Small but Mighty
The set up was in some ways completely familiar. The cushions on the floor, the snacks arranged casually around the yet unlit chalice. Students drifting in and sitting down, late evening on a weekday. I could have been in the basement of the chapel back at my small Midwestern liberal arts college gathering with the Unitarian Universalist (UU) student group I led for three semesters. But I’ve been out of college for more than six years and instead I was in an interfaith space at Northeastern University here in Boston, a visiting Unitarian Universalist Association staff member.
I ask the students why they come to the UU campus ministry gatherings. Their answers are important and also pretty typical. Martha Neuman, who has recently returned from study abroad to re-join the group says it’s, “centering, calming and restorative, a different pace than everything else in my life.” Luther Richardson, a graduated student who has come back to visit the group values the ability to focus on issues that don’t necessarily come up when socializing with friends. “It’s important to have a space devoted to that,” he explains. Savannah Gregor who is newer to Unitarian Universalism likes the fluidity and openness that the group embodies, saying she appreciates that it’s, “no pressure.”
While the vibe and the snacks, the chalice lighting and the check in, and the way this group nourishes students’ souls are all reminiscent of many UU campus groups, the Northeastern University Unitarian Universalists or NUUUs also have some unique aspects to their ministry.
First of all there’s the interfaith scene at Northeastern. This university has been recognized by President Obama for doing interfaith community service work exceptionally well. The commitment to supporting students of many faiths shows in their space, which includes a large multi-purpose meeting room, a smaller meditation room, and a space with low faucets where Muslims can perform wudu or ritual cleansing before daily prayers.
Martha is one of the key student leaders in the UU group and she also participates in the Northeastern Interfaith Council. She said that being an atheist at “the Interfaith table” has been an opportunity for growth and that she’s been able to connect not only with the president of the Secular Humanist Society, who shares her vocabulary, but also with students from the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.
Rev. MaryHelen Gunn who leads the NUUUs as a Spiritual Advisor is also passionate about the interfaith partnering that is possible at Northeastern,“It enriches everything we do because we’re a spiritual minority. Learning how to be good allies and good partners is crucial to our work in the world.” MaryHelen is all about partnership in her work with this campus ministry. From working with the LGBTQ center on campus on gender neutral bathrooms to fostering the relationship between the NUUUs and First Parish in Brookline, this small group of UU students is well served by her connective spirit. As Luther put it “I really think considering the age of the club, the fact that we’ve been able to bring strong connections to congregations and the UU community in Boston is pretty powerful.”
It’s true; this young club, which is only one semester into its official status as a student group, has a lot going on. From leading worship at the UU church in Brookline to a service project at the UU Urban Ministry and an upcoming interfaith retreat their winter calendar was full up when I visited back in January. They are, as MaryHelen put it “following the UU trend of small but mighty.”
Indeed the group I met with was small. Just Martha, Luther and Savannah plus one visiting student who declined to be interviewed as he was checking out the group for the first time. But the sense of comfort and connection was palpable and rejuvenating for me at the end of a long work day. The combination of the classic campus ministry feel with the forward thinking partnership and interfaith orientation of the Northeastern University Unitarian Universalists left me feeling renewed and inspired, and grateful for their mighty ministry.
Special thanks to Rev. MaryHelen Gunn, Martha Neuman, Luther Richardson and Savannah Grego for welcoming Annie and her interview questions to their campus ministry gathering.
Does your UU congregation or community do exciting ministry with young adults? Email Annie at email@example.com to set up an interview and get your group in the Spotlight Series!