You might not be able to pick them out among Erskine freshmen, transfer students, and returning upperclassmen, since they look a lot like college students themselves. But Alden and Taylor Groves—who were married in April, graduated from Wofford College in May, and arrived on campus in August—are already making themselves known to students as they begin work as Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) interns, assisting Erskine Chaplain Paul Patrick.
Easing the transition
Erskine’s interns, who are making their home in nearby Honea Path, are immersed in campus ministry activities, including Sunday evening sessions at “The Barn” and small-group meetings during the week.
“We have both enjoyed seeing our ‘relational credibility’ with students grow even in such a short time,” Alden said.
The interns focus particularly on freshmen, though they spend time with all students—Alden meeting with the men and Taylor with the women.
“We spend most of our week meeting with students either one-on-one or in small groups to give them a place in which they can ask hard questions and share some of their fears and misgivings, profound new insights, and joys,” he said.
Helping students “transition to college and the step toward adulthood that it represents” is a goal of the interns’ efforts, Alden said. But they also strive “to be the hands and feet of Jesus, loving students and presenting them with the love and truth of the Gospel by our actions and our words.”
Making it work
Alden says he and Taylor had each thought about doing an RUF internship before they ever decided to get married, and once they began making marriage plans, “we thought it would be a great way to start our marriage—getting to do ministry together.” So both of them had a “keen interest” in applying for the internship and were excited to be placed at Erskine.
Patrick, who has been chaplain at Erskine for 13 years, is happy to have help with a full schedule of campus ministry activities, but he also understands something about making time for marriage.
“Paul is great about encouraging us and making sure that we take the time we need to keep our marriage healthy while still doing what we are supposed to do,” Alden said.
“As married interns we get to pray together and do a lot of our work jointly, but there is also a fair amount of separate work and there are some separate responsibilities as well,” Alden said.
“Since Taylor focuses on the young women and my focus is on the young men, we spend our time in one-on-one meetings separately, and my small group meeting may look like a game of ping-pong or Frisbee whereas hers may be coffee or tea.”
Relating, not berating
It’s all about getting to know the students. Having recently finished their own time in college, Alden and Taylor remember the valleys as well as the peaks of college life.
“My transition to college was difficult,” Taylor Groves said. “I struggled to find out who I truly was and where I belonged, and at first I searched for that comfort and certainty in all of the wrong places imaginable.”
RUF offered Taylor “a safe place” for her searching, and held out “the truth of God’s word spoken consistently” as she struggled.
“The process of considering and discovering my desperate need of a holy savior had its beginning in the community of RUF, amid feelings of loneliness, insecurity, and mild depression that had been building as I sought satisfaction and security in myself—in how kind, caring, or respectable I was,” Taylor said.
Alden and Taylor keep their student experience in mind as they serve at Erskine, and that awareness informs their efforts.
“College is a wonderful time of growth and learning for many people, but it can also be a time of loneliness, depression, and discouragement,” Alden said. “The difference it makes to know someone’s name and have spent even a little bit of time talking with them is huge.”
Taylor agrees. The intellectual curiosity encouraged in college can prompt students to “ask questions about their own identity and how they fit into a vast world with billions of humans,” she said. The interns get to know students while they are asking those deep questions.
As an RUF intern, she explained, she hopes to “humbly facilitate consideration of God and self for students as it was facilitated for me, and guide them in what the Bible teaches to be true, as I seek to understand those truths more myself.”
Loving the challenge
Are these young interns cut out for this? They believe they are.
“We both love people and really value the students that God has called us here to minister to,” Alden said.
Alden and Taylor are already feeling needed, and already experiencing rewards.
“We love being used by Him to encourage students when they are hurting, confused, or discouraged. Having students already opening up to us and looking for the help and hope of the Gospel is a deep joy, and we love getting to be part of that process,” Alden said.
So, when these newlyweds experience their own discouragement, for whatever reason, their work as interns gives them a great view of what happens as students open up to “the help and hope of the Gospel,” as Alden describes it, and witnessing God working this way helps them in turn.
“Seeing these things restores and strengthens our own joy in Jesus,” Alden said. “What a great job we have been blessed with!”
So far this semester, the interns have accompanied students to RUF’s fall retreat Sept. 25-27 and are looking forward to the remaining talks in Patrick’s Sunday evening series this fall, “Seven Sins of the Wounded Heart.” In addition to large-group sessions on Sunday nights, small-group meetings during the week, and one-on-one time with students, Patrick and the interns are gearing up for this year’s Hymn Sing, set for Nov. 1. Patrick hopes to host some high school students for this annual event, which usually includes a barbecue supper.
About RUF at Erskine: RUF is the campus ministry of the Presbyterian Church in America. Though RUF has informally been at Erskine since 2002, it gained an official presence at Erskine in 2010 via a three-way Affiliation Agreement signed between Erskine College, the ARP General Synod, and Reformed University Ministries. Erskine pays the annual affiliation expenses, the Synod provides the campus minister, and RUF provides training, conferences, and assistance via an area coordinator who provides pastoral care to interns and campus ministers in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.