So What is the Study Center?


This article is from The Study Center fall 2013 newsletter. Read more from this newsletter.

When folks visit the Center for Christian Study for the first time, we can often feel the question forming in their minds: what exactly is this place called the Center for Christian Study?

We are not surprised by the confusion. Most people haven’t run across a “study center” before and even if they have visited one of the few dozen study centers now across the country, each one has its own mission, history and personality.

So what’s the best way to describe the Center for Christian Study? To begin with, we sometimes refer to ourselves as “a non-profit education and outreach ministry serving the University of Virginia and Charlottesville since 1968.” That’s meant to suggest our commitment to encourage students—Christian and non-Christian alike— to consider the claims of the gospel on their lives, all the way from the informal conversations that happen around our building every day to the top-notch classes, reading groups, lectures and residential programs we provide each year.

Sometimes we describe ourselves as “A Place for Faith and Learning,” which gets at our commitment to provide a welcoming and safe place for students to connect with each other even as they connect their learning in a Uni- versity environment with the call of Christ on their lives.

Two watchwords of our ministry have become “hospitality” and “Christian study.” We love to find ways to bring head and heart, learning and community, truth and love together.

We might also explain this ministry in terms of its history, a great story going back to God’s good work through many godly men and women in the 1960s and 70s, especially a Baptist minister named Daryl Richman and a then-newly-minted faculty member named Ken Elzinga (still on faculty here at U.Va. and involved at the Center). From the beginning this ministry has been non-denominational, broadly evangelical, committed to God’s work at U.Va. through the various Grounds ministries, independent of U.Va. and dependent upon the Lord’s good provision through alumni, parents, and other friends.

As you might expect, this ministry has grown and changed over the years, as has its University (and larger cultural) context. With this in mind the staff and I have worked this past year to clarify exactly “who we are” as the Study Center in light of our past and in anticipation of much ministry to come. This strategic planning process resulted in a clear sense of our ongoing ministry goal:

The Center for Christian Study seeks to promote Christian formation

Through the communication of Biblical truth

For the good of the University community

With hospitality and care

In unity with other Grounds ministries.

Our goal, then, is Christian formation, qualified with four ministry distinctives (having to do with the Bible, the University, hospitality, and Christian unity). Let me say a word about each of those elements.

Christian Formation: The Bible often speaks of our being formed (or of Christ being formed in us) or conformed (to the like- ness of Christ) or transformed (in the renewing of our minds, for example). More than anything, we want to be a place where students are “shaped” by the truth of the gospel—in their minds, in their hearts, in their daily lives. This is a process that requires the Holy Spirit. It also requires a proclamation of the truth in our words and lives.

1. Through the communication of Biblical Truth: The Study Center has been devoted to the “consideration of a Biblical worldview” and to the “wise discussion of the Truth.” That essential commitment hasn’t changed. Every year we host lectures on the Bible, lead small group Bible studies, and teach seminary-level classes on the Old or New Testaments. Teaching student to love scripture is embedded in all our activities, whether it be a lecture, a counseling opportunity, a small group or a hospitality event.

2. For the good of the University community: John Stott once spoke of ministering with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Perhaps we should amend that to “the Bible and The Cavalier Daily!” Certainly we try to incorporate topics in our teaching that are relevant to students’ lives and concerns at U.Va. At the same time we know that the “good of the University” extends beyond the classroom to the rest of our students’ lives: their
working through grief in the sudden death of a fellow student and close friend, their grappling with the Greek system at U.Va., or their acclimation to college life after Move-In Day.

3. With hospitality and care: Since 1976 the Study Center has been located in this house on Chancellor Street, a space that doubled in size twenty years later with the three-story addition in the back, complete with a large meeting room, library, and more residential space. Put that together with a staff dedicated to communicating the truth in love and you have the Study Center. In many respects the openness and availability of our staff and house are defining marks of our ministry. They enable a degree of Christian community and support that goes well beyond our planned ministry events.

4. In Unity with other Grounds ministries: One of the things we love about ministry at U.Va. is our strong partnership and close collaboration with the other Grounds ministries here. We see ourselves as a part of the larger body of Christ at U.Va. with our own role to play. This role involves making our house and programs available to the other ministries even as we encourage students to be involved in a fellowship group and a church. Most of our lectures are done in conjunction with one or more of the other ministries while we make a point to draw students in our programs from these groups. The result: we have a real sense of the larger Christian community among students at U.Va. and have delighted in the variety and richness of this community.

There’s so much more to say about the Center for Christian Study. I’m afraid I’ve barely mentioned our Elzinga Residential Program, our professional counseling resources, or our three graduate Christian fellowships. That just means that you’ll have to come see for yourself whenever you’re in town, volunteer at one of our hospitality events, download some of our lectures, and get to know the students and the staff around here. In the meantime, the expression on your face may be just a bit less puzzled when we show you around!