Unexpected encounters with faith and piglets

Editorial Note: What’s life like on the campus of a Presbyterian Church-related college or university? Who better to ask than a recent graduate? The three winners of the 2012 Presbyterian Outlook Church-College Partnership Award have written about how their respective schools have prepared them for a life of significant service and leadership.

Warren Wilson College was founded by a Presbyterian minister. Not many students know that and far fewer choose to come to this college because of its Christian roots. I, like many at WWC, came because I fell in love with the baby pigs at the student-operated farm. I was also drawn to the college’s promise of hard work, academic excellence and deep care for others and the world. Somewhat ironically, I am leaving Warren Wilson with a greater sense of what it is like to be in communion with Christians than what it is like to be in communion with baby pigs.

I was raised by two ministers, one of whom is Presbyterian. Needless to say, the community of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been a prominent and formative one all throughout my life. Many of my friends were made at church. Many of the important adult role models in my life are ministers and leaders in the church. During the first few weeks of my freshman year, the friends that I made did not go to church. I attended worship at the campus chapel for a while, but eventually felt that I was going out of habit rather than with any real belief or personal conviction. “Maybe,” I thought, “the reason I enjoyed church at home was really all about the people who were at my church.” If it was good people I was seeking, the easier choice was to sleep in on Sundays and go to brunch with my friends.

For a while, I was content with this apathetic attitude towards my faith. My school work, volunteering and social life kept me sufficiently occupied. That was when Warren Wilson’s Director of Spiritual Life, Leah McCullough, challenged me by asking me to join the G.D. Davidson Roundtable Committee. The purpose of this committee was to plan an event for the student body centered around faith and vocation. I agreed to be a part of the planning because at the time I did not know how to graciously decline. However, brainstorming and meeting with my fellow committee members, I felt a familiar spark of connection somewhere inside me. I found a new element in this group of Christians that was lacking in my other groups of friends. I have come to identify that element as a hope for a vision beyond my own limited understanding of the world. In short it, was a belief in a human bond rooted in a common faith in Jesus Christ.

I believe my faith has played a role in my choice of major and that my faith has developed in the time I have spent in college. Since freshman year, I participated in the Emmaus group, Warren Wilson’s ecumenical Christian fellowship. During my sophomore year I worked as a member of the Spiritual Life work crew and began giving up some of my Sunday rest to rest in another way by attending church services. I am graduating with a bachelor’s degree in social work and will continue my education by working on my Master of Social Work degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, beginning in May. I have learned that faith is not something that one does alone. My work as a social worker allows me to actively help and empower others which I believe to be a main message of Jesus’. Creating community is a particular passion of mine because I know how greatly support systems impact the lives of individuals. My community of faith gives me support for the work I do by sharing in my joys and grieving my sorrows with me. Though I still struggle to be the person of faith that I so desire to be, I take comfort in the knowledge that I do not walk through life alone. My time with the faith community I found at Warren Wilson is ending, but the insight I have gained into my own Presbyterian practice will persist as I seek to build community elsewhere. I may have been drawn into college by the lure of a litter of piglets, but I am being led out with faith as my guide and a cloud of witnesses to support me on my path.

Abigail Bissette, of Durham, N.C., earned a Bachelor of Social Work degree. She has enrolled in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Advanced Standing Master of Social Work program, and will do a year-long internship at Duke Hospital’s Hock Family Pavilion, an inpatient hospice facility. Beyond that, “I trust that God is leading me towards new experiences that will inspire and challenge me as I continue to deepen my faith and make plans for the future,” she told us.