The Ministry of Presence

January 22, 2024

For generations, Houghton students have been welcomed into an intentional, relational Christian community where they are invited to grow alongside one another into the women and men God has called them to be. This community doesn’t happen by accident, nor does it continue to flourish through the decades without the ongoing, purposeful development of those who lead and labor in the work of ministering to our students.

Katie Breitigan ’09, Houghton University’s Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life, is a hallmark example of the ways Houghton continues to equip aspiring scholar-servants for a lifetime of Kingdom impact they could never have dreamed possible.

Katie came to Houghton as a first-generation college student entirely unsure of her future. She wasn’t even sure what to expect at college, and it was only through her Accepted Students Weekend experience that Katie was convinced Houghton was the place she was called to be.

As a student, Katie immersed herself in every aspect of campus life, although that didn’t distract from her studies. Discovering a deep enjoyment in the courses and professors in the Communication and Ministry departments, she declared a dual major in Communication and Educational Ministry. When she combined her learning with two years’ hands-on experience as a Resident Assistant in Lambein Hall, Katie discovered what it meant to be a leader and to serve others in the context of a Christian community.

Katie began to refine her calling as she mentored with her Resident Director, Rachel (Paashaus ’07) Wright and Director of Residence Life Denise Bakerink ’83. After a rather disappointing youth ministry internship, Katie sought the guidance of Professor Michael Walters ’86, who helped her identify her passion for college students and reminded Katie that ministry doesn’t have to be in a traditional pastoral role. Denise suggested Katie consider a master’s degree in higher education focusing on student development and, along with Rachel’s encouragement, helped Katie realize that a role in student life could become a fulfilling career.

This foundational sense of vocational calling – combining Katie’s love of communication and ministry – provided a bedrock for the many ways she serves Houghton students today. “I view it as the Ministry of Presence,” Katie shares. “It’s a very broad description of a complicated job. I focus on being available, approachable and interruptible – always there to step into the need of the moment.”

Katie focuses much of her effort on team-building among her residence life staff, which includes Resident Directors, Assistant Resident Directors and Resident Assistants. “We’re here to both challenge and support students. And we are strategically placed to facilitate collaboration across campus departments. We’re not the experts; we’re the liaisons on the front lines, pointing students to the experts on campus who can help them navigate whatever they’re facing.”

Katie guides her residence life team in developing their own spiritual lives. She challenges them to grow intentionally in their walk with Christ, encouraging an authenticity in their relationships with the students with whom they work most closely. “They’re learning how to walk with their peers through difficult seasons, often while grappling with the same struggles. I’ve been challenging them, and myself, to rely on the promise found in Matthew 11:28. I like the way The Message presents part of this verse: ‘walk with Me and work with Me.’ In Christ, we are able to live freely, to slow down and be present before God, and to recognize our leadership positions as God’s work, in which we are just a vessel.”

Katie navigates her team through difficult moments, working with students in crisis, mentoring students who are struggling and encouraging students who are facing disappointments. The residence life team routinely encounters students at crossroads in their lives. “It’s worth it when we see students rewrite their narratives. We’re able to eventually celebrate their triumphs, and we have the privilege of knowing parts of their stories they don’t readily share with others. It makes days like Commencement really powerful.”

As Katie daily practices the Ministry of Presence, her impact is felt across campus. Relationships are built, peer-to-peer mentoring is inspired and a surprising community of intentional care flourishes. Future generations of scholar-servants are not only developing as teachers or accountants or doctors but growing as children of God prepared to minister to the needs of the people around them.

I focus on being available, approachable and interruptible – always there to step into the need of the moment.

Katie Breitigan ’09

Katie Breitigan is a graduate of Houghton University and holds a master’s degree in Higher Education and Student Development from Taylor University and a Doctorate of Restorative Theology: Trauma and Transformation from Evangelical Theological Seminary. Her dissertation was entitled “The Value of Theological Reciprocating Relationships within Faculty Pedagogy as a Response to Student Mental Health in Christian Higher Education.” She has over a decade of experience in student and residential life, including serving at Gordon College and Indiana Wesleyan University prior to her tenure at Houghton.