A Watering Hole: The Study Center After Dark

Ask a student in our building why they are thankful for the Study Center and you will receive a wonderfully extensive list. There will be quite a lot of commonality between lists and just about every student will express an overwhelming gratitude that the Study Center’s doors are open 24-7. Students come here when they know they have late nights of studying ahead of them. Sure, they can go to a University library and work there but they’ll tell you there is something different about this place. Of course, it’s warm and cozy, serves free coffee and tea, and features a lot of great friends but it’s more than that. Christians and non-Christians alike who study here are surrounded by people who are striving to place their identity not in their grades but in Christ alone. That’s what makes this place so special. Although we never want to encourage using our building into the wee hours of the morning, we’re still glad to provide the option. We often tell about our ministry during the daylight hours—but if you only knew about that, you would be missing a significant part of our story.

John Shelton, a fourth year student, Chancellor Street native of three years, and Stud late-night frequenter, shares his experience of why he is thankful for the Study Center’s 24-7 hospitality.


John Shelton
John Shelton


I found the most curious picture on the Internet the other day: a lion and a zebra were side by side, drinking from a watering hole. Aside from looking like a scene from the book of Isaiah, I thought the picture captured something unique about the nature of community. A watering hole has multiple functions in an ecosystem, the most obvious being the provision of water necessary to survive. Watering holes also bring communities together through their mutual need. Communities need watering holes to survive physically but also to thrive socially. The Center for Christian Study has been a watering hole during my time at the University of Virginia.

There are two things that every student needs: Jesus and space to study. The Study Center is the only place that has both in abundance. There is no other institution in Charlottesville that uses its resources to feed and mentor college students so that they can flourish in their lives and studies as Christians, or, if they’re not Christians, so they can hear the gospel preached and see it lived out in the lives of faithful believers. Many people who visit the Study Center or scan it’s website get a sense of how much the staff and programs shape the lives of students on Grounds. Instead, I want to talk about the Study Center’s ministry when the phenomenal staff leaves, when it’s distinguished programs are finished for the day; I want to talk about the Study Center after dark.

At 10:00 p.m., the Study Center begins to bustle. Most sensible demographics run their lives from sunrise to sundown; college students are exceptional in that their lives often operate from sundown to sunrise. I mean, we are awake during the day, but not really. We reserve the daytime for frivolous things: lunch meetings, classes, exercise. At night, we come alive; our brains kick into gear; we are unstoppably creative, industrious. The Study Center is quite possibly the only receptacle fit to contain our boundless ambition. Students come ready for long nights, some of us more exemplary than others. I like to don my favorite green Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pajamas. One classmate brings a blanket and an alarm clock. At night, people become territorial. Everyone has their favorite room, area, or chair to work in. Mine is the Nook. Unfortunately, this is a crowd favorite because of its comfort and the privacy for conversation that a small, enclosed space affords. That brings me to why the Study Center is my favorite library here at UVA.

People use their voices. Free coffee and tea, printers, even heat, bring people in, people from different fellowships and from different faiths. Unlike any other library I know, people talk and meet strangers. Late night at the Stud, we break for coffee and talk about God around the center counter in the kitchen. When I say talk, you’re probably thinking the verbal equivalent of a handshake: brief, formal, and emotionless. Nope, I’m speaking of the verbal equivalent of a bear hug. We ask “How are you doing?” and actually want to know the answer. We talk about our real fears. People even talk in the so-called “silent” study spaces. There are signs that say “This is a quiet study space” that occasionally get beamed at us talkers; we choose to ignore the fine print.

The greatest part of the Study Center after dark is the finale: a magnificent sunrise. There is no better place to view this from than the windows on the second floor. At 7:00 a.m., after we’ve been working on papers all night, God reminds us that he loves the University of Virginia. The sun creeps out over the horizon and the sky glows blue and orange over the city of Charlottesville. Wahoo-wa!

John Shelton, CLAS ’14