As a student at the Wesley Foundation, one of the hardest things I had to do every year was say goodbye to dear friends and mentors as they prepared to move on. It began as I realized that I was experiencing their “lasts.” The last Retreat, the last Well, the last Engage Group… Inevitably, these “lasts” would run out and time was up. All I could do was join the rest of community as we came together in tears and embraces just as the Ephesians did when Paul gave them his final words before departing (Acts 20:37). Though they were young, these dear friends had been used by God in Pauline ways for His work in the Wesley Foundation. They taught me His Word by both speech and action, were there in my brightest days and darkest nights, and showed me, whether intentionally or not, how the kingdom of Heaven could be found in friendship. Our lives had been permanently woven together in ways that truly seemed sacramental. To watch them leave left me with a sense of loss that lingers to this day.
Watching people move on from the Wesley was always accompanied by the thought of my own departure. I knew that I would leave one day, but I did my best to ignore those thoughts. I did not want to think about leaving the community where I had seen the Spirit moving so tangibly and where I had found such amazing Christian friends. The Wesley was a place where Christianity was alive in ways that I didn’t know were possible until I found myself caught up in God’s work there. It was there that I learned about Jesus and his character, discovered my love for the church, and experienced God’s calling into a life of ministry. More than that, I knew that I was just a continuation of something God had been doing at Louisiana Tech University long before I got there. The Wesley’s story spans multiple decades and generations of disciples. My own experience there was just one small piece of the mosaic of a beautiful, fruitful ministry. How could I be OK knowing that I would leave that ministry and head out on a mission to a world that has always been unkind to those who would follow The Way?
Despite my fears of the future and my desire to stay in Ruston, my time to leave the Wesley came. Thankfully, I was not going to be moving to a new place entirely alone. My girlfriend and now fiancée, Emily, a fellow student and intern at Wesley, had already moved to North Carolina, where we would be attending seminary together. This brought me great comfort and joy and I became hopeful that maybe leaving would not be so bad after all. As I navigated my way through my final hangouts, I did my best to stay strong and offer as many “We’ll see each other again soon”s as I could. Suddenly, it was all over, and I was driving a U-Haul to North Carolina with no one but my cat, Chester, to accompany me. As the interstate miles passed, I became more and more aware of yet another sense of loss taking shape within my soul. However, this time, it felt more final.
In the months since I left and settled into life away from my home community, a few thoughts have been pressing against my soul. First, I have become convinced that seminary is one of the most difficult places in the world to maintain any semblance of Christian worship. In an environment where the living story of God’s work is treated academically, answers such as “Because Jesus said so” and “I am not sure, but I have faith in God” have become increasingly unacceptable. Once caught up in the never-ending quest to answer questions no one is asking, it is easy to forget how to stand in awe of God, or even how to be in love with Him. When I sit through lectures that seem intent on stifling all manifestations of the Spirit, I simply cannot help but remember our Bible studies or Wesley staff meetings where we would discuss Scripture or a number of books and articles we were given to read. Do not get me wrong; I love studying the Bible and the writings of Saints throughout the history of the Church. I just believe that Christian study is perhaps most fruitful when it is done within the love and care of the Christian community whose goal is first and foremost to bring glory to God’s name. The Wesley taught me to study in that way; through faith and out of love and desire to know more of God’s character.
Secondly, I think true friendships may be one of the rarest treasures to be found in the world. I mean real, brave friendships that focus on calling each other deeper into relationship with Christ; friendships based on Christ-like love and honest confession and repentance. These are friendships that are moved and formed by something much deeper than human attraction. They are reflections of the Heavenly love Jesus teaches us through the Spirit. They are not rare in the sense that they are not around. They are rare in the sense that not many people seem very interested in having them. These kinds of friendships were gifted to me at Wesley, though I did not truly understand what I had until I moved away and missed them.
It has been easy for me to fall into despair over all of this. However, God rarely seems to think of despair as helpful. It has been in these dark times that God has come to me with great comfort and strength, using the very memories that were the source of my tears to give me strength. The formation I received at Wesley in reading and interpreting Scripture has shaped the way I write and read here at Divinity School. Though I find myself challenged at times, I think back to the countless bible studies and worship services I experienced and rediscover a deep Well of safety and trust in Jesus’ teachings. Because of this, I feel able to see and trust in God’s presence in Divinity School. Though Christian companionship has been hard to come by, I remember a time where I had no idea what true community looked like. I needed Wesley students and interns to step into my life in a radical way and show me by example. I realize now that the time I have spent in community at Wesley has equipped me to boldly stand out in the world and invite people into those same relationships regardless of whether I fear rejection or not.
My time at Wesley gave me the most intentional and serious Christian formation I could have asked for. However, it was given with the intention that I would leave and move on. God has called us all to shine as lights in a dark and lonely world. That is easy to understand when you are surrounded by other lights. When there are just a few of you, however, the darkness seems deeper and more pressing. Burn anyway, Jesus says. Burn so that all may be lit. I have learned these past few months that the experience of a Christian community is a gift, not a right. The Wesley was gifted to me and so many other believers so that we might learn how to burn before being sent out to those who have no light.
If you are still at home in your Christian community, cherish every moment of it for as long as you can.
If you have been sent out and often feel you burn alone, know that others are with you.
And if you are a student at Louisiana Tech University who would like to know that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand…The Well is Tuesdays at 7 and Laid Back Lunch is Thursdays from 11-2.
Trevor Blair is an aspiring preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He currently attends Duke Theological Seminary where he is earning his Masters of Divinity. Trevor enjoy The Office, hiking, and his new fiancé, Emily Hamil. At his time at Wesley, Trevor was a zealous and faithful member of the community, leadership teams, and mission teams.