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Supporting Young Adults in College

by Thea L. Mateu

Thea Mateu GiraffeFall is finally here, as evidenced by the early appearance of Halloween, Thanksgiving–even Christmas! — decorations in the stores.  For many of the Young Adults in our churches, fall means going away for college.  This is an important life transition and a great opportunity to support and minister to young adults, even if they are going away for college.  So, I thought I’d start with some suggestions and hope you’ll share your own!

Keep in touch: There are many meaningful ways of keeping in touch.

  • A snail-mailed note is STILL super exciting to receive! And it doesn’t have to come from the pastor!  If they were helpful in the Christian Education program, see if the kids want to make some cards for them (also a great way to involve the kids in the reality of the college experience).  If they sang with the choir, send a cd with greetings.  Get creative!
  • Regular emails are valuable and allow for the opportunity to continue to grow those relationships! Ask the person if you can share tidbits with the congregation on Sunday!  It is a good way to make people still be a part of the life of the church and to celebrate the good grade on their first paper, the first sports team win, or whatever other milestones you may be privy to.
  • Care packages are amazing.  Find out the schedule for the school and send goodies around exam times.  Don’t forget birthdays!

Prayer: Prayer connects us across distance, time and transitions.  Include the needs of young adults in the congregational prayers, and let them know that they are being prayed for.

Consider also sharing some resources on prayer—perhaps a Stillspeaking Writer’s group resource like A Book of Uncommon Prayers  or others on the UCC resources website.

Connect: Make some introductions with the UCC closest to the campus.  If they have a campus ministry even better! That means there will be opportunities to tie in to events with other young people and make new connections.  Even if finding a new church is not a top priority, they will know where the church is and have a point of connection when they need it. 

That being said: no need to guilt trip or put pressure on anyone to attend church. This should go without saying but sometimes we nag without intending to.  Keep in mind that young adults are faced with a lot of new experiences in college; and that’s a good thing! It just means sometimes Sunday morning is not always the best time ever for spiritual development.  It sometimes means they are busy exploring what it means to be their own person in the world and that is an exciting and time consuming task.  That doesn’t mean spiritual development has come to a standstill.  God is with them in this adventure too!

Support the family:  It’s not easy having kids go off to college and so it’s a good time to also provide support and encouragement for those ‘left behind.’ Parents and younger siblings will all be adjusting and it’s a great time for church community to be a source of support!  This is also true of the youth group who is facing the turnover from those high school seniors spreading their wings. It is good to involve them in the process as well!

If there are young adults in your congregation who are going to college locally, please don’t assume that their participation won’t change!  They will still be busy navigating new commitments.  Invite and involve them but don’t take it personally if their involvement is not consistent. 

Even if you don’t have a college ministry, you can still reach out to the community.  Feed them! Take time to take college students in your congregation out to lunch or invite them to your place for a home cooked meal. 

College is also a time of great opportunities for action and connection around justice—it is a time when many students become involved in causes they are passionate about and in giving back to the community.   You’ll find our college students volunteering at soup kitchens, knitting scarves against bullying, visiting assisted living facilities and making a difference in the world.  Let’s find new ways to support them and walk with them as they lead us into the church of the future!

I offer then, an old Irish blessing to our brothers and sisters in college this Fall:

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of God’s hand.

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