Convergence 2018: Exploring Faith and Science (VIDEO)

Jul 31, 2018


smiling group of Convergence studentsRandolph-Macon College recently hosted Convergence, a nine-day program for high school youth who want to discover the realm where faith and science meet. Randolph-Macon College and Union Presbyterian Seminary faculty and staff led participants in exploring a variety of topics—such as the origin of the universe, the beginnings of life, care for creation, sustainability, and nutrition—from a wide array of religious and scientific perspectives.

R-MC Chaplain, Rev. Kendra Grimes, along with Associate Professor Hal Breitenberg, chair of the Religious Studies department, co-direct Convergence. Coordinator of Special Projects Laura Ruxton '14 serves as the program coordinator. Associate Professor of Physics George Spagna, and Director of the R-MC Counseling Center, Craig Anderson, serve as senior advisors. This youth theology institute is made possible by a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc.

Introspection, Discovery, Fun
The 32 rising 10th, 11th and 12th grade students—from Virginia and as far away as Georgia—followed an itinerary that was jam-packed with introspection, discovery and fun. The program kicked off with a video greeting by Bishop Sharma D. Lewis of the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church, who encouraged campers in their study of the convergence of faith and science—two subjects that she believes can come together in a meaningful way.

During the week participants learned about sustainable gardening and volunteered at Shalom Farms as they considered the intersection between farming, food and faith; enjoyed paddle boarding and nature journaling at Pocahontas State Park; explored how a future vocation might grow out of interests in faith and science; and discovered Virginia's coastline and diversity of marine life by boat at the Brock Environmental Center in partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Campers also created both liturgical and learning resources and led worship at Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church.

Grimes says, "In the prayers they wrote and lesson plans they drafted, you can see how bright and how faithful these young people are. It's truly inspirational to have them share their ideas and watch them lead others in worship."

The Convergence of Science and Religion
R-MC faculty and staff led workshops that explored the relationship between science and religion.

Nicholas Ruppel (biology) and Timothy Brown (religious studies) examined religion and nature in the Brian Wesley Moores Native Plant Garden, where students learned about native plants and how religious leaders understand caring for creation. Participants had the opportunity to work in the garden and meet Brian Moores, R-MC Chemistry Professor Emeritus, for whom the garden is named and whose life and work were inspirations for it.

In a workshop led by Professor Rebecca Michelsen (chemistry), campers conducted their own experiments related to the ozone layer and global temperature.

In addition, Melanie Gubbels Bupp (biology), Larry Enis (religious studies), Diana Yesbeck (education), Charles Gowan (biology), James McLeskey Jr. (engineering physics), Hal Breitenberg, Kendra Grimes, George Spagna, and Craig Anderson met with students to discuss various aspects of faith, science, vocation, and points of convergence between them. Professor John Vest, of Union Presbyterian Seminary, and Rev. Pat Watkins, a missionary of the United Methodist Church's General Board of Global Missions, led informative workshops and reflections for students.

"Both religion and science are important ways of understanding the world and ourselves," says Breitenberg, "and both are highly influential for individuals, communities and the broader society. Convergence provides a unique opportunity for young people to explore these areas—to think deeply, ask questions, learn from college and seminary faculty and staff, share new experiences, and enjoy meeting new friends—while also getting a taste of what college is like."

Mentorship, Guidance, Feedback
Seven R-MC students and alumni served as Convergence counselors: Sam Armstrong '21, Olivia Dillard '20, Noah Morgan '21, Nick Ravida '18, Briana Stewart '18, Katie Wax '20, and Jake Young '18. Two recent graduates from Union Presbyterian Seminary, Marina Ghaly and Rebecca Heilman, served as mentors to the R-MC counselors.

"The leadership qualities our R-MC students demonstrated, along with the support from our two Union Presbyterian Seminary interns, made the details of running a nine-day camp for 32 high school students seem easy," says Grimes. "I am proud to work beside our students and see them putting their leadership skills into action."