Fourth Year Reflection: Emily Elder

Emily Elder
Emily Elder

When I was asked to reflect on what the Center for Christian Study has meant to me over the past four years, I was initially baffled at how to begin. I knew it would be difficult to describe a place that has meant so much to me. However, as I reminisced about my first few visits to the Study Center, I began to realize how it met me in different ways as I grew and changed during my UVA experience. Because of this, I came up with four words that describe each of my four years at the Center for Christian Study.

First Year: Ministry

Although I rarely visited the Study Center my first two semesters at UVA, I was there at both the beginning and the end of my first year. I attended Move-In Day Lunch in the fall with my parents, and remember being extremely encouraged at the sight of so many Christian leaders and students. If you look back through the pictures taken at that event, you can find one of me laughing uproariously at the skit put on upstairs—quite a miracle, since I generally remember feeling anxious and overwhelmed that day.

Emily Elder MIDL2012
Emily at Move-In Day Lunch, August 2012

At the end of my first year, I returned to the Study Center for Exam Snacks. My small group leaders had been raving about the Study Center for quite some time, but the distance from dorms to the Corner seemed too far to cross back then. Exam Snacks rapidly changed my perspective. Expecting a handful of goldfish and a few orange slices, I was amazed by the spread of food, the cheerful volunteer workers, and the long line of grateful and cared-for students. I instantly felt welcomed, and understood why people chose to study there rather than closer libraries; the Study Center ministered to those who came through its doors. I came back to the Study Center every day during those spring exams, and vowed to return often the following year.

Second Year: Community

During my second year, I studied at the Study Center almost every weeknight—and sometimes on the weekends, too. Moving from first year to second year proved to be a difficult transition, and I struggled with loneliness, fear, and anger. Amidst this turmoil, I began attending the Study Center’s Bible studies and reading groups for the first time. During these lessons, truth and grace were spoken into my life from Study Center staff. I made new friends and became comfortable striking up a conversation with anyone I met in the kitchen or library, knowing we shared a common desire to live Christ-centered lives. I also realized that Lane Cowin, and other staff members at the Stud, really meant it when they said we could talk to them about our problems or ask them any questions. The Study Center became more than a study spot for me—it became a restorative community of friends and believers.

Emily Elder and Lane Cowin
Emily with Director of Undergraduate Ministries for Women, Lane Cowin

Third Year: Grounding

I began my third year as a newly declared religious studies major. Although I relished the courses I was taking, each lecture produced an onslaught of pressing questions. I realized that two decades of Sunday school had not necessarily prepared me to study various faiths and religions—including my own—in a secular, academic setting. None of my professors were antagonistic atheists, yet I still found myself facing a sea of doubts. I think this period in my studies would have been much more confusing and isolating had the Study Center not been available to me. I turned there with my thoughts and frustrations, and was met with theologically sound answers that pointed me back to the gospel. I was also reminded that doubt did not disqualify me as a Christian—that it could even be an imperative step in growing my faith. Whether studying books of the Bible like Job, Luke, and Hebrews, or considering pressing topics from a Christian worldview, the events, lectures and reading groups at the Study Center grounded me in biblical truth.

Fourth Year: Home

As cheesy as it may seem, I do genuinely have a sense of being at home when I am at the Study Center. Whether I am hurriedly printing papers in the library, getting ready for a Bible study in the Richman Room, or just stepping in to see who is around, this place envelopes me with a sense of familiarity and comfort. The Study Center has helped me ease through some of the ups and downs of my college experience, and I am incredibly grateful for its care and counsel.

After graduating this May, Emily will participate in The Fellows Initiative through the Nashville Fellows Program. This leadership and discipleship program involves taking seminary courses, participating in a church, and working in the marketplace.