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Christian Union Dedicates Ministry Center at Columbia  

by catherine elvy, staff writer

Profound awe and gratitude permeated the highly anticipated opening of Christian Union’s ministry center adjacent to Columbia University.

On October 13, staff, ministry faculty, and financial partners of the leadership development organization celebrated the debut of the center on West 113th Street with a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony. 

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Rand and Laurie Unger, Peter and Linda Cline, Matt Bennett, and Kim and Bob Rankin at the new Christian Union Center at Columbia University.

Given the premium on meeting space at Columbia, Christian Union Founder and Chief Executive Officer Matt Bennett noted the brownstone will serve as a powerful game-changer for the spread of the Gospel and developing Christian leaders on campus. Before maneuvering a giant pair of scissors to slice a white ribbon across the facility’s porch, Bennett (Cornell ’88, MBA ’89) thanked God and donors for enabling the ministry to acquire the 6,810-square-foot building, just steps from campus.

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Christian Union leadership and financial partners cheer as the ribbon is cut  to open the new ministry center at Columbia University.

In turn, 60-plus guests, including donors and students, rejoiced over the Christian Union Center’s proximity to campus while chatting over a hearty brunch.

Jim Black, the former director of Christian Union’s ministry at Columbia who now serves with Caritas, the organization’s outreach to Stanford University, was visibly moved at the fruition of five-plus years of efforts behind the acquisition and debut of the ministry center. “I’m very excited for how the Lord is going to use that space,” he said.

In February, Christian Union purchased the multistory building at 529 W. 113th Street, fulfilling a significant step in its long-held vision of operating a ministry center near Columbia’s educational and research hub in Upper Manhattan.

Properties near Columbia are challenging to secure as the university owns much of the surrounding neighborhood. Given the competitive nature of Manhattan’s real-estate market, Christian Union leadership lionized the extraordinary acquisition, just a block from Columbia University’s massive Butler Library.

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Christian Union faculty members Ava Ligh, Bryant Parsons, Lane Young, and Jesse Peterson in front of their new ministry center at Columbia.

During the dedication ceremony, Lane Young, Christian Union’s ministry director at Columbia, prayed for the Christian Union Center to serve as a temple of God’s presence and a house of prayer. Click to Tweet In addition to functioning as a hub for Bible courses, discipleship, and meetings, Young also envisions the facility providing a secure, cozy hangout for students.

“All along, God has been orchestrating this,” said Young. “He has absolutely placed us in this location.”

After years of leasing office space on 110th Street, Columbia ministry fellows are relieved to have roomier facilities to accommodate their swelling contingent of 200-plus students.

Since Christian Union launched at Columbia University in 2011, ministry fellows have dealt with the space crunch within the densely populated area by opening their homes to students for Bible courses and meetings. At times, 100-plus students have stopped by the ministry director’s apartment to take part in events and meetings. 

During the brunch, Ministry Fellow Bryant Parsons was effusive at the prospect of faculty members being able to host simultaneous Bible course gatherings. “This is a tremendous blessing,” Parsons said. “In New York City, space is the issue.”

Yujin Kim ’19, student co-president of Christian Union at Columbia, agreed. The center will be “like a second home for a lot of people and a godly one, too.” As well, the ministry center will serve as a base for prayer gatherings. “It’s surreal,” said Juliet Lee ’21.

Located in the historic Morningside Heights neighborhood, the building was constructed in 1915 and includes a patio garden. The structure is divided into three units across five floors plus a basement. Christian Union occupies the unit comprising the basement plus first floor.

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Guests and Christian Union staff at the Christian Union Center.

For now, Christian Union plans to rent the remaining two units within the multi-family, walk-up building to offset the mortgage. Eventually, the ministry plans to raise additional funds to utilize the entire terraced-housing unit. Christian Union will be offering naming rights to new spaces.

The Christian Union Center is perfectly located one block from Butler Library and in the heart of student housing. Three undergraduate residential halls and five fraternities/sororities sit on the same block. Young was able to engage more new students in his first three days at the center than in the previous year of ministry. The incredible location of the building will be transformational for the ministry and for students’ lives.

The importance of the Christian Union Center was underscored by a tragic event just two days before the celebration. On October 11, a sophomore committed suicide in his residential hall on the same street. The young woman who discovered him was the roommate of a Christian Union student. Christian Union faculty were moved to tears, wishing that the young man had known the hope and future found in Jesus Christ. 

“It was a sober reminder of the critical need for His light in this hurting world,” said Bennett. 

Over the weekend, Bennett and Christian Union expressed gratitude for God’s grace in making this ministry center a reality, while also giving thanks for several donations, including a $700,000 matching gift by the BridgeHead Foundation. More than 250 financial partners, including the Stover Foundation and Glen and Betty Jean Knecht, helped support Christian Union’s efforts to move forward with the opportune purchase.

Of key significance, Peter and Linda Cline helped facilitate the matching gift from BridgeHead, where Peter Cline serves as a trustee. The Clines developed a heart for Christian Union while Adam Cline ’16 participated in the ministry as an undergraduate and athlete at Columbia University.

Peter Cline especially was touched as he watched his son, a member of Columbia’s baseball team, develop meaningful relationships with spiritual mentors and peers. “We appreciate the focused efforts to train leaders with biblical principles,” he said.

Likewise, Linda Cline expressed gratitude to Christian Union faculty for their tangible efforts to shepherd students. “They meet one on one with so many students who are wrestling with so many things,” she said.

The couple felt compelled to support the ministry center after learning of the momentum in Christian Union’s efforts to secure property in Columbia’s vibrant neighborhood.

The development mirrors Christian Union’s goals of providing practical resources to believers at top universities. Christian Union also operates ministry centers at Brown, Cornell, Princeton, and Yale universities.

As Adam Cline can attest, attending a top-tier university as a Christian can be a daunting task. To receive deep intellectual development in the Christian faith during undergraduate studies can be powerful.

The new ministry center offers an amazing setup and represents an answer to prayer, Cline said. “It’s going to be great to see where it goes,” he said.

Bennett said the Christian Union Center at Columbia will help bring transformation to the students and their spheres of influence. 

“Generations of influential students, faculty, and alumni will be emboldened and equipped to carry revival and cultural reformation to the university and the world,” he said.