As campus minister, Fuller supervised BCM, taught leadership skills, chaperoned mission trips and served as a mentor and counselor to students.
“Chris is a very good person to talk to, like if you need life advice, not even related to BCM at all,” Jenkins said. “He’s an incredible person, too, like if you ask about his life, his story or anything, he’s lived such a wild life. Like, he played football against Bill Clinton one time — I think he scored a touchdown on him.”
Fuller said he wanted to help his students succeed and give them the chance to forge their own paths.
Mercer is not alone in its loss of a paid campus minister; other universities, such as Kennesaw State, have also lost theirs.
There’s not much Mercer can currently do to bring back a paid minister on its own terms. The Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC) cut its ties with Mercer University in 2006 due to Mercer’s decision to support an LGBTQ+ event on campus, among other disagreements.
The split means the university can’t rely on funding from the convention and must pursue it through individual churches. Although the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, which does the work of the GBC, had extended help through its funding of a minister for Mercer’s campus, its inability or decision not to fund its campus minister anymore leaves Mercer in a tight place.
The break of Mercer’s association to the GBC also means that Mercer can’t prioritize Baptist groups over other organizations on campus. Jenkins said that in a talk with Mercer President Bill Underwood, Underwood said he was concerned for the preservation of the organization, but also stressed the importance of not showing favoritism.
Like Fuller, President Underwood was himself a member of BCM as a college student.
“When this all happened, the students organized and… wrote a three-page document where they made a case for why Mercer continues to need to have a BCM and needs to continue to have a campus minister,” Fuller said. ”The head of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, Reverend Thomas Hammond… (is) coming to speak, and they are hoping to win that appeal and get another campus minister here, and I hope they do. I’m praying for that. These students are amazing.”
Jenkins said that regardless of the circumstances, BCM wants to continue their mission on campus.
“We don’t want us not having a campus minister to affect who we are on campus. It’s a big change, but we also believe that the good news of Jesus, which is the reason that we exist in the first place, hasn’t changed, and that Jesus is still there providing us with new life and providing us with a reason to gather and be friends,” she said.
BCM is also receiving support from professors on campus. Andrew Pounds, who teaches computer science and chemistry, currently serves as the official volunteer campus minister.
“God has been really good to us in that things have been going smoothly,” Jenkins said. ”Obviously, we would love to have a campus minister, and I would say we need a campus minister … Despite the changes that we have been dealing with, moving forward, we want who we are to stay the same in terms of loving each other and loving Mercer’s campus.”
Fuller now serves as the pastor of Russellville Baptist Church in Forsyth, but he still attends BCM’s weekly leadership meetings and remains involved on Mercer’s campus.
BCM meets on Thursdays at 8:00 p.m. in Newton Chapel.