“Where were you when you first realized that the world was about to shut down?” – a message from UKirk SMU campus minister, Rev. Jessie Light-Wells
I was sitting around a table with six college students after our weekly worship service. It was March 11, 2020. Friends from Northridge Presbyterian Church had made a homemade meal for us, and the conversation turned toward COVID-19, an infectious disease that was just breaking into our awareness.
One student shared that his plans to go abroad over the summer had been abruptly canceled and that he’d have to completely re-envision his research project. Another received a text during dinner that her spring break trip was off. Disappointment and fear hung heavy over the table. This was the last meal we would share together before the world shut down. A week later, I wondered if UKirk SMU would make it through the summer.
We were seven months old when the world shut down. A dream had become a reality, and UKirk SMU, our brand new PC(USA) campus ministry at Southern Methodist University, was gaining traction. But could we survive a pandemic? I doubted it.
With seemingly nothing to lose, we pivoted quickly. We began gathering on Zoom for our weekly worship. We celebrated a graduating senior with a virtual party. We elected a student leadership team, which consisted of nearly all of the students who had been active during our first year.
As the school year ended and mass protests began throughout the country, we took to social media and gave away anti-racism books to over 50 students who sought to learn and grow. Our newly formed board of directors jumped into action over the summer to file our tax-exempt paperwork and to dream about the year to come, a year in which hybrid ministry and masks and social distancing would make community-building extraordinarily difficult. Perhaps foolishly, we never stopped to consider whether or not our work should continue.
When the world shut down, UKirk SMU kept going. It was only hope that led us forward, only the Holy Spirit that sustained us.
We were a new, small, Presbyterian campus ministry trying to grow during a global pandemic on a large campus saturated with more than 30 larger, more historic campus ministries. We had five committed students and a new Board of Directors, which might as well have been five loaves and two fish.
When the world shut down, the triune God said, “keep going.”
As we move into 2021, we are beginning to see the fruits of our labor. UKirk SMU has more than quadrupled in size! Through worship and bible study, meals on picnic blankets, and socially-distanced centering prayer, students have found a home in UKirk. More than ever before, students are longing for community, for a place to belong. UKirk has been the antidote to isolation and loneliness, the laboratory for social justice and deep discipleship, the home for many who have been seeking a space to bring their full selves.
I give thanks for UKirk SMU’s growth, but more than anything I give thanks for a God who says, “keep going.” I give thanks for foolish hope and the grace upon grace that meets us in the Word made flesh. I give thanks for the support of the community of saints in Grace Presbytery and beyond who have dreamed with us and given us the resources to keep going.
As we begin to see glimpses of a world reawakened, I hope we will remember the miracles that have taken place, even when the world shut down. I pray we will carry forward the lessons we’ve learned and the intentionality we’ve cultivated. I expect that we will have some deep reckoning to do as we face the suffering, grief, and loss we’ve endured. Amidst it all, God calls us to keep going, and so we will.