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My name is Rev. Haley Lerner, and I have the honor of serving as campus minister at the Presbyterian Student Center in Athens, GA. The weekend of Palm Sunday, I traveled with a group of students from the PSC to Montgomery, AL for our annual Spring Pilgrimage. Our Spring Pilgrimage is a unique take on a retreat that allows us to grow and connect together while also engaging our faith at the important intersection of truth and justice. And Montgomery gave us the incredible opportunity to think critically about the history and current reality of racism in America and our/the church’s complicitness in it. We spent the day Saturday at the EJI Legacy Museum and at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and spent time reflecting on what we were learning and witnessing in these spaces.
We reflected, too, on the fact that this was the first time our group had been able to travel together or go on any retreat together since January of 2020. So what a blessing it was to get to spend time together as a community in this way.
And an even greater blessing was getting to worship with First Congregational Christian Church UCC on Sunday morning! I had the privilege of serving with Ms. Bea Forniss, who serves as the moderator of First Church, on the search committee for our new Conference Minister (and we were so grateful to welcome Rev. Kim!). The committee formed and operated during the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic and never met in person. But even over Zoom, I could feel the love and warmth emanating from Bea in the joy and faith she carried, and I remember reflecting during that process that all I wanted to do was to come to Montgomery to give her a hug! So when we officially decided on traveling to Montgomery and knew we could travel safely, Bea was the first person I reached out to.
First Church was incredibly welcoming of our group, and I finally got that hug! Even in the midst of a senior pastor search, they took the time to make sure we felt just as welcomed as any other guest. As our campus ministry finalized its partnership with the Southeast Conference last year, I am so grateful for the ways we get to connect with the conference, even across state lines. Moreover, I remain even more grateful for the way our local churches show up to care for our young people and welcome them in with open arms. These folks are not just the future of the Church, they ARE the Church, which makes connections like these all the more wonderful.
I am hopeful for all the ways our local churches and communities get to travel, learn, and support each other and hold each other in love. This trip was just the beginning of what I pray will be a faithful pattern in the coming years. So to the rest of our search committee family, I look forward to visiting you next!