Student-led reconciliation at The U
“The U is just a group of believers who want to come together,” said sophomore River Shindledecker. “We want to represent that as a Christian body we are together. We’re here for each other, and we acknowledge the fact that we’re eternally united.” Shindledecker also said the main focus of the U, which stands for “Together Here Eternally United,” is to bring revival to campus through worship and prayer.
According to Shindledecker, The U started three years ago as the brainchild of senior Jaelin Goldsmith. Although the idea emerged three years ago, The U services did not start until last academic year. The U now aims to convene for four services each semester.
Goldsmith noticed that on-campus worship nights were often divided by academic class and there was not necessarily a worship night for all students aside from All School Communion. “We wanted to do something that was entirely led by students,” said Goldsmith.
The U was going to meet for the first time in the spring of 2017, but Goldsmith said it was cancelled after his peer Ethan Roser died as a result of an accident in a track meet that same spring semester. After copious amounts of prayer, The U’s first service was held on Oct. 1, 2017. Goldsmith gave the message for the first service. In total, there were five services in the last academic year. Speakers included students Sammie Shields, Kyra Perez and Favor Ezewuzie.
The U became an official club in fall 2017, according to Goldsmith. Biblical and Theological Studies Professor Vincent Bacote advises the club, though he does not help lead services because Goldsmith seeks to maintain an intentionally student-led environment.
Goldsmith serves as president and there are seven other people on cabinet. Shindledecker began attending The U’s services partway through the spring 2018 semester. He currently serves as one of The U’s eight chairmen. The chairmen do “behind the scenes work,” such as helping in the service planning process, contacting people, booking events, speaking at events and helping with worship. Each service, according to Shindledecker, consists of a message, worship and a concluding prayer. “We have a big strong community of prayer in all of our events,” he said. “So just understanding that life together isn’t just here. It isn’t just now. But it’s in the future. It’s for the rest of eternity.”
The U’s services reflect its emphasis on community. Its first event, advertised as “Jersey Night” and held on Sunday, Sept. 16, was hosted by two groups that have often been at odds with one another: Willie- O and the Wheaton Football team. Goldsmith, who is on the football team, noticed during his first two years at Wheaton that “Willie-O, the football team and the black football players on the team didn’t always connect well.”
When there were talks about social justice in chapel during the controversial 2016 presidential election, Goldsmith thought of the tension between these groups. Last spring, Goldsmith felt an urge “building up in [him] to do something with both groups.” After discussing this idea with two of The U’s cabinet members, he decided to have a service co-hosted by the two groups.
Shindledecker, who is on the football team, told the Record that “the service was just putting all that stuff behind us and coming together in one service. So we had five [student] speakers: three from the football team, two from Willie-O.” Goldsmith said the event was necessary and “a long time coming.” As for the effects of the service, he said, “I know there’s not … a huge population of African Americans on campus, but for the black people that are on campus I feel like that [shared service] was something that was very significant.”
Shindledecker also recounted the personal impact that the service had on him. He described the experience as humbling. “Just to see the people spiritually lay down any grudges or any past judgments that we have with each other and just being like, we have a common goal, and that’s just loving Jesus.”
Junior Lael Williams loves the fact that the reconciliation and joint worship is student-led. “[The U] has just given me such an opportunity to be bold about sharing the gospel and inviting people into an environment [that we didn’t] previously have on campus,” said Williams. “It’s not led by some organization on campus, it’s not led by the administration, but it’s just a time for students to come and worship.”
As shown by the Willie-O and football team worship service, The U is attempting to bridge gaps between groups on campus. At Wheaton, Shindledecker said, it can be “easy to feel lonely in a crowded room.”
After the service, however, he told me that peers approached him to say, “I’ve felt like I was truly around like-minded people and people that genuinely cared.” After the encouraging turnout of the first event, The U staff showed excitement about their second event, which brought together speakers from two other Wheaton student groups with a distinct identity: Koinonia and Wheaton Basketball.
The second event took place Sunday, Oct. 7 in Pierce Chapel. There were two speakers who are a part of Koinonia and two speakers on the basketball team. Each spoke about the Holy Spirit. When asked why these groups were chosen as hosts, Goldsmith wrote to the Record in an email interview that “[The U cabinet] just went with connections we had and God just opened the doors we knocked on.” Goldsmith emphasized his belief that God leads The U and joins these groups together.
In the email interview, Goldsmith said the theme for every event this year will delve into different aspects of the Holy Spirit. “We feel the Holy Spirit is the part of the Trinity talked about the least and misunderstood the most. So with our events we’re going to dive into who the Holy Spirit is, his power, his presence, his gifts, his fruits and how he wants to work in our lives and ultimately on our campus,” Goldsmith wrote in the email.
Although The U cabinet has not yet planned which groups will host the next event, they look forward to the third service of the year set for Nov. 4 in Pierce Chapel at 7 p.m.