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God’s Grace in Action ~ Nathan Burwell

Nathan Burwell shared this reflection on May 3rd, 2020 at Graduation Sunday Part II. You can also watch or listen to it.

First of all, I would just like to thank Mark and Erica, as well as the entire Pres House staff for the encouragement, support, and friendship I’ve received over the past couple of years. I’m also looking forward to having some connection with Pres House once I move away from Madison. As I think about my connection to Pres House, I recall that I first became interested in what Pres House had to offer when I received a postcard in the mail before I moved to Madison. From this invitation to attend events, I could tell that Pres House was clearly interested in supporting graduate students. I have a feeling that many campus communities sometimes forget that graduate students have a strong need to connect on a spiritual level with other students and leaders.

Upon first visiting Madison in the summer of 2018, I remember walking down State Street and seeing a number of students who were handing out food and supplies to the homeless. To me, this was a unique experience of how God was at work not only at UW-Madison, but also in the larger community. Having a chance to see God’s love and compassion at work through these students reinforced my feelings that UW-Madison is an environment where social justice is not just talked about, but put into action on street corners and in doorways.

Being part of the Pres House community has given me my first opportunity to choose a faith community on my own. Previously, I’ve been fortunate to have a strong faith community in both the Presbyterian and Lutheran faith traditions. While these have been strong loving connections to a community, they have also been traditions chosen by my parents. At Pres House, I’ve had opportunities to branch out and try new faith-bases activities I never would have thought of doing in the past, such as the fall retreat. Being an introvert, this was a step out of my comfort zone. Still, I found this to be a great experience, and I encourage everyone to give it a try.

When I first arrived in Madison, I’ll admit that I felt somewhat isolated. I felt like I had nowhere to begin. Pres House turned out to be a perfect place to start connecting with kind, loving people who came from very diverse backgrounds. I felt totally accepted for who I was and appreciated where other people came from, including both undergraduate and graduate students. I wasn’t judged for how much or how little I participated in activities. Instead, I was clearly accepted for who I am as an individual.

As I look back over my two years at UW-Madison, I imagine God would say, “This feeling of acceptance is something you can carry with you for the rest of your life.” God would also say, “Keep exploring your faith, strive to give back to others, and know that the hard times will pass.” Advice I would pass on to others in the community would be to be forgiving and kind to yourself. Also, if you find yourself questioning your spiritual life, know that that is OK. Know that the questions you may have can lead to a deeper understanding of God’s ultimate plan for you. Also know you can go to Pres House with your joys, challenges, and questions at any time. You will never be judged by the staff or by your fellow students. When you do leave Madison and your experiences at Pres House, remember that there are always more communities of faith who are looking forward to what you can offer in bringing compassion and understanding to their communities. Whether you are continuing your studies at UW-Madison or moving on to another place, your faith journey is an ever-evolving gift from God.

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