Of all the churches where I have worshiped as a minister or as a member, only one has more college students than does St. James. Since I started serving this congregation in June, I am not sure that I fully appreciated this fact until mid-August when a big chunk of the congregation suddenly disappeared.
At that time, I had a conversation with Melissa Shunk, whose daughter was departing for Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA, which resulted in a new small group being formed. While St. James has a wonderful tradition of reaching out to its college students, there seems to be space in our congregational life for gathering the parents of college students on a regular basis.
Yesterday, after worship, in its inaugural meeting, this group ate lunch together at a local Mexican restaurant. Our agenda was simple: 1) to check-in with each other and 2) to consider ways in which we may help college students to still feel connected to the church.
The stories that we shared around the table were drenched with love and hope. Like parents in all faith traditions everywhere, we love our children, want what is best for them, entrust them to God’s care and hope for the best.
As a member of this group whose one and only daughter started her freshman year this fall, I am aware that grief is part of the equation, though I can quickly think my way out of any rabbit hole I am tempted to explore, because, in the end, I am grateful that she is attending the college of her choice and that she seems to be feeling great about her decision.
I am glad that this small group is starting at St. James for this generation of parents. Perhaps it will be there for the next generation of parents, as it is not difficult to imagine patterns of graduation, anxiety and grief repeating themselves.
More importantly, I hope that this group will build on St. James’ tradition of supporting its college students. As students pass through this transient time in their lives, it has to feel good knowing that St. James is here for them.
I hope that the church will continue to add small groups, because in such settings, relationships thrive. I understand that all that some people are looking for in a congregation is a place to worship on Sundays; for some folks, good music and/or good preaching once per week is enough, and I pray that they find all of the above at St. James.
Other people, however, crave spiritual depth that cannot be reduced to a meme, a praise chorus or a pithy saying, and in small groups, such people find depth and meaning and feel that they belong.
I encourage you to be thinking and praying about how we may serve God, each other and our neighbors through the small groups that we establish at St. James. If you have a bright idea, then please, please share it. I believe that there are more Melissa Shunk’s in the congregations whose ideas will be appreciated and thus will make a difference in the church and the world now and for years to come.