Almost exactly three years ago we took back the basement at Pres House from a Subway restaurant that had been renting the space for a number of years. While the income from Subway was necessary to cover costs associated with our 2007 renovation of the Pres House Chapel, we were glad to reclaim the space back for mission and ministry. Shortly after regaining the space a major renovation of the basement began, transforming the basement into what is now known as Lower Hall and the Conger Meeting Room.
This project, dubbed, “Bring Back the Basement,” was made possible through the generosity of 183 donors who gave more than $700,000 to install a commercial kitchen, renovate the hall, and provide programming funds to engage in ministry in the new space. As we remember the anniversary of this exciting moment in Pres House history we are pleased to share with you an update on how Lower Hall has been used since it opened in May, 2015.
In the infographic above you will find some highlights for how Lower Hall and the Conger Meeting Room have been used in the past few years. The renovated hall and kitchen has made it possible for 10,000 meals to be cooked and/shared, countless programs to be offered to students on campus, and many partnerships to flourish and bear fruit. We hope you are encouraged to see all that has been happening in the “new” space. We wish to extend a great big “Thank you!” to all of the folks helped us to “Bring Back the Basement” and better serve the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual growth of students at UW–Madison.
Pastor Mark & Pastor Erica
P.S. We invite you to consider making a year-end donation to Pres House to help us serve even more students in 2018. You can make a one-time gift or set up a recurring donation online, or mail donations to 731 State St., Madison, WI 53703. Thank you!
Jenni Geurink graduated in December 2017 from UW Madison. She shared this reflection at Sunday Worship (12/10/17) about the importance of Christian community.
I didn’t know if I was going to go to church in college, but still I followed the sidewalk and soon found myself in Pres House. That first Sunday I sat next to Billie not knowing that she was soon to become one of my best friends throughout college. But, my freshman year didn’t go exactly as planned. I was doing all the normal freshman things- making tons of friends, eating all the pizza of my heart’s content and loving my studies, but I was also really sick. At the end of high school, I found myself dealing with a myriad of chronic health problems that no one knew how to fix, and then suddenly, I was also transitioning into college.
My body didn’t handle it so well. Over my first week of classes my biggest concern was not whether I’d like my professor or if I’d make any new friends- instead, I had to make sure that the stranger sitting next to me would be able to help me if I had seizures during class, that I wouldn’t cause a seen if I had an episode. I felt so incredibly alone in a world full of uncertainty. But I also didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want people to know I was sick because I didn’t want to be defined by my illness. So, as things got harder, I was determined to keep distance from the communities I had joined. As Erica loves to share, when she asked me to join the freshman small group, I actually took to time to email her back and tell her no, that small group just really wasn’t for me.
I wanted to keep all this anxiety and fear all to myself, but my body had other ideas. There were a couple tough weeks where I found myself in an ambulance more often than not, having very public seizures despite my stubborn belief that I could prevent them if I just tried hard enough. I withdrew from the communities I had found. I missed a lot of class, ghosted many of my friends, and holed myself up in my dorm room afraid of the control my body seemed to have over my life.
But Pres House wouldn’t let me go. Billie knew I was struggling and despite my seclusion, she reached out to the Deacon team here. On one of my many trips to the ER, I was admitted overnight, but while I was there, a card from Pres House made its way to me. It had some silly quote about peas in a pod wishing me “get well,” signed with hopeful messages from the community, many who didn’t even know me. And I was completely overwhelmed. With gratitude, with confusion. I didn’t understand why they would reach out to me, why they cared when I had so obviously disappeared. And for the first time in long while, I really felt God’s presence. I backed away from this community when I needed it most, but God didn’t leave me; God sent this whole community roaring back, unwilling to let me go through this alone. That card meant so much to me. It blanketed me in God’s love, dragging me out of my isolation because someone out there cared- it still hangs on my wall today. It was here that I learned the incredible value of community even when I didn’t want to acknowledge it myself. I needed the push, the not so gentle reminder that I can’t always be the one who helps, that I need to learn to accept help too.
Looking back now, it’s almost comical to see how quickly Pres House has become such a big part of my life, a fixture of my undergraduate career and anchoring point. After those dark months, I have felt called to give back to this community that has given me so much, to extend the same gesture to others and still ask for help when I need it too. This is all to say, that a simple message, a card, a hug, a coffee buddy can transform someone’s experience. I am humbled by the grace that was extended to me and constantly reminded of the message of Two plus. We talk about it every week, but think about it- wherever two or more are gathered, God is there. Even when you feel like you are completely alone, God is there with you, in the people around you, in the stubborn love of a community. I have seen God here in Pres House, and I know I wouldn’t be the same without it.
This is a cool drone video showing just how central Pres House is on the UW-Madison campus. Steps away from Bascom Hall, Memorial Union, the Terrace, and State St.
