Spotlight: UUs of Florida Gulf Coast University
Welcome to the Spotlight Series! Each month we feature a different Unitarian Universalist congregation or community that is doing effective, innovative or otherwise interesting ministry with young adults.–Ed.
Small Group, Big Success
The Eagle Unitarian Universalists of Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) are a great example of how a small UU campus ministry can make a big difference to an entire community. By holding open drop-in hours on campus, networking with other student organizations and engaging with other campus ministries this group and their fabulous leader, Katie Romano-Griffin are making themselves known to students, administration and faculty alike.
The Eagle UUs are a new group, less than a year old, having started in July of 2013. Katie, a lay-leader from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Myers, put in a lot of time and dedication into getting this group off the ground. She has spent a fair amount of time out tabling on campus and also has a practice of holding open office hours at the Einstein Bros. Bagel shop in the student union. With her flaming chalice out on the table she waits as students, faculty and staff drop by for a centering moment or a conversation.
Student Alison Carville, or Allie, attests to how comforting it is to be able to drop by mid-week. “I go to church on Sunday, but by Wednesday I’m scattered again and it’s good to see Katie and calm down,” she explains. Allie is one of the only young adults who attend the UU church in Fort Myers, so having campus ministry meetings where she meets with peers is especially important. Allie says she connects with the students in the campus ministry on a deeper level than she connects with folks she sees in class. She also facilitates connections with other groups on campus: the Gay/Straight Alliance, the Gender Equality organization, environmental groups. “They have our back,” Allie explains.
The Eagle UUs also work well with the religious organizations at FGCU, participating in United Campus Ministry Meetings with other on-campus spiritual leaders. Katie has become quite well known to the administration through this work, and has been asked to give the invocation at the fall commencement this year. She advises that if any UU campus minister can wrangle such an invitation, it’s a great way to help with Unitarian Universalist visibility.
This visibility is crucial in a place where more destructive voices can be heard loudly. Allie remembers her first week of school at FGCU. She was struggling with the transition to university and with her grandfather’s recent death. She decided she really needed to talk to someone and on her way to the counseling center she passed a man preaching a hateful theology into a megaphone. “Is this the spirituality at this university?” she wondered. “Where can I find my home?”
Fortunately she found a spiritual home with the Eagle UUs and this campus ministry is making a real difference in the lives of students. “This is the most stressed out generation I’ve worked with,” Katie notes. “Sometimes I just nab a student and say ‘hey, let’s check in’ and they say ‘this is the first time I’ve stopped to breathe all day!’” Many of these students are working full time along with their coursework, and some are taking care of siblings or grandparents, while also participating in other school activities. Because of their hectic lives, group scheduling can be a real challenge.
However, Katie has found support from her fellow UU campus ministers by joining the monthly virtual gatherings led by the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries and by participating in an online Learning Circle led by Rev. Tandi Rogers. When Katie leaves at the end of this school year to enroll in seminary, the group will again face challenges of scheduling and leadership, but Katie is making sure to leave a strong foundation. Allie, who will still be at FGCU for one more semester, says that Katie will leave good advice as well as space for something new and exciting to grow from this newly developed, engaged and visible group of UU students.Special thanks to Alison Carville and Katie Romano-Griffin, whom Annie interviewed via zoom in order to write this piece! Does your UU congregation or community do exciting ministry with young adults? Email Annie at agonzalez [at] uua [dot] org to set up an interview and get your group in the Spotlight Series!