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Seminarian reflects on 2017 College Conference at Montreat experience

‘I arrived to the sound of bagpipes and left filled with hope’

 by Emily Enders Odom | Presbyterian News Service

 LOUISVILLE – The following is a reflection written by Beatrix Weil, who attended the 2017 College Conference at Montreat Conference Center, Jan. 2–5. Over 1,000 students attended the 2017 conference, titled “Beyond Babel.” Weil, a third-year student at Princeton Theological Seminary under care of the Presbytery of Long Island, participated in the conference’s special Seminarian Track, hosted by the PMA’s office of Christian Formation.


Beatrix Weil in the mountains above the Montreat Conference Center. (Photo provided)

The first thing I noticed when I exited the car was the sound of bagpipes. Welcome to College Conference at Montreat, where students descend each year for faith formation, fellowship, and the occasional tune from that beloved Scottish instrument. I took the music as a personal welcome, as this was my first Montreat experience. Ironically, I was not there as a college student, but rather as a seminarian seeking wisdom from those who lead college ministries. I had the honor and privilege of attending this conference as a member of the Seminarian Track under the Rev. Dr. Jason Brian Santos and the Rev. Dr. Tammy Wiens of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA).

While the college students meditated on the Tower of Babel and revolutionary love, their ministers, chaplains, and leaders met for some learning of their own. Santos and Wiens hosted two events for the leaders that provided opportunities to network, share resources, chat, and sample various caffeinated drinks concocted by the seminarians. There, I learned about the wide range of resources available for college ministries that sign up as members of the UKirk network (

(From left:) Calista Malone, Shannon Schmidt, Beatrix Weil and Mara Sawdy served as Student Assistants at GA222 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo provided)

Many aspects of my Montreat experience give me hope for the Presbyterian Church, such as worshipping with a thousand enthusiastic college students and hearing the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II discuss modern reformation. Sipping coffee at the UKirk events with the leaders who brought students to Montreat was no different. Their faithfulness, energy, and commitment to God’s will gives me hope for the future. Beyond this, seeing Santos’ and Wiens’ passion for resourcing these leaders gives me hope as well. UKirk provides resources ranging from grants and service ideas to a daily devotional app and a lectionary-based liturgy book. God is using Santos and Wiens to empower college ministry leaders to answer God’s call, and I am thankful for their work because I believe God has called me to work with college students too.

After the coffee mugs were washed and the last minister left the gathering, those on the Seminarian Track heard from Santos and Wiens themselves. Santos built on an earlier lesson on the various college ministry models by telling us about different ways we might discern our own calls. Wiens taught us an Ignatian method of decision-making, and we all shared our call narratives. Santos and Wiens asked questions that helped us think deeper about the ways God has been speaking to us. I know we all have a lot to consider following this conference, and I am grateful for the guidance and wisdom I received on the Seminarian Track.

Overall, I would call my first visit to Montreat a success. I arrived to the sound of bagpipes and left filled with hope. As I now apply for full-time campus ministry positions, I feel that I have a better understanding of what lies ahead, and how I can hear God’s guidance to get there. I am thankful for the experience and I hope to visit Montreat again.


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