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by Rev. Haley Lerner
It’s not every day that you get to spend two weeks in the wilderness of the American West with some fantastic clergy colleagues and nine thoughtful, hilarious, and kind college students, but this May, I got to do just that! As campus minister of the Presbyterian Student Center, I had the privilege to travel as one of the staff members of Qwest West 2022.
For the past 20+ years, Rev. John Cook (Campus Minister, UKirk South Carolina) has led groups of young people out West to experience the glory and magnificence of our country’s National Parks on this program called Qwest West. We learn how to set up and take down tents as quickly as possible, pass long van rides together, take 5-minute showers, cook on a camp stove, hike and play in some of the most glorious places, and worship God together. Whether we are remembering our baptisms in the sinking waters of Lake Powell, worshiping over Bryce Canyon at sunrise, or celebrating Communion under the grand mountains of Yosemite, God is heard, praised, and known among this group. And what a joy it is to know and support young people as they explore themselves and their faith in this experience.
Some of my favorite parts of the trip included the moments when we drove into the parks and saw the first glimpses of their majesty for the first time. It is so exciting to see the first red rock formations outside of Sedona, take in the sunset hitting the peak of El Capitan or wind through the mountains of Zion as we sit in awe and wonder. Each trip, the students are blindfolded as the staff guide them (safely!) alongside the rim of the Grand Canyon so that everyone can have the first glimpse of it together and celebrate the beauty of God’s Creation right in front of us. Even for folks who might have traveled to some of these places before, it is new and exciting to do so with this community of peers.
If you have any college students in your congregation who might be interested in participating in Qwest West, it is projected to depart again in May 2023. It is a wonderful time of growth and exploration as we journey together! You can find more information here: https://www.qwestwest.org.