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Seminary students serve up a hot cup at College Conference

Potential campus ministers gather in Montreat to explore calling to collegiate ministry

by Emily Enders Odom | Presbyterian News Service

Paige Maconochie, a student at Columbia Seminary, and Leigh DeVries, a student at Princeton Seminary, prepare to serve campus ministers during the 2017 College Conference at Montreat. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

MONTREAT – If every waiter is said to be an aspiring actor, might every barista somehow be a future campus minister?

Such was almost certainly the case at last week’s College Conference at Montreat, where on Wednesday morning, Jan. 4, some 30 campus ministers from across the country were served their morning coffee by a group of keenly interested and highly motivated seminary students.

The seven seminarians—hailing from Columbia, Princeton, and Louisville seminaries—were attending the conference as participants in a special Seminarian Track created in 2015 by the conference planning team at Montreat, when the Rev. Dr. Jason Brian Santos, Mission Coordinator for Christian Formation and National Director of UKirk for the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA), was invited to host a group of seminarians interested in discerning a call to collegiate ministry.

Sam Turpen, a student at Columbia Theological Seminary, with Jason Santos, Mission Coordinator for Christian Formation and National Director of UKirk for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, at the College Conference at Montreat. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

“I’m hosting the Seminarian Track in this house,” Santos reminded all of those who had gathered for a UKirk Roundtable at Montreat Conference Center’s Galax House. “We eat together here and have several formal conversations around discernment and call and how each of the seminarians’ gifts might contribute to campus ministry. These are your future colleagues. They’re here to learn, and to find out if this is something for them.”

The 2017 conference entitled, “Beyond Babel,” based on Genesis 11:1-9—for which over 1,000 college students and their advisors gathered from Jan. 2–5—was designed to help participants see in the ancient biblical text “how God gave an ancient people a holy nudge towards diversity,” while at the same time challenging them to consider how God is similarly nudging God’s people today.

As attendees at the Jan. 4 gathering heard updates on the latest happenings in UKirk—the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s collegiate ministries network—from Santos and the Rev. Dr. Tammy Wiens, the PMA’s new associate for Christian Formation, the seminarians paid careful attention.

Beatrix Anne Weil (left), a student at Princeton Seminary, meets with Rev. Kathryn Campbell of UKirk Greensboro (NC) during the 2017 College Conference at Montreat. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

“My primary focus is campus ministry,” said Sam Turpen of Birmingham, Alabama, a first-year student at Columbia Seminary and an inquirer under care of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley. “At first I wanted to be a career counselor on a college campus, but then it transformed into something different. I’ve been interested in college work for a long time. I think campuses are formative places for change.”

Santos said that a few of the seminarians—including Leigh DeVries, a student at Princeton Seminary—are given the opportunity to teach workshops, while others help with different aspects of the conference, such as registration.

“My hope for the track is that it will help seminarians discern early on if collegiate ministry is a good fit for them,” said Santos, “and begin shaping how they think about this type of ministry.”


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