Living in fellowship with others is hard. It’s especially hard, Derek Taylor ’08 says, for young people growing up immersed in a digital, social-media world. “Having face-to-face togetherness is so essential to the Christian faith and to human life,” he says. “But more and more it has become a practice that we need to cultivate.”
When COVID-19 hit, cultivating authentic, meaningful fellowship seemed all but impossible. But the pandemic didn’t deter Taylor and campus ministry from launching the Emmaus Scholars Program, an intentional Christian living-learning community focused on faith and justice. In fall 2020, 13 students from diverse backgrounds moved into three houses near campus for the academic year.
As director of the program, Taylor’s central vision for Emmaus is to provide students the space and structure to cultivate the skills necessary for “doing life” together while also learning what it means to follow Jesus. “We talk about loving our neighbor, but when it comes to concrete togetherness, that’s where we learn, ‘Do I really love this person or am I just saying those words?’”
The Emmaus Program is funded through a $3-million gift from Whitworth trustee Anne McCulloch Storm and Kim Storm, both ’74. This generous endowment created the Storm Family Dean of Spiritual Life position, currently fulfilled by Campus Pastor Forrest Buckner. The endowment has enabled campus ministry to expand its programs to reach more students for Christ than ever before. Other endowed campaign gifts created and provide ongoing annual support for student scholarships, faculty chairs, and centers including the Dana & David Dornsife Center for Community Service.
While the pandemic prevented the Emmaus scholars from contributing to the wider good of the Spokane community through service – an important pillar of the program – the first cohort of scholars served through revitalizing Whitworth’s Kipos Community Garden that had gone dormant, making meaningful contributions to the Whitworth community. This year, the second cohort is also participating in service-learning projects with local nonprofits.
Kylie Vera ’22, was part of the inaugural cohort and is helping to lead the program as an Emmaus Fellow this year. “I can continue to learn what embodied community looks like, from a leadership role,” she says, “and I also can help current Emmaus students through their journey. There are challenges that come up that can be difficult to deal with and that can push your worldview. I want to help students learn how to navigate those challenges in a way that not only honors themselves but also honors Christ and their community.”
Through the Emmaus Program, students are gaining the skills and the motivation to cultivate transformative community more widely at Whitworth and beyond. “I continue to hear from other Emmaus students how they have loved the community aspect, and that it’s definitely something they want to seek out in their churches or in their workplaces,” Vera says. “Emmaus has not only catalyzed such a space at Whitworth, but the program has made it possible for other parts of the world to know what an intentional, faith-and-justice-based community really is.”