CSTN 0101: Introduction to Campus Fellowships
by Cornerstone Online
Welcome to CSTN 0101: Introduction to Campus Fellowships!
The Cornerstone Online staff conducted interviews with current students in various campus fellowships at Brown. Our hope is that this will act as a glimpse into the various communities here for all students looking to join campus communities. Feel free to navigate around the map and click on the names of groups to learn more about them through students. We forward to seeing you around!!
Illustration by Claire Lin '23
THE BRANCH CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP
Toby was at the door of Pembroke Fieldhouse, full of energy. “Are you here for Branch?”
“Yes!” I said. I’m newly a south campus-er (New Dorm A, yaya!), so I was a little out of breath from making that fifteen minute walk in ten minutes (only slightly late). It’s a location that most people don’t know, and notoriously bad with my geography, I always end up saying, “It’s somewhere between the Nelson and Blue State Coffee.”
Up a narrow flight of stairs and I’m thrust into the warmth and noise of chattering and laughing humans. It’s 7 PM and the first meeting of Branch for the semester. The night starts with a lot of socializing, meeting new faces and reuniting with a few old ones. Worship and announcements. Then, there is a small group discussion of 3-5 people with questions from the speakers. There are a couple lighthearted questions and then a deeper one to invite people to be thoughtful and a little vulnerable. After this, there is a testimony time for people to come up in front of the group and share what has happened in their life their week. As Anna Susini, who I interviewed later, said, “It opens up a space to acknowledge the work that God's doing in our lives personally and as a community.” Afterwards, there is a speaker. Branch doesn’t have a campus pastor, so they invite speakers from different local churches and organizations every week. It’s a nice chance to get a different perspective and voice every week. Then, there’s worship again and the cherry on top -- hanging out at Jo’s for some famous spicy withs (though Covid has made the menu a bit more unpredictable these days).
I wanted to know more about the fellowship, so I reached out to Anna Susini, a senior who has been part of the Branch for the last three-ish years.
We met over Zoom, the typical medium in these pandemic times, and I started asking her some questions. “Why does Branch gather?”
“We gather really to be in community and to worship Jesus,” Anna says. “First and foremost, that's why we're here. We just want to connect with our Savior, connect with our Creator, and be in community and help each other really appreciate that.”
“Why is it important to join a campus fellowship?”
“It's important to join a campus fellowship because we are not created to face life by ourselves. Nowhere, literally nowhere in the Bible, does it say that we are supposed to face the journey of life entirely alone. Moments of spending time with God alone are extremely important, as we see how Jesus spent a lot of time alone with God. But he also spent a lot of time in communities, with disciples, and with people who weren't Christians.”
“We believe that we're called to make disciples,” Anna continues. “And we're called to live out the word of Christ and apply it to our own lives. The best way to really learn how to do so and to be held accountable and be supported in our faith journeys is to be part of a Christian fellowship. I think, even if you're not a Christian, you should be part of Christian fellowship because the love and support you get is unlike anything you'll ever experience. But if you are a Christian, definitely.”
It ties right into my next question. “What would you say to an unbeliever on the edge of faith?”
“I would say that you have nothing to lose,” Anna says. “Branch is two hours on a Friday night. You have nothing to lose by checking it out, and you have so much to gain. If you're really on the edge or you're curious or you're seeking and you think that there's even the possibility that what everybody is talking about -- the love and the freedom they tapped into -- from faith is true. Then you have so much to gain, and so little to lose. So there's really no reason not to go!”
Anna begins to talk about how she has seen God at work at Branch. The last year with COVID was a little difficult for their fellowship. Half of the leadership team and many of the worship leaders had graduated. It was a small group of people, close-knit, but praying that God would help grow the group. A strong class of now-sophomores brought in leaders and musicians to lead worship. “Such beautiful, incredibly gifted worshipers,” Anna says. “They're so talented and just have such beautiful hearts.”
