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Montreat College Conference calls students ‘home’

2018 event looks at life and scriptures ‘with an eye towards a just future’

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — With “home” as its theme, the 2018 Montreat College Conference (Jan. 2–5) urged students and their ministry leaders to consider the many ways the word “home” impacts their lives. “What makes a place home? What does it mean to leave home? What does it mean to feel like you don’t have a home?” the conference introduction asked. What about those who do not have a home and cry out for justice and mercy?

Over 1,000 attendees wrestled with these and other questions during the four-day event at the Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina. Along with worship, outdoor activities and affinity gatherings, attendees were assigned to one of three “critical conversation groups” to discuss and work toward implementation of ideas presented in plenary sessions.

Keynote speaker the Rev. Becca Stevens brought her message of social change as seen through the experiences of the Thistle Farms-Magdalene community. The author and Episcopal priest founded Thistle Farms-Magdalene in 1977 to serve women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction.

The Rev. Rick Ufford-Chase, Moderator of the 216th General Assembly (2004) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and associate director for interfaith formation for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, presented a plenary session at the conference.

The Rev. Denise Anderson, Co-Moderator of the General Assembly, was scheduled to preach during worship services but due to a medical emergency did not attend. In her stead, Co-Moderator the Rev. Jan Edmiston attended and preached.

Collegiate ministries personnel from the Presbyterian Mission Agency hosted a UKirk leaders gathering and a seminary track intended to assist those discerning a call to ministry.

Tammy Weins, mission coordinator for UKirk Collegiate Ministries, said, “It’s the time of the year UKirk leaders tell me they feel most connected to their students.”

“The big takeaway is how important it is to connect campus pastors to one another,” she said. “They give a lot of themselves to their students and they really want to be in conversation with other people who are doing that same work, those who get what they’re going through.”

Weins said many of the discussions she observed involved the topic of divisiveness in public dialogue and how college students are learning to find their voice in a polarized environment.

“The conference highlighted that we are at our best as a church and as individuals when we are in conversation with people who are different than us,” she said. “It’s a really hard time to keep those conversations going because they so quickly turn intense. We really need to recover the tools for having a conversation where it’s OK to see things differently and still feel safe. That it’s OK to disagree.”

The Rev. Jason Santos, mission coordinator for Christian formation at the PC(USA), agrees that college students are having a harder time finding areas of common dialogue, adding that they also have a much more difficult time looking forward to careers, which is where campus ministry provides a boost in vocational guidance.

“Twenty or 30 years ago you graduated from your undergrad and that was it, you had completed your education and were pretty much prepared for the work you’d do the rest of your life,” he said. “Students today go through college and don’t know what they’re going to do, they don’t know how to operate, so many apply to graduate school and continue the process. There’s a sense of ‘I’m not ready, I’m not ready. I’m not ready.’

“That’s where campus provides, particularly in the tradition of the Presbyterian Church, vocational discernment. It provides a more theologically oriented lens for how they might exist in the world.”

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