I am at the end of a week of lasts. Last test, last presentation, last club meeting, last shift volunteering at the local food bank, last class. Some of these lasts have been long anticipated, and some pass with a sense of nostalgia, as I try to soak in what feels like the end of an era. One of the more emotional lasts was my last night of worship at UKirk UTK, the campus ministry I have called home for the past four years. I have served as an intern two of my four years, learned from and loved two campus ministers, attended the College Conference at Montreat four times, fried around 800 wontons, and met some of the most genuine friends I have ever had. The house at 1831 Melrose Ave has served so many purposes that calling it my church seems almost an injustice. In its simplest form a church is a place of worship, so UKirk certainly qualifies, but what name accounts for the comfort, reassurance, and acceptance that Ukirk has provided me and every student that walks through the door?
There are very few constants in the life of a college student, and for many the combination of freedom and attractive alternatives to studying adds significant allure to the four years ahead. There is no reason for one week to be the same as the next, to committ to a recurring set of weekly or monthly events would eliminate the ability to be spontaneous. This is the one time we are without responsibility or formality and should lavish the ability to float by with no plans, only concerned with the next appealing idea that comes our way. Right? Many would say yes. Those that know me know that I would probably say no. Not because I am against spontaneity and taking advantage of a chapter of few responsibilities and even fewer consequences, but simply because I find comfort in things being some level of predictable; for me a life lived flying by the seat of my pants feels more like one of anxiety than one of freedom.
The problem here is that college is unpredictable. No matter how many colors of pen I use to organize my planner and section off my life, I can’t make things go the way I expect. Don’t get me wrong, the last thing I want is for every single week to follow a cookie cutter schedule lacking any variation, but I wouldn’t mind getting to go to my favorite Tuesday night yoga class more than once a month, or coming to the end of week having cooked all the food I bought at the grocery store the Sunday before. My point is, things have a tendency to pop up, no given week is without a banquet, meeting, special lecture, or exam that throws off the week I was hoping might, just once, go as planned. Wednesday night worship at UKirk is the one thing I can count on; the constant to which my week orbits.
There is a thing we do during worship that I’m sure many of you are familiar with, we call it passing the peace. It happens right at the beginning of worship, the leader begins with a short prayer that always ends with, “may the peace of Christ be with you all”, and everyone responds, “and also with you”, cuing us to stand and greet each other with the same call and response. But it’s far from just a round of hugs and high fives, it’s recognition of each person present, exactly as they are, with whatever they are carrying that day. It’s assurance that we aren’t alone and that we don’t need to change to be loved by each other and by God. It’s a moment I can count on even in my most haphazard of weeks, and one that I have grown to cherish. Last Wednesday I passed the peace for the last time at UKirk. As I move on to a new chapter and hopefully some sort of routine, I am so incredibly thankful for the 5 minutes a week that kept me in orbit throughout this amazing and often challenging season. I can only hope to find another group as transparent, accepting, and supportive as the one I have found at UKirk. Together we have found strength in vulnerability, and Christ in the midst of chaos.