Back at home in Wausau, WI, my family is a part of a medium-sized Presbyterian…
From my background, I attended church every Sunday. As a kid, I went because my parents brought me, as I imagine maybe was the case for some of you. This changed as I got older and chose to be a part of our church’s youth group. My relationship to church shifted most dramatically as I headed to college. When I told members of my home congregation in Minneapolis that I would be attending UW-Madison, I recall being encouraged by multiple people: “Check out Pres House!” I knew I intended to be connected with a spiritual community on campus but I did not know what that would look like in this new environment.
What was this place called Pres House? I knew it was a campus ministry affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, but in my perception, that doesn’t capture the essence of what Pres House is. When I arrived at my first Sunday worship, I was greeted by students beckoning me in with their smiles through the doors of the chapel. I was then welcomed by Erica, and when I mentioned I was a first-year student, she enthusiastically encouraged me to come to Freshman Connection, the small group for first-year students.
I debated going that first week. General Chemistry homework had already started to pile up and doubts about my time management skills seeped into my mind. Let’s just say I made the right choice showing up that Tuesday evening. Our freshman small group was undoubtedly one of the most impactful community experiences I have had to date. We came together as strangers more or less those first couple of weeks, but we were all bonded by our shared decision to accept the invitation and come through the open door. What evolved during the coming months was a space of friendship, trust, and care. It was safe to express our ideas, questions, and doubts knowing we were heard and appreciated for all of who we are. Not to mention the many moments of laughter, dancing, and silliness that stick with me almost two years later. Reflecting on my experiences from my first time here until now, I feel that Pres House is an open door with possibilities for connection to be discovered inside.
I will always remember our last small group dinner in March 2020, right before they sent us home. Though we had no idea what was coming, what we did know was that we were confronting many unknowns…together. We had committed to show up for one another. The relationships we cultivated in Freshman Connection reflect in many ways what Nii shared last week. We learned what it was like to be a neighbor to one another. And we also learned what it was like to have a neighbor to support us. The legacy of that year’s Freshman Connection lives on within the individuals but also in Pres House as a whole. Many who were a part of that first-year group are student leaders in this community today. We have experienced the power of being and having a neighbor, and now find ourselves called to invite others through the open door we once entered for the first time as strangers.
You may not have been encouraged to check out Pres House from people at your home church. Maybe you don’t even know if a spiritual community is for you. Maybe you are looking for new friends after a hard and isolating year and a half. Perhaps you have questions about your faith or you want to explore how you can share your gifts within a supportive community. Unraveling all of these possibilities is like pulling apart the cinnamon roll of riddles Jesus poses in the Gospels. Whether you are considering coming to Freshman Connection, another small group, or Sunday worship, you are invited to discover for yourself why Pres House is a home for so many. The door is open. Thank you.