Making a home: Outlook church-college partnership runner-up

Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 5.33.50 PMBy Helen Wilkins

I was surprised to find myself calling Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina, “home” in the fall semester of 2011. I had toured many different colleges throughout my high school years, wandering each campus and wondering if this was finally the one that felt right. I applied to big schools and small schools, private schools and public schools – and most of them felt right in a way, but they did not feel like home to me. When I visited Presbyterian College again for “Accepted Students Day,” I finally found that feeling that I had been searching for: the feeling that I belonged, that this was where I was supposed to be.

Throughout my time at PC, I was active in the religious and spiritual life on campus along with other organizations. I benefitted from attending a small school because I was able to live into leadership positions every year, not just when I became an upperclass student. I found my faith changing during these leadership positions as I became more active in my own development and experiences as well as the faith and experiences of others. This focus was largely powered by my school’s theme, “while we live, we serve,” which encouraged me to remember everything I did should be in service to God and in service to others.

I learned the value of community, not just in the church or with service, but throughout our lives in this hectic world. I was able to be a part of healthy communities where voices were heard, people were valued and the love was palpable. I was also a part of unhealthy communities without a focus and where people were oppressed, leaving me feeling frustrated and empty. Going to a church-related school let me see how community could be life giving, but could also be part of the oppression in this world. I learned to adapt my own leadership styles and to speak up and speak out against things I thought were wrong or harmful to others. This need to adapt and direct groups in different directions is a valuable leadership trait that I hope to use as I prepare to work in the church. God desires us to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly, but it is so easy in our world to only focus on ourselves.

At PC I was able to experience the church in the physical church and in the world. I realized that the walls of the church in no way contained the love of God, but that church could be experienced at lunch with a friend, in conversations in class, in the simple ways we treat others. I learned that, as a Christian leader, my call is to live in a way that resembles the love of God I know to be true.

197-21 IF Award Wilkins photoWhen we lead and when we serve, we are creating a community, we are being the church, we are helping to bring the Kingdom of God to the here and the now. In our service and in our leadership, what we are called to do is to ensure that each person finds his or her home in this world. William Sloan Coffin writes, “for we come to God’s house, to this open house, to find love and to defeat hate, in order that the world itself can become an open house.” When we serve and lead others in love, in the church and in the world, we are creating a community where love and acceptance are not privileges for some people, but something experienced by all. One of my favorite hymns is “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” and the final line reads, “no more a stranger, nor a guest, but like a child at home.” My experience at a PC(USA)-related school has allowed me to realize the importance of feeling at home in whatever community you find yourself in and in this world, as that is the hope God has for each of us. After my time at PC, I feel equipped and eager to continue with my life and to work with others to find my home, their home, our home in this world.