Faith in Unique Times
Before the coronavirus pandemic, many young adults in the diocese found faith in community--via campus ministries, local parishes, and friends of shared faith. For many, participating in campus ministries on campuses such as UNC Asheville and Appalachian State were ways to stay connected to faith, even if far from home. For some, campus ministry even acted as a reconnection with faith.
"I grew up believing in God, but the Methodist church I was raised in was pretty performative and empty," said Shepherd Ellis, a former student at UNC Asheville and a member of All Souls Cathedral in Asheville. "The Episcopal Churches I have regularly attended have had a lot more substance from what I’ve seen."
For Shepherd, finding UNC Asheville Campus Ministry has helped him develop friendships and connections since his first day of college.
"My most personal and long-standing way of worship though was through the Episcopal Campus Ministry at UNCA, which I was involved with starting as a freshman," Shepherd said. "I really loved that group because it was so intimate and personal."
For Mayden McDaniel, another recent graduate of UNC Asheville, campus ministry helped her develop a new understanding of what it means to worship.
"I really enjoyed my time with ECM because it allowed me to explore different methods of worship, including hiking, quality time, community service, and compline," Mayden said. "I grew as a person in so many ways because of the community that I was part of through ECM!"
When the coronavirus caused restrictions on in-person gatherings and disbanded schools and universities across the country, Mayden found herself practicing these different forms of worship more regularly.
"I practice my faith individually by “attending” online services and partaking in personal meditation and prayer," said Mayden. "God is present in so many ways beyond the walls of a church, and I think as Christians we are called to take the church to others through our actions rather than only waiting for the people to come to the church."
Brianna Richardson, a student at Appalachian State University and member of the university's Presbyterian-Episcopal Campus Ministry, has also found unique ways to share time with God during periods of isolation.
"With an adapted schedule and a change in what continued in the pandemic, I have used art to make time for my own healing and reflection as I can continue to move and grow with my spirituality by myself and in remote coalition with my peers," Brianna said. "In these practices, it serves as a meditation I would have usually struggled to carve into my day and seem even more intentional and impactful as I do it to start and end my day no matter how much or little time it takes."
Eris Lowdermilk, a fellow student at Appalachian State and member of PECM, also regularly finds meditative moments with God. For Erin, God feels constantly present even in challenging times.
"I see God when I am feeding my animals at sunrise and on my morning runs. Being outdoors is a very gratifying experience, and I find myself thanking God for allowing me to participate," Erin said. "My community is always finding ways to adapt and overcome the changes we are all facing; what we all are experiencing is uncharted territory, therefore I definitely see God present in times such as these."
For Shepherd, recent civil rights movements and discussion surrounding dismantling racism have reassured his faith, even as churches have been unable to gather in person for worship.
"I’ve also to three local Black Lives Matter protests in some of the small towns surrounding Charlotte," Shepherd said. "I've seen God at those movements, in the willingness of the crowds and even some elected officials and police to listen to Black voices and take action, and in the speeches and statement from the organizers. Many of them are younger than me, and their leadership shows me the will of God, because they truly are working to build a society where every person will be treated like the image of God that they are."
For Brianna, the initial lack of connection with others was jarring and uncomfortable. However, the changing situation soon gave her a new perspective on her relationship with God.
"On a normal day, you may think about God in many moments and may even call out to him when things go well and not so well but you may not feel as if you need to worry about him being there or hearing you outside of your own comfort zone. When we shifted away from others and felt like we were isolated, scared, or simply in need of a new ability to adapt, we felt like we needed to find our voices in different ways," Brianna said. "Before all of this, I knew God was there and I could call when I needed to but it was not a part of my tool belt that I felt I was always keeping my grasp on. I used this change and rejuvenated perspective to see the value of the tool and how I could use it to grow and continue to grow in an exponential way with others and with God."
For Mayden, times of uncertainty and doubt have ultimately worked to solidify her faith.
"As a young person of faith, my faith journey has not been easy," Mayden said. "Many times, I have doubted anything and everything I have ever been taught. However, it is during those times of doubt that I have grown closer to God. I am thankful to have grown up in a denomination that encourages both doubting and thinking for yourself, and I have been blessed in so many ways!"