Chris Sundahl is a graduate student at UW Madison. He shared this story at Sunday Worship on October 29th during a sermon series, “Questions On Our Mind: Where does it hurt?”
When I arrived in Madison in 2013, I did a bit of church-shopping. At one of those churches, I picked up a couple of friends that I wanted to talk about today. This church ran a snail-mail-based Bible study course with prisoners, and a few of them had included notes in their correspondence that they’d like a penpal to talk about their faith and the Bible with, and also help them through the times they were having. Being young and invincible and extremely eager to talk about my faith (since I was new to Christianity), I thought it was a good idea to take BOTH of these letters, and start writing to them, on top of all the coursework I had coming at me.
Nick and Josh are both white men in their late twenties, locked up for doing different things. Both had lost touch with many of their friends after being locked up, and I was one of the few people they had consistent contact with. Though I’d only write once a month or so, they’d always write back within a week of receiving my letter. We’d exchange little paragraphs about our lives, and talk about Bible verses and stuff. Nick sent me a lot of poetry and drawings. From the start, they wanted me to visit them. When you see the same people every day, I imagine one or two hours a week with someone else can be nice. I was cleared to visit pretty quickly, but both of them were past Beaver Dam, making it hard, since I don’t have a car. So we kept sending letters for a while.
I sent Josh a letter in November of 2014, after a year of correspondence, and then didn’t hear from him for several months. I figured he was “ghosting” me in analog, that maybe he didn’t really want to carry on the conversation. So I didn’t think about it too much, and carried on with my coursework. Then, after 9 months or so of silence, I got a letter from Josh. “If this letter finds you, let me know right away cause I have a lot of stuff that I would like to share with you!” he said. “I had a falling away from the Lord. But thank God! The Spirit is still strong enough to convict me to make my way back.” The next letter is missing from my records, but I remember that when I mentioned that I thought the lack of response was a signal to quit, he said it was the opposite. He said he’d rather I had written when I noticed his extended silence. He spent the next few months recovering from this slump. “My faith is not going well,” he wrote in December. “I don’t know what my problem is man, I do so good for a while but then continually fall back into the slump that I am in.” He was never very specific about the problem and I didn’t press for details, but writing the letters seemed to help him a lot. In that same letter, he said “wow I don’t want to be the old me anymore. I have to remind myself that I am remade. I really think this letter has helped. You know how you can just bury feelings that you don’t want to feel, so writing them down just lets me know what I have to do in order to fix it.” His tone totally turns around at the end of the letter, full of smiley faces and Bruce Lee quotes. “I’m going to go study [the Bible] right away. Thank you for being here for me to write, it truly helps me tremendously,” he writes. And all I had to do was write a letter!
In 2015 or 2016, I finally visited both of them, planning short day trips to the area. It was pretty awkward, as you might imagine. We were used to having days or weeks to respond to each other, and here it was a completely different mode of communication. Nick was a chatter box, filling up the two hours pretty quickly. My visit with Josh coincided with his dad’s, so I felt a bit like an intruder. That one felt a little bit longer. But it was nice to put a face and a voice to the names and handwriting of my friends.
A little bit after that, when maintaining two friendships by mail felt like it was getting a little harder, we switched to phone calls. It still wasn’t easy – settling in to a Saturday morning breakfast when you get a call you weren’t expecting and won’t be able to return, it’s a conscious decision to pick up the call instead of carrying on, especially if you’re like me and don’t enjoy having your plans disrupted, even by good things. But I usually picked up, so I heard about it when Nick got assigned to a job in Milwaukee near his family and friends, and when Josh severed his patella twice and needed to talk to someone about how slow his treatment was.
Now, Nick is still locked up, but we haven’t had a phone call in months. He gets visits from friends and family at work now on a regular basis, and his supervisor lends him a smartphone while he’s there. He posts on Facebook all the time now, and I have an occasional Message chat with him. He’s got less than a year left before he can go home on parole.
Josh was released in September, just as he was starting to walk around again. I missed the last call he made, and I haven’t heard from him since. I’m not sure how to get in touch with him, and I’m not sure he’ll contact me – he’s near his family and friends again, and he was planning on getting involved at a church as soon as he was out. He’s immersed in the bustle of the world again, and I’m not sure how high of a priority it is for him to contact me.
Have I learned anything from all this? I’m not really sure. I’ve been thinking about “building muscles”, as Erica says so often, and I put this at least partly in that category. Even though there might not be that many specific things I learned: “check in if they don’t write back for a month”, “pick up the phone at breakfast”, it’s more just something I’ve gotten used to doing. By building these relationships and putting time into them, seeing a side of life I might never have seen otherwise, I’m hoping that collectively and individually we’re becoming more of the people that God wants us to be.
Nick let me know when I Facebook chatted him that he knows at least a couple of people that could use a penpal. If you think that’s something you’d like to do, you can let me know.
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