An Unexpected Gift
Like many other freshmen last year, I entered my first semester at the University of Minnesota in 2020 with great uncertainty. Online classes, cancelled events, and numerous modifications to various aspects of ordinary life made it harder to connect with others in just about every setting. While these obstacles remained in place throughout the year, I have been surprised and delighted to be able to experience fellowship at a level I have never enjoyed before, thanks especially to the Christian community I have found through Anselm House.
Prior to this year, I’ve had many friends but nearly exclusively at a “fun” yet shallow level, where jokes and games abounded but substantive conversation remained scarce. I enjoyed many hours with a wide range of classmates and teammates, yet felt there was an additional level of connection that I lacked. It is undoubtedly important to maintain friendships at a variety of levels and from a variety of contexts, but these types of relationships are not sufficient on their own. I was particularly aware of a lack of Christian fellowship. I attended an aggressively secular high school where I held my faith in common with very few others. Even with these few, it was not a typical subject to mention, let alone to serve as the cornerstone of our friendship.
However, in what has otherwise been a year of social isolation, I have experienced an unexpected gift in the form of a much clearer view of what ideal community looks like. I have been able to discover and enjoy the company of fellow students who pursue God’s truth in their life and studies. Though I have missed experiencing more casual interactions around campus this year, the absence of other opportunities opened the door for me to commit more time to the Anselm House community and made this particular source of fellowship even more enriching.
This form of community is primarily enabled by the presence of shared Christian faith, which is a powerful glue to hold a group together. Every group of people, in any context, must have something in common to bring and hold its members together. Shared Christian faith connects people in a strong and durable way.
An important factor that contributes to this glue is a sense of Christian joy—a shared hope in Christ which manifests itself in a sense of joyfulness and even excitement. At its strongest, this joy is capable of permeating every aspect of life. It removes the natural overemphasis that we put on day-to-day events by placing them in a greater perspective. Thanks to our assurance through Christ, it is possible to hold lightly the concerns of everyday life. At the same time, it can give us renewed focus and motivation for what we do in our daily life.
Characteristic of this joy is a way of living with a certain lighthearted seriousness. People who live in this way remain focused in their faith and other pursuits, yet are still filled with a lightheartedness that is indicative of this joy. They take life seriously but avoid becoming serious people. This has been especially evident in this community that I have stumbled into in the past year: I have been amazed by people’s ability to transition seamlessly from deep discussions on how faith informs their lives and studies to telling jokes and setting distance records on broken sleds—or maybe even combining all of these at once.
As well as shaping the mindset of individuals, a shared experience of this joy works powerfully to create a bond between the people who share it. The joyful cycle of conversation, prayer, and laughter becomes amplified when it is shared by multiple people, as it can be reflected, strengthened, and spread. When this occurs, it can contribute powerfully to a sense of connectedness as members of the Body of Christ.
At a bonfire last fall, I heard someone remark how extraordinary it was that the group we were in at the time had very little in common other than our Christian faith, yet got along amazingly well. This is a testament to the strength of this kind of “glue” and is also the basis of another important point: when this context of shared faith is established, it allows for a level of trust and cohesion that is otherwise uncommon. This then allows connections that wouldn’t likely form in other contexts. For instance, I have found it very valuable to connect with several graduate students this year who, as a freshman, I otherwise would have barely realized existed! Hearing their more considered views—even as they continue discovering how to use their gifts and knowledge to contribute to God’s good work—has been inspiring. These sorts of connections have enriched and expanded my interactions in ways a more conventional freshman social circle, in a more conventional year, would be unlikely to do.
Surprisingly, it turns out that some of the most important things I learned in my first year as a university student were not through a classroom or Zoom call, but rather through rich interactions with fellow Christian students. Through discussion, observation, prayer, and fun, I have discovered and experienced the joys of Christian fellowship.