Rebuilding Community for College Life

04/14/2018 .
Clayton Heilman  .  Storyteller

In junior high, a friend invited Delaney to Junior High Ministry (JHM) at Saddleback Church. Delaney didn’t really know the people there, but she thought if her friend was excited about it, she might enjoy it, too. Delaney had tried attending youth group at a different church, but it didn’t really resonate with her. When she attended church with her parents, she typically opted to sit in the main service with them — but that usually wasn’t very exciting. When she visited JHM with her friend, church became a place she enjoyed instead of endured.

Delaney easily built friendships with the other students at JHM. She thought the services were fun, and she kept coming back for more. By the time she reached high school, Delaney wanted to start getting more involved. She joined a Life Group her freshman year and got to know some of the other students a lot better. As summer approached, she assumed the activities at church would slow down. Her group was taking a break, and she thought she’d lose the connections she’d built over the year as friends left town for family vacations. But that first summer in high school was a turning point in Delaney’s life. On weekends at church, everyone began talking about summer camp. Everyone seemed pretty excited about it, rousing Delaney’s curiosity.

“People started inviting me to summer camp, but I was a little hesitant,” Delaney said. “I knew I would be around a lot of people that I didn’t really know for an entire week.”

At camp, the students were put into teams. Delaney’s group comprised about 30 students. They were together for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They’d have game time together and use their skills to compete against other teams of students.

“It was definitely awkward at first,” Delaney recalled. “But only in the beginning. There’s something about camp that lets you really connect with friends. Most of the friends I made at that first camp joined my Life Group with me once school started back up in the fall. They all helped and encouraged me so much. Many are still my friends to this day.”

After graduating high school, Delaney watched as the student exodus began. Anxious to get on with life, friends packed their cars and headed off to college. But Delaney wasn’t ready to move. She was ready to start college, dreaming of becoming a teacher one day, but she didn’t feel the time was right to leave home and live in a dorm. And more importantly, she wanted to save some money by getting some basic classes out of the way at junior college.

She watched as close friends left town, promising to stay in touch, and wondered what College Ministry (CM) at Saddleback Church would be like now that most of her friends were gone.

“I was losing my community,” Delaney said. “In many ways, I felt like I was starting over. New friends, new priorities, new school — I was facing a lot of transitions and I knew I needed good friends in my life. My community of friends had helped me through junior high and high school, and that experience motivated me to at least give CM a try.”

Delaney accepted that college would bring new challenges and anxieties. Her friends at church had helped her get through a lot of the stress and problems she faced in junior high and high school, but now she had to remake that community with the people left around her.

As she made the transition to CM, the leadership team went out of their way to make her feel welcome and help her get connected.

“CM is really uplifting,” she said. “The leaders take the time to pray for me and encourage me. We all struggle with things, but the leaders at CM are the first to come alongside when you need help or encouragement. This past year, the growth I’ve experienced, the leadership I’ve experienced, has really caused me to grow a lot.”

Delaney now leads a Life Group with a small group of HSM girls, and every Thursday night, she leads the welcome team at the CM midweek gathering, hoping to create the same inviting experience for other students that she experienced when she first came to Saddleback Church.

“I know that it takes courage to come out and meet new people at CM,” Delaney said. “But CM is very friendly and personal.”

“I still stay involved with summer camp, volunteering and helping lead the younger students that come out to HSM,” she continued. “But the place where I make the strongest friendships is in my CM Life Group. I’m glad that I’ve stuck with this. I used to think my struggles were a weakness. I used them as an excuse not to step up and lead, but now I see that I can really relate to other students in similar situations and we can help each other grow.”

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