SPU Small Groups: Students Connect to Community, Encouragement, and Faith Through "SoulCare"
Calisto Correa ’16 was having one of those days. Everything felt stressful. In particular, she needed a place to live the next year. "A couple of roommates had fallen through," Correa remembers. "Everything seemed to be going against me." On top of that, midterms were in full swing.
In the midst of this stress, Correa walked into her weekly SoulCare group: a small gathering of students who meet once a week. Soon, it was her time to share. She took a deep breath.
"Everyone was listening," Correa remembers. "When I was done, one of the girls told me how she'd had a similar problem and how it was resolved." Another recommended a Facebook group for housing leads. Someone offered to pray for her. By the end of the hour, Correa says she didn't feel so alone.
SoulCare is SPU's version of Wesleyan small groups, a practice of Christian formation that started in the 18th century by John and Charles Wesley. Each group is made up of four to five students and one student facilitator. They meet once a week during the quarter a student takes University Foundations (UFDN) 1000: “Christian Faith”, a required course for first-year students.
The next year, Correa — an accounting major — joined SoulCare in a leadership role. She is one of 24 student facilitators, from various majors and backgrounds, all trained by Seattle Pacific Seminary students as part of a Murdock Vision and Call grant.
But this isn't your average small group. It's not a Bible study. There's no homework or study questions. This is a group focused around discussing one question:
"How goes it with your soul?"
It’s an odd question. People don't usually think about how their soul is doing. It's different from asking, 'How was your day?' Or 'How is school going?'
This question is much deeper, Correa says. It asks how you’re doing mentally, physically, and emotionally. It asks you to ponder how your relationships — with friends, family, and God — are impacting you.
Joshua McBrayer ’15, program coordinator, came on as staff for Wesleyan small groups after graduation. “I've done a lot of Bible studies, but I'd never been a part of something like this,” he says. “I was reflecting more and becoming more aware of who I was.”
Some group members have gone to church their whole lives. Others haven’t. Many are Christians, but that is not required. In the UFDN 1000 class associated with the small group, professors teach about the history of Christian beliefs and the variety of Christian traditions, including Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and different Protestant denominations.
“We want our students to know that difference — diversity within Christianity — isn't a problem,” says David Nienhuis, professor of New Testament studies, who oversees the UFDN curriculum. “There are different traditions, and those all shape people into being distinctive Christians with distinctive identities.”
But Nienhuis says the weekly small group isn’t about a professor’s curriculum. It is about students listening to each other. It’s about getting a chance to experience community firsthand. “How do you learn to be in Christian community?” Nienhuis asks. “You don't learn it from a lecture. You learn it by practicing it."