Before the first meeting of the semester, Anna was praying that God would show her His revolutionary power. She showed up, and there were 25 new people at Branch. Anna is beaming now, “I've never seen that in all my time at Brown. God has been doing really, really great things!”
“How has your relationship with God changed during your time in this fellowship?”
Anna thinks for a little before speaking. “I did Branch stuff a little bit my freshman year, but I didn't really commit until my sophomore year. When I was a freshman at Brown, I was so lost. I never stopped being a Christian but I just wasn't committed to a fellowship. I wasn't committed to a local church. I wasn't committed to a daily quiet time. I was really just heartbroken for a lot of reasons, a lot of personal reasons coming from home.”
She had a reset moment during the summer, when she heard God saying very clearly to her, “What you’ve been doing has not been working. You’ve been running from me the last two years.” It hit her then, “You’re right, God. I didn’t think I had been, but I was.” It shifted her entire mindset, and she began to strive to live out the faith and love that she had been saying she believed in. Part of that involved attending Branch regularly.
Anna continues, “There's still a lot of issues that I need to surrender to God. But, you know, I realized that I know God is real and if I ever choose to walk away, it won't be because I don't believe; it'll be because I make the decision that I don't want to live this lifestyle anymore. That would be so sad because I know I would be so empty. I have that security that I know who God is and I know he's real. I know I fall short every day and I need His grace. But His presence has been so undeniable!”
Anna has also grown in confidence in sharing her faith. She contrasts her present self versus her freshman year self. “I actually had a girl who I hadn't spoken to in a while come up to me in the middle of a conversation with other people. She asked, ‘Are you still part of the Christian fellowship, Branch?’ And I was like, “Heck yes, I am!” If I had been a freshman, I would have been so shy about it. If someone had asked, ‘What are you doing this Sunday morning?’ I'd be like…” Anna puts a hand up to cover her mouth and mumbles quickly, “Oh, church stuff.”
She laughs. “I think I've gotten a lot more comfortable with that part of myself and being able to talk about that openly. So that's really cool.”
“And would you say that being in the Branch has helped you in that confidence?” I asked.
“Yeah, absolutely. The biggest thing has been seeing my friends in the Branch grow. I've known them since freshman year and it’s been amazing seeing the changes they've made in their lives and how they have become more in tune with what it means to follow Christ. Also, having them be able to kind of affirm that in me, as well, and say, ‘Yeah, you have changed a lot since freshman year, in a really good way. I see how much more comfortable you are talking about this… I see how your heart is changing.’ It is just the most encouraging thing that I could have ever imagined. Sometimes it's hard for you to always see the growth in yourself. Having other people being able to affirm that for you, and knowing that they're not just saying that to be nice -- that's really encouraging!”
She adds an additional note, “I’m from Kentucky and the South is full of mega churches. I had great mentors and great friends there, but the content of the church morning sermons were just so shallow. When I joined the Branch, I realized what it meant to feel challenged and have to really think critically about examining your own life and not being comfortable with where you are. That's something that I wouldn’t have found if it wasn't for the Branch!”
“Anything else you want to add?” I ask.
Anna smiles again, “If you're a Christian, and if you're not a Christian, just come check it out! There's literally no reason not to. I'm so thankful that Branch really is a place where you do not need to have been a Christian your whole life to join. There's people from all different walks of life, whose faith and faith stories are very different. They're also great people to talk to even if you don't know what you believe in, if you just want to find out more about it. We don't have all the answers either! A lot of the questions that non-believers have, we have as well, and that's okay. I think that for a lot of us, maybe it's easy to shy away and be like, ‘well, I can't talk to non-believers because what if they have a question I don't know the answer to?’ I've learned that Christianity is not really about how much you know, and faith cannot be explained logically. It's not, ‘okay, I have 10 questions. If you give me responses to six of them, I’ll be Christian.’ That's not what it's about! Becoming a Christian is about Jesus. It's about Jesus quickly changing and capturing your heart, and all you need to know to express that is the gospel.”
Another common trend in my talk with Anna. She’s almost always lifting other people, praising Joseph for his skills at talking with other people, Lisa for her dedication and experience with leading Women’s Core Groups. And isn’t that what a fellowship is about? United in Christ, loving and supporting others, encouraged and challenged by other people’s strengths, constantly striving to grow more like Jesus every day.
For anyone with questions, the following people would love to talk with you!
Anna Susini: 859-866-9465 or email@example.com
Joseph Delamerced: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa Yang: email@example.com
ATHLETES IN ACTION
A Total Athlete. I’m totally not an athlete. I’ve played my fair share of flag football or Ultimate frisbee at various Church events and camps and have made it very clear to my brothers and sisters in Christ that God did not give me the gifts of athleticism.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll be glad to hear that Athletes In Action doesn’t meet at the football field or the gym -- in fact, if you were to stumble into Pembroke Field House on a Wednesday afternoon at 8pm, you’ll find a bustling room full of varsity, club, friends of, and former athletes from all spiritual, social, economic, and geographical backgrounds. No matter who they are though, in this room they’re simply a bunch of people seeking to support each other, seeking to Honor God in sport and life. And they’re all ready for Prime Time.
Did someone say Prime Time?!? Along with small groups planned around availability (your availability!) AIA’s weekly Prime Time is a space for learning, discussing, sharing, listening, and meeting with guest speakers, current student-athletes, alumni and more.
To learn more about what’s at the heart of AIA at Brown, I talked to Allen Smith (22’ Football), an AIA student leader.
“I have been able to truly deepen my relationship with God being a leader for AIA. I have seen God work in my life on my team and on this campus being able to spread the Gospel and Jesus's love. The relationships I have been able to cultivate and develop are a blessing that will continue to transform my heart into the way Jesus has called me to live.”
When I asked Allen what he would say to a questioning or unbelieving student, he said, “Our group is a great place to ask questions about faith, God, and life. Our group is a bunch of broken people who don't have it all together, but we believe we know the One who does and so we seek to follow Him together. Many involved students are not Christian but are, like you, curious and so gently and respectfully come alongside them in their spiritual journey.”
If you’d like to join AIA on their spiritual journey, you now know where to find them. Join AIA today and honor Jesus at Brown“As players on God's winning team / Or better yet, as beloved children in God's family.”
Contact AIA via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram @aia_brown and learn more about AIA on their site, www.aia-brown.org.
Content for this article was taken from www.aia-brown.org
BROWN CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP
When and where do you meet every week?
We currently have two small group Bible studies on Sunday evenings: one for freshmen on the Quiet Green from 6-7 PM and another for sophomores and up in Sayles 200 from 5:30-6:30 PM. We are also planning to have two other weekly spaces: one for people to pray/copy Scripture together, and another for individuals to express their faith by means of artistic expression (anything from music to art to poetry).
How does the typical fellowship meeting work? (Layout, liturgy, etc.)
Bible study begins with a short mingle and icebreaker period. Then, there is a read-aloud of the day’s Scripture, individual reflection on the passage, and then small group and a large-group discussion.
There is also an artistic space, called Beautiful Things, and a Scripture/prayer time. The location and time is to be determined.
Why do you gather?
BCF’s mission is to “be a multiethnic community that worships and explores the person of Jesus on mission together on our campus, in the city of Providence, and in the world.” We aim to learn from and disciple one another, not merely as members of a common organization, but as friends united through Christ in love. By walking with each other through all of life’s hills and valleys, we seek to build a community that encourages those who are curious to explore the Christian faith, no matter your background.
Why is it important to join a campus fellowship?
The joy of belonging to a campus fellowship lies in the solidarity and depth of the relationships you form. The conscientious care and wisdom offered by believers from all walks of life become even more treasured once you realize that living on campus together means you can go to each other for anything, whether it’s prayer, a meal, personal advice or an extra sock! Faith, like any practice, requires continual cultivation and nourishment, and witnessing fellow brothers and sisters in Christ live out their faith provides a substantially stronger foothold for growing in or exploring your own faith versus trying to do so alone. The word “fellowship” says it all -- we hold each other accountable to living out our identity in Christ, particularly when our hearts are weary and our minds so burdened that the last thing we think we need is to step back and spend time in prayer, Scripture or repentance. But by bringing each other back to the Cross when it’s the most difficult, you’ll find yourself both experiencing and bestowing a love that fuels vibrant, lifelong relationships.
What would you say to an unbeliever on the edge of faith?
I would say that whatever uncertainty you are feeling, God welcomes us all with open arms. As it says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Because we are saved ONLY by faith and not by works, none of us have to worry about meeting any unseen standard in order to have a relationship with God, regardless of anything we’ve done in our lives. It is also a timely reminder that Christians are in no way above anyone else; we too are sinners, often feeling hopelessly lost, and this is why we take such pride in the Gospel -- not because we do good ourselves, but because we have a beautiful, merciful and loving God who has washed away all our transgressions by the blood of His son!
See Luke 15:7: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
I would also invite the person to share their biggest sticking point that might be preventing them from coming to their faith (ex: Christian views on abortion). Even if they do not end up professing their faith then and there, the opportunity to engage in dialogue about what is most important to them will likely make them more receptive to having such conversations later down the line.
How have you seen God at work in your fellowship?
I think the immense hospitality and willingness of everyone to share in each other’s lives, whether virtually or in person, has been the most prominent indicator of God’s work through BCF. Even during the fall semester I had off as a freshman, God moved first years by His Spirit to hold bible studies, prayer meetings and more over Zoom -- even though we had never met each other, and very few of us were experienced in terms of organizing fellowship, God gave us the means to fulfill our desire for community! Now that we’re in-person, God has further developed this intentionality into spaces for regular prayer, community meals and personal discipling. He has never let a zealous thought or idea slip down the drain; despite having so many spaces in the works, He has enabled us to coordinate extra worship nights, scavenger hunts, and freshman outreach with relatively few people, especially amidst complex campus logistics due to the pandemic.
How has your relationship with God changed during your time in this fellowship?
Studying Scripture and worshipping with Christians my own age is amazing because I get to witness what about Christianity gets different people excited, whether it’s jamming to worship songs together, praying or studying Scripture. Seeing what exactly lights each person’s heart on fire for God has deepened the intimacy of my relationship with Christ, and how I engage with Him. For instance, the first time I heard someone say “I love you, God” during prayer, I saw the joy that was written on their face and in their smile. I still remember it, and many similar moments made me realize that my interactions with God should be just as intimate (in fact, much more so) as with family or friends. I now always include “I love you, God” in my prayers -- while it isn’t much in and of itself, it reminds me that my relationship with God is deeply personal, and that He invites me to speak with Him as I would with my most trusted peers.
For anyone with further questions, contact Toby Meng-Saccoccio at email@example.com or Theda Tann, Religious Life Affiliate and Intervarsity campus staffer, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BROWN RISD CATHOLIC COMMUNITY
When and where do you meet every week?
We have masses in Manning Chapel on
Sundays at 10:30 AM and 8:30 PM,
Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays at 12:05 PM,
and Wednesdays at 6:30 PM, which is followed by a Holy Hour of Eucharistic adoration.
We have a weekly social event at the Catholic Center (51 Prospect Street) every Monday from 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM, and the Center is open from 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM on weekdays and well as 12:00 PM - 5:00 PM on Sundays for prayer, meals, studying, fellowship, and any other purpose really.
We also have Bible Studies, retreats, a choir, men's and women's nights, game nights, bonfires, and much more. Our chaplain, Father Edmund, can be reached at email@example.com, and our Campus Minister, Christina Germak, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach me at email@example.com (I'm a member of the Pastoral Council and one of the main student leaders)
How have you seen God at work in your fellowship?
We had a big fire roaring my freshman year. Then last year during COVID, with the limitations, the lack of people on campus, the restrictions with what we were allowed to do, we became a lot smaller. It felt like a sort of winter of sorts, but we stuck together. In fact, last year, the only in-person activity I was allowed to do on a daily basis was daily mass with the Catholic community.
We had a small, humble cohort, but we were able to gather in worship and fellowship almost every day, which was just such an extraordinary privilege. It felt like God was lifting us up, amid the trials of the global and individual situations at that point. And now this fall, we have so many new faces.
It's extraordinary. We're just getting new people left and right. I'm getting tons of text messages, like, Hey, like where do you go to mass on Sunday? Like, can I come? It feels so obvious to me that it’s the movement of the holy spirit. It’s the highlight of my week. It's the thing I pour my heart and soul out into the most.
It was such a blessing to be able to gather last year, and now it’s such a blessing to ramp it up even more this year.
Why do you gather? Do you think it's important to join a campus fellowship?
Absolutely. Faith on its own is like a coal that’s trying to burn by itself. Even if it's small but mighty, by yourself, it's a lot chillier.
I think I've grown in ways that I couldn't have achieved by myself in the BRCC. I noticed it, especially this summer. I was at home in Brooklyn, going to daily mass, praying a rosary every day, but I feel like more has happened spiritually for me in the last week and a half than the entire summer.
I feel like that is in no small part due to the community. By being around other people who are pouring their hearts and souls out, the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts. The holy spirit moves in community. We thrive together. That's Acts 2:42.
As for why we gather, I think that the simple, easy answer to that is sacramental grace. There’s just nothing compared to the Eucharist confession and I think even more so at Brown, that community allows us to implement those things in our lives and nurture the grace he imparts into personal commitment and growing, into knowledge of scripture and fluency, into inviting people into it and being leaders and witnesses.
What are moments when you noticed this growth this last week and a half?
We had a gathering one morning of the people leading Bible studies and we were praying together, intercessory prayer for the people in the Bible studies. And I may or may not have ended up completely covered in tears. It's unclear, the details are still coming in.
We just had a men's night this week, and we had 26 guys. We cooked kebabs, burgers, steak, sausage, and macaroni with bacon. And we got like 10 guys who had never come to an event before.
It was an unbelievable environment, joy and fellowship. There was this energy of warm introduction to the community that a lot of the guys had not felt before. And I think we built a lot of relationships there that are gonna last for many years now.
How has your relationship with God changed during your time in BRCC?
I personally went from living a double life to one unified life.
I decided, through crucial conversations and intentional fellowship, to live every day of the week like I professed I wanted to live on Sunday. That was quite a long and painful process.
In many ways, I had to detach myself from a lot of really, really bad habits and welcome God into places in my heart that I had never had the courage to welcome him before. But it bore fruit of a degree that I could have never fathomed. And it gave me courage and hope and joy and strength that I have never experienced before.
All of those things have been more than I ever could've dreamed. All that happened in the BRCC.
What would you say to an unbeliever on the edge of faith?
Who are you and what are you looking for?
Because I think those are really, really uncomfortable questions. If you let them sink in…
I've met many people in the BRCC who had a conversion from agnosticism, from atheism, who sort of defied their parents in following Jesus that way. All of them express a tremendous amount of relief and joy thinking about the way Jesus answered the questions that no one else could answer.
From the stories of many of them, it seems like it was not for lack of trying. All the other places they looked just did not have the truth they were looking for. To an unbeliever who is curious or who is looking to learn more, who's thinking about it, who is sort of teetering on the edge--I don't know, this seems kind of attractive, but I'm not sure about it--I would just bring it to some deep thought and, pun intended, take a leap of faith.
Disclaimer (10/14/2021): This piece provides insight into Christian groups that were registered with Brown SAO at the time of publication