Every college student asks this basic question: What do I do with my life? But for some students, there is a weightier issue: How do I serve God?
The students attend The Collective, an extension of First UMC in DeLand, which declares its mission is to “seek to connect people of diverse backgrounds with a message of Jesus that's not about Christianity, but about humanity.”
Through The Collective, their journey took the students to the national Explorations conference last fall in Portland, Oregon, where they found more answers.
Caitlin White, director of connection and formation at The Collective, remembers her process of discerning her call to ministry eight years ago when she attended an Explorations conference.
She was already looking at seminaries and found the conference a good opportunity to connect with a wide range of theological schools. The panels about specific aspects of ministry like chaplaincy and small group interaction also were helpful.
“It was really helpful to engage with the national and global church, to see all the many ways ministry can play out,” White said.
Katie Holmes of Atlanta said she really didn’t know what to expect at the Portland conference. Her family is not religious, but she began attending a Methodist youth group with a friend.
She feels called to ministry and doesn’t know what that means yet, but she seriously doubts it would be as a pastor in a church. For starters, she doesn’t like public speaking.
“Throughout the weekend I learned so much through the conversations I had with so many different kinds of people in different aspects of the Methodist Church,” Holmes said.
She was especially interested in learning about deacons and chaplains and the different kinds of ministries they are involved with.
“The conversations that we had really challenged my preconceived notions and informed me as to what my gifts are and where I can fit into the whole deal,” Holmes said.
“My small group really dove into talking about the nitty-gritty of what we believed and why. I think that the time I spent with them and the conversations I had with them and the group I came with really made the greatest impacts on me.”
Holmes graduates in December with a degree in religious studies, a minor in economics and a certificate in community engagement. She’s going to do a pastoral residency at The Collective and continue to discern her future.
Nate Caruso graduates in May with degrees in health science and psychology. He will return to his hometown of Bangor, Maine, to work on a master’s in physical therapy at Husson University and to continue exploring a calling to ministry.
Caruso grew up Catholic but felt closer to God while camping in the woods.
At Stetson, he discovered The Collective.
“It was the first time I felt really connected to a church,” Caruso said. “I never had a church community that was mine. The Collective has given me a language to translate those experiences I had in the woods.
“Now that it’s such a big part of my life, I don’t want to forget about it. I have a better idea of what I’m looking for and how to talk about it. I know it will never be replicated, but I want to seek it out and find it again, but differently.”
The Explorations conference really opened his eyes.
“I don’t know much about the Methodist Church or any church,” he said.
The conference was a little overwhelming at first. He expected to feel disconnected or far behind because he doesn’t have a Methodist background
“But everyone was asking the same questions that I was, but they were in very different places. Some people are already doing ministry, or they’re from different countries,” he said.
“We were able to feed off each other’s experiences. That was really cool and comforting. I’m not different or behind or lesser because I haven’t been part of this all my life.”
Caruso said is planning to get a doctorate in physical therapy, then travel for a while.
How will his calling fit in with his career?
“I’m unsure how I’m going to live it out. It’s a fun problem I’ve been playing within my mind,” he said. “I’m thinking maybe in terms of a holistic health center where I can incorporate physical therapy and some of the things I learned with my psychology degree with space for ministry. I think that could be pretty interesting.”
Caruso said he doesn’t know if it will be in the Methodist Church. “It’s a good starting point. It has been a great experience,” he added.
Catie Hessler of Wellington, near West Palm Beach, is studying public health at Stetson but isn’t sure what her direction is.
“The only thing I am certain about is the fact that I love people and want to pursue a lifestyle that will enable me to help and connect with as many people as possible,” Hessler said.
And she found lots of people just like her at the Explorations conference.
“I was surprised to find that most other students were also struggling to figure out what God’s plan is for them,” Hessler said. “Throughout the weekend, our leader encouraged us to strive to become more of who God created us to be, rather than what people want to see of us.
“Although I am still unsure of what exactly my calling is, I do have a better understanding of the fact that God is not looking for me to be a perfect person. Instead, He is looking for me to simply say, Lord, do whatever you want.”
--Lilla Ross is a freelance writer based in Jacksonville.