Nine members of EPIC spent the first weekend of April in San Francisco. Along with eight students from the University of Washington and chaplains and students from a total of nine universities, we converged on Church of the Holy Innocents for two days of conversations, learning, prayer, and sightseeing. This was “ProvGat”: affectionate shorthand for a gathering of college students from all over Province VIII—that is, the Episcopal Church in the westernmost states.
Tommy Tubbs: “I really appreciated being able to meet people from different campus and different backgrounds. I also appreciated learning how other campus ministries work, and what makes EPIC different from other groups, as well as what we can learn from them.”
Right away, we learned one thing in particular that makes EPIC different. Rather than being based on a campus, with a chapel or dedicated meeting space to call our own, EPIC is based at the congregation of St. Paul’s two miles from campus, and most of EPIC’s members are also members of the church. While there is no one right way to run a campus ministry, consensus among EPIC is that we like being an extension of St. Paul’s, and that inviting people to church as well as to our on-campus meetings is just part of what we do.
Rebekah Gregg: “[This weekend was all about] having my eyes opened to seeing God in all the things and people around me, as well as feeling God’s presence during the adventures in and outside of Holy Innocents … also being able to walk in the shoes of other Episcopal college students.”
Our keynote speaker for the weekend was the Rev. Dr. Paula Nesbitt, who on Friday night presented us with a quick history of the meetings of Anglican bishops around the world at Lambeth Palace. She explained that up until very recently, the way our bishops gather and conduct business has been saddled with Western assumptions that do not accurately encompass the breadth of cultures present among Anglicans. On Saturday she introduced us to Indaba, a process for meeting and making decisions that a group of African bishops brought to the last Lambeth gathering. She commended it to us as another way for groups to come to consensus and to grow in intimacy and community together.
Meredith Bee: “The San Francisco weekend allowed me to reconnect with the other college students from around the province and renew my understanding as what it means to be an Episcopalian in the greater church. It redeveloped a sense of belonging to the larger campus ministry community and to the church as a whole.”
On Saturday afternoon we also presented our own workshops. I attended a workshop on various ways to welcome students to campus and to our ministry groups. Jon Fedele and Jessalyn Rogers of EPIC presented a workshop called “Building Bridges Between Campus and Congregation.” They asked the group to consider the ministries they have become involved in not on campus, but in a congregation. Jon talked about his work with the Alms Ministry at St. Paul’s, while Jessalyn shared some of her experiences in the choir. Members of other groups spoke of completing service projects, wrangling young acolytes, and playing handbells.
One common theme in this conversation was college students’ appreciation for the church as an intergenerational community. Indeed, for the past two years I’ve heard EPIC students keep coming back to this as a big reason why they love St. Paul’s so much. The wisdom of elders has a tendency to make one’s college years at least a little less stressful—and to ground the experience of college in the larger world.
Jon Fedele: “Seeing all the young adults in the chapel singing together in San Francisco is a sight I’ll not soon forget. There are other Episcopal millennials out there, and I felt God at work when we made music together.”
There really is something about going to a different church, even if it’s in the same denomination. And while the benefits of an intergenerational congregation are numerous, there’s something special about praying with people who are at a similar stage of life. One grad student preached the sermon on Saturday, and students from various campuses took on liturgical ministries as we prayed together throughout the weekend. On Sunday morning, this particular congregation had hung little bells on all the pews. It became clear to us that whenever we heard the word “alleluia,” we were to ring a bell. What a fun way to observe the season of Easter!
Anna Ortung: “San Francisco showed me more of what it is like to live as a part of the body of Christ. Going to church is one thing, but there was something special about seeing so many people my age and in similar places in their lives gathering in the name of the Lord.”
We came away with new and renewed friendships, a new sense of purpose for EPIC, and a new commitment to enjoy the presence of newcomers to our group. I am so grateful to Province VIII for this annual event, for my own sake and for the sake of the students with whom I do ministry.