Thad Holcombe retires from Ecumenical Campus Ministries

When asked whether or not he’d ever considered a ‘normal’ job, Thad Holcombe just laughs.


Thad Holcombe. Contributed photo/KANSAN

“No, I love this one so much,” Holcombe said. “It isn’t ‘normal’ but it’s cool.”

Holcombe, minister of Ecumenical Campus Ministries at the University of Kansas since 1991, will be retiring this month, leaving behind a legacy of community and social justice. Gustin Bova, a student leader at the ECM, describes Holcombe as a “beneficent hustler,” and it’s not hard to see why.

“Thad has contributed a love and passion for humanity and justice that he just can’t keep to himself,” said Jillian Strobel, a recent graduate. “It’s gone viral.”

Professor of Environmental Studies Kelly Kindscher said Holcombe has given students an opportunity to get involved with issues that are important to them. Veggie Lunch, Alternative Breaks, the Fair Trade Committee, Faith Forum and the Sexuality Education Committee are several of the student-led groups held at ECM addressing those issues. For Holcombe, faith has a lot to do with the questions brought up by these issues.

“There’s always going to be more questions,” Holcombe said. “If you ever get settled, I get worried!”

It was at the Faith Forum, a weekly open faith discussion, that recent graduate Cody Jackson got to know Holcombe better.

“To see how radically accepting he is as a human being and the effect he has in the community — I don’t think can be overstated, because this is a radical place,” said Jackson.

Amy Thompson, a junior, remembers being immediately welcomed by Holcombe the first time she attended the Thursday Veggie Lunch as a freshman.

“I told him I was an atheist,” Thompson said. “I was kind of testing him to see if he would, like, shun me or something. To Thad, I was a person, not just an atheist.”

Ali Free, a junior, says that Holcombe talks about his faith in a way that doesn’t exclude any other belief.

“It’s a big part of why he does what he does, and how he sees the world,” Free said. “I’m not a Christian, but I feel so comfortable here. I feel like we can share the same values and act on things for similar reasons, and it’s wonderful.”

For Holcombe, even a conversation can reflect God.  He says he’s felt that presence throughout his time at ECM.

“A lot of students come in here not because they’re looking for God, but because they want to engage and do something about the concerns that they have,” Holcombe said. “For me that’s the moving of the spirit.”

The 108-year heritage of ECM won’t end with Holcombe’s retirement, although it’s clear he will be dearly missed as a friend and leader.

“He is leaving us with a legacy of resilience, resistance and the know-how to move forward,” said Strobel.

  • Updated May. 1, 2013 at 1:42 am
  • Edited by Alyssa Scott
  • Bruce S. Springsteen

    Thad’s humanism ennobles his theism.

  • Josh Magariel

    During my years at KU, at the ECM, and Koinonia, Thad was the heart and center of this community. He made me feel like I was a member of his family and at home at the ECM. Thad taught me about the power of curiosity, acceptance, activism, and the hearth. He will forever be a role model. I wish him the best of luck in his new chapter in life. You’re loved, Thad. Keep up the good work.