There are any number of youth-oriented faith groups around town, many specifically trying to appeal to a college-age audience. The very newest, Columba House, is a project of the local Episcopal diocese and closely affiliated with St. Paul's Episcopal Church, one of the more progressive houses of worship in Savannah.
As the Episcopal Church itself has been bitterly divided over gay marriage, the ordination of women priests, and other social issues, St. Paul's — despite offering a very old-school High Anglican liturgy at its Sunday morning services — has remained steadfastly on the more tolerant side of the various disputes.
So how new is Columba House? They just opened this month. We spoke with one of Columba House's main organizers, the newly ordained Rev. Michael Chaney — who's not only a thoroughly cool dude but better known to many in town as a Professor of Film & TV at SCAD.
What prompted the establishment of Columba House?
Rev. Michael Chaney: Columba House was begun with the objective of creating an intentional community in the Christian tradition. This is still the long term objective, while currently serving as a foundation for social justice ministry with college students and young adults.
Everyone's welcome, of course!
How directly does it trace to the schism in the Episcopalian/Anglican church over gay marriage, etc.?
Rev. Michael Chaney: I don't think its establishment is a response to any theological disagreements whatsoever. The Episcopal Church, as I've always known it, is opening and welcoming to all of God's people. This is like getting back to the early church.
How does Columba House compare to the various nontraditional churches springing up around town with a much more evangelical bent?
Rev. Michael Chaney: Columba House is in its beginnings. We are very interested in what the community needs are and in letting the community define what Columba House should be in order to best address those needs. At its heart is the Christian mission of hope and justice proclaimed in the Gospel.
What is particularly Episcopalian about Columba House?
Rev. Michael Chaney: As Episcopalians you can expect to find a balance of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. We are a safe place for all people, on any stage of their spiritual journey, to engage, ask questions, and seek meaning free from judgment.
In that way we consider ourselves radically inclusive. Jesus sat, spoke, listened and shared hospitality with a broad diversity of people. We're looking to do the same.
You are welcome to participate with as much as you feel comfortable with. You can expect a little Episcopal liturgy too.
What's the overlap, if any, with the Celtic Mass on Sunday nights, a previous St. Paul's youth outreach effort?
Rev. Michael Chaney: The Celtic Mass at St Paul's is now simply the Evening Mass. The Celtic Mass was a great success, however we're looking to be a little more experimental with the liturgy and not rely solely on the Celtic tradition.
There are several exciting worship opportunities across the convocation that are developing in tandem with Columba House. St. Paul's is going to offer a back-to-school mass on Sunday, Sept. 22 at 6:30PM. I'm preaching. Look out.
What can college-age students expect from the upcoming weekly meetings?
Rev. Michael Chaney: I think college age people can expect an opportunity to ask sincere and meaningful questions about what a spiritual life means to both them and their community.
We welcome questions. Jesus had His doubts. Why can't we?
The programming will be diverse, addressing social justice issues, theological diversity, faith and the arts, contemplative practices and even a little play time.
What is the takeaway you hope for?
Rev. Michael Chaney: We really hope that anyone who shows up feels welcome, affirmed, and validated in their quest. We hope you feel loved no matter who you are.
The college years are a challenging period. Issues of existence, meaning, sexuality and authority come into question, as they should. We're here to provide a safe spiritual home for people to explore these questions. There will also be some prayer.
Oh, there's also supper. And it's sure to be tasty.