Reflections on the Year

“Satisfaction comes only when I spend intentional time with God. It comes when that original longing for God—a desire that’s been mutated into a thousand splintering directions—gets redirected back to him.”

One of the hardest and most beautiful lessons this program has taught me is how easily I turn to other things, people, and desires to fill my heart and how quickly I lose sight of my Savior. One of the most stretching parts of this program is learning how to balance: balance work, classes, relationships, and most importantly time alone with Jesus. Through the busyness, I have consistently learned how incapable I am of doing this program on my own without feeling completely depleted. You may be thinking, “Why would I want to do a program that leaves me feeling exhausted and struggling with these tensions?” Well, I can confidently say that during the past nine months, I have experienced and been reminded of the truth that God’s presence is the only place we experience fullness of joy. Furthermore, as I become more aware of my failings, I have experienced grace and the Lord’s love for me in a deeper, richer way.

Through our seminary classes, speakers, and trips, I have been challenged to contemplate what it means to serve God on this earth through my passions and understand more clearly how we are created to live here on earth. I have been stretched to really explore these truths and how they relate to my life as a Child of God as well as who I am individually. I am so thankful for the ways I have been challenged and inspired to dream big, think deeper, and wrestle with ideas I may not have been exposed to outside of this program.

Probably the most unique part of this program is that while you are learning more about your brokenness and flawed heart, there are people walking beside you, encouraging, challenging, and consistently loving you. From our mentor relationships, small group leaders, and host families, there are countless people who truly care about your heart and desire to walk through this transitional period of your life with you. There is also something unbelievable about having thirteen friends who are experiencing this program with you, rejoicing, struggling, and growing together. These fellows have shown me more about God’s love, the way I function and process the world, and how to live in a community than I ever expected coming into this program. The support, deep love, and inspiration I have experienced through this program has been truly amazing and life changing.

Ashley Parsley--University of Virginia 2012

Reflections on the Year

Community.  It’s something we all crave and desire in our lives.  We’re always talking about it, always searching for it; and yet, I think, always avoiding it.  Sure, we want the community – the sharing, the group hugs, the supporting shoulders – but are we willing to work for it?    Well, we need to be, because community is hard, and it’s real, and it involves constant sacrifice. The development of our community in the fellows program has been simultaneously the most incredibly difficult, yet the most profoundly rewarding aspect of this year.  Together, we have been learning how to move authentically towards one another in love.  It is a move that rejects the fear and insecurity we carry inside catapulting us into the struggle, pain and joy of one another’s lives.

Personally, this has been so very hard.  Throughout the year I have been reluctant to move into places of vulnerability, instead hiding from those who have come to know my story best.  To be sure, I have grown; but at times it has felt like taking two steps forward and one step back.

As we are learning to walk together in love as a Fellows community, each week the guy Fellows gather to work out how to love one another specifically as men, brother-to-brother.  Two older, wiser men guide us, and insist that our communal growth requires commitment, to each other and to the Kingdom of God.  For hours each week we listen to one another’s stories, struggling at times to understand how to put off the sin that so easily entangles, and run with our brothers in the midst of difficulty.  This has been a time, amid all the business and the fun, to abide and be revived.  We gather in order to enter into deep solidarity with one another and bear one another’s burdens – the sowing of seeds and the tilling of good soil that good fruit may grow strong in our community.

In order for community to flourish, we have had to learn reject our desire to hide and blame one another.  We must instead turn outward, face our brothers, name the work of God in each other’s stories, and bless them with intimate knowledge.   This is difficult, in both opening up our own stories and entering into another’s.  But, my friends hear me: this is how we must love, this is how we build authentic community, and this is how we know our God.

Jonathan Coopersmith-Grove City College

Reflections on the Year

I am so thankful for the year I have been able to spend in the Fellows Program. We were asked to share expectations of the year on our first retreat and I shared that I wanted God to shatter my view of community. I never expected for God to give me the community that I have encountered here in the Fellows program. Each of us comes from very different walks of life, but we each have a desire to learn more who God is and how we can represent Him to the world. I have had the privilege of seeing how God has taken 14 very different people and knit us together in such a beautiful way! I came to the Fellows program with somewhat of a broken view of community and through Greg’s teaching, my classes and simply living life with these wonderful people, I have learned that every person has dignity as a human, but as Christians we have the opportunity to celebrate that dignity. When person is loved for who God made them to be instead of loved for who someone wants them to be, they are able to flourish. I have experienced personally and witnessed firsthand this flourishing this year.

The Fellows program has pushed me to think about the world in a different way. I have grown in my love for the local church and its involvement in the world around us. Through learning a biblical perspective on our role as Christians in John Cunningham’s class to learning about how to engage culture as a Christian in Wade Bradshaw’s class, I feel like my faith can no longer be compartmentalized and I look forward to opportunities in the future to be involved in my community and the world around me.

I have seen my view of work change as I have been an intern in an office and I feel like I have come into a realization of what my gifts are. While they might not be with working in a business setting, almost every facet of the program has affirmed that I need to be working with people whose dignity is not celebrated and restore it to them in whatever way possible. God has given me a vision for counseling possibly in the future and I am so thankful to have had so many opportunities to figure out why this is a good fit for me.

Through living with a host family I have seen radical hospitality take on an entirely different meaning. Craig and Lisa Wood took me in as a Fellow this year, but I have also had the privilege of meeting many other people who have stayed at their house over the course of the year because they view their home as a place for God to make people feel welcome. They have exemplified and demonstrated hospitality in a way that I have never seen before and I plan to take many of the things I have learned from them to my future home!

Over all my experience in the Fellows Program has been very positive and I am very glad I decided to do the program. While it has not been easy in the least, I consider all the hard moments very beneficial because of all the things that I have learned and am taking away from this year.

--Sarah Powell, James Madison University '12


Reflections on the Year


A few weekends ago Trinity’s Youth Group, along with the numerous leaders and a crew of daring parents, embarked on a journey down to the wintry sands of Virginia Beach.  Having been thoroughly exhausted each Sunday evening this year because of the two hour Oasis/Wired D-Group sessions, the idea of spending two days at a beach with my rambunctious renegades that some people call 6th graders was unsettling to put it mildly.  Not to mention, that inevitable departure date just happened to fall on the Ides of March: I do not believe in superstition, but the Soothsayer’s fateful words from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar were ringing in my ears the week prior.  All that is to say, my mind constructed a wildly fearsome weekend involving sleepless nights, grueling wrestling matches, and frigid Atlantic waters.  Upon reflection, I realized that my fears came true, but in the way that prayers are answered.  God flipped my anxieties on their head; He made beautiful what I found unappealing; His presence at Beach Weekend was amazing and gracious.

It all began with the bus ride.  Colin Davis (my co-leader) and I learned we were in charge of five kids.  Neither of us lives by Machiavelli’s principle “it is safer to be feared than loved.”  It is not that we choose to be loved- simply our methods of discipline do not stand the test of rebellious middle school boys.  Therefore, we must feign affection as we are tackled to the ground rather than relegate the insurgents to a time-out.  A three-hour bus ride, a giant bucket of Dum-Dum lollypops, and boys who have been sitting through school all day eagerly anticipating this vacation seemed like a deadly combination for the defenses of Colin and me.  Keep in mind these deep-seated conceptions of 6th Grade Devotion Group when I paint the next scene.

James (a kid I normally associate with the helicopter game where I grab his arms and spin him around until I get dizzily sick, and then launch him away as if I were performing the Olympic hammer throw) sat down next to me midway through the bus ride and asked, “What do you want to talk about?”  These exact words were the start of every bunk bed pillow talk with my little brother as we grew up together.  I had not heard the innocent, loving words in ten years.  James did not ask me a question regarding an earlier prayer request; James did not have a planned conversation with an agenda; James did not talk about himself.  He selflessly inquired what it was that me, the 22 year-old leader, would want to talk about with him, the 12 year-old disciple.

Queue the brain racking sequence!  I remembered what it was like to be in the 6th Grade.  Certainly chaos was fun: cafeteria food fights, finger jousting, the shouting game, etc.  But also I did have deep friendships; I was pretty darn sure that I would marry Jessie Miller; I had realized that marriages were not always destined for constant and perfect harmony; I worried about the way that I acknowledged friends in the hallway; I had lost my grandfather, Papa, and my dog, Tucker.  Despite these mature feelings, my dominant form of communication, especially with older guys, was friendly combat.  I realized that amidst the games of musical chairs, shoe relay races, capture the flag, dodge ball, dodge frisbee, and helicopter spinning, James and I had become near and dear friends.  I had just viewed our relationship (and that with all of my D-Group boys) through a faulty cultural lens that situated me as the giver, and them as the receiver.  Not to mention, my work was in vain.  To me, it was a task of the Fellows Program: an hour in the morning, and two in the evening, then Sunday is finished.  It is easy to wear yourself out when you think that you are the center of everything.  God had been working in me through these kids all year and I was blind to it- talk about grace!

Back to the bus ride: After my middle school recollections I realized that James is not a ball of energy that I am to entertain for three hours a week.  He is my brother.  He pours into me, as I try to pour into him.  We grow together in our knowledge of God, and our love for Him and each other.  I had intentions of praising Beach Weekend (most notably Susie Marotta’s sweet potato biscuits), but I suppose this is more of a reflection on Youth Group as a whole: that all the wrestling outside in the grass to retrieve the keep-away ball does lead to a greater wrestling match: one that allows friends to reach in and lend a hand in our walk with our Lord.  I hope that I am teaching my kids something, whether it is through the study of Scripture, or knockout on the basketball court.  I know however that the kids are teaching me how to love.

As parents arrived at Trinity to pick up their children, James walked up to me with his sister and dad.  “A hug?” he asked as if it was a request that needed granting.  It is funny to me that 6th Graders feel welcome to climb all over me, but a hug requires permission.  Needless to say, it warmed my heart.  I had to fight back a few tears as I opened my arms.

And a little child shall lead them, indeed.

--Woody Granger, University of Virginia '12

Finding Ourselves in Orange

Post by: Katie Brazeal, 6 & ISTP As defined by Webster, a personality is "the complex of characteristics that distinguishes an individual or a nation or group; especially: the totality of an individual's behavioral and emotional characteristics."

God gave each of us unique personalities and character traits. They are such a blessing. Through our personalities, we interact with creation and with God Himself. Even still, our personalities, if misunderstood, can also be our biggest downfall. Everyone has a different view of the world and a different opinion on how things should be done. This stems from our dominant preferences and values. Not grasping these differences can leave us worn out and frustrated. However, beginning to see beauty in the individual can open our eyes to a whole new world.

The second weekend in October, Dennis took all sixteen fellows out to the Pent Farm in Orange, Virginia, to find ourselves.

John Cunningham, no stranger to the Fellows Program, joined us on Saturday morning to work through the Enneagram with us. The Enneagram, a traditionally verbal assessment rooted in the spirituality of the desert fathers, is a personality indicator derived from the seven deadly sins with the addition of deceit and fear. It breaks down into nine different personality types. All nine are found in every person, but every person has a default number. Even still, two people of the same number can look entirely different; it depends on how the qualities associated with that number manifest themselves in the individual.

  1. The Reformer
  2. The Helper
  3. The Motivator
  4. The Romantic
  5. The Thinker
  6. The Skeptic
  7. The Enthusiast
  8. The Leader
  9. The Peacemaker

We discovered that all nine are beautifully represented within our Fellows’ class.

In addition to John, we had another special guest for the weekend: Beth Martin. Beth is the Associate Director of Career Education and Counseling at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., and she joined us primarily to work through the MBTI assessment. But on Friday night, she did an activity with us that helped us discover some of our priorities in life.

She gave each of us 100 cards to start with. Each card was printed with a value. Examples included: achieving excellence, being safe, controlling my own life, owