Fourth Year Reflection: Wesley Owens
Over the course of my Christian walk, I have often noted that there is a certain beauty to the way that God defies our expectations for his glory. The heart tinged with pride seeks its own way, but God in His grace is never so cruel as to leave us wandering alone. He gives us signposts for the journey: those people, circumstances, and events in our lives which draw us ever more deeply into his presence. Proverbs 16:9 says that “the heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Four years ago, when I first stepped through the door of 128 Chancellor Street, it was more than curiosity guiding me there; it was providence.
In my years as a regular visitor and a two-year resident, the Center for Christian Study has been more of a giant billboard than a mere signpost. The students who have befriended me, the staff who have mentored me—all who gather in this beautiful, sacred space do so out of a genuine desire to grow, challenge one another, and live all of life in reference to God. You could call it a mission or a school for the Lord’s service, but above all it is a home—a place to find meaningful community as we practice the disciplines of faith and love that urge us onward toward our creator.
When I arrived at UVA as a first year, I had already been a Christian for several years, but I was daunted by the challenge of finding spiritual and intellectual allies who would support me as I sought to discover what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus in a post-Christian world. Freshly unpacked and nervous about my future, I decided on a friend’s recommendation to attend the Study Center’s Move-In Day Lunch. Parents in tow, I strolled through central grounds, crossed University Avenue, and made my way up the street to a sprawling mass of students, staff, and parents who turned out to be some of the warmest, most thoughtful, and most Christlike people that I have met.
That day, I had the chance to converse with many other students as well as representatives from different ministries on Grounds, but perhaps the most memorable moment was a message from Ken Elzinga, a professor of economics and a follower of Jesus at UVA. Professor Elzinga shared many thoughts that afternoon, but one idea stood out above the rest. He reminded us that while the intellectual and spiritual challenges to our faith would be great, the greatest antidote is intentional Christian community.
Many students approach college with great trepidation. If they are Christians, their fears are no doubt motivated in part by the uncertainty of living out their faith in a new environment, and when that environment is a secular university, they know that their faith will be tested. Alternatively, some arrive naively expecting to be ‘normal,’ not realizing that the moment one sets foot in a UVA classroom, one’s entire worldview becomes contestable.
The good news is that at UVA, men and women of faith do not have to face those challenges alone or unprepared. The Study Center is an oasis on Grounds, a haven for fellowship and prayer as well as a place for serious reflection and intellectual engagement. It is not just a building; it is an intentional community of faith and the locus of a vibrant Christian subculture—one whose influence can be seen and felt in classrooms all across the University. From hours spent perusing the vast library to evening meals and late-night conversations with housemates during my time as a resident, I found genuine camaraderie and acceptance as well as an abundance of resources that helped me to address important questions in my life. Through friendships, small groups, prayer times, study sessions, special events, and my relationships with the staff, I found a wealth of Godly wisdom that helped me to integrate my faith with my academic career and my daily life.
Moreover, what is truly remarkable about the Study Center is the way that it has contributed to an amazing sense of unity among Christians of varying traditions and backgrounds. Though a Protestant, I have been blessed with many opportunities to build close friendships with Catholic and Orthodox believers whose perspectives have challenged and stretched me in ways that have helped me to grow theologically and spiritually. Through the Study Center’s “Two Views” lecture series, Catholic-Protestant discussion group, and guest lecturers, I have had the chance, not only to deepen my own faith, but to engage in a thoughtful ecumenism with other Christians.
The Christian community is unified at UVA through our common partnership at the Study Center, and this more than anything has aided the progress of the Church’s mission on Grounds. Many students arrive at the Center with a rich history of faith; others who come encounter Jesus for the first time. We see it, not as a cloister or a hideout but an open, welcoming community, strategically placed for the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ to all people.
Whether you are a new student or a curious parent, if you are doubtful about what to expect, then let the Lord lovingly defy your expectations. I encourage you to come and see what God is doing here at our home away from home. The Center for Christian Study is a signpost to each of us, and it is our signpost to the world: that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again!
Wesley Owens, CLAS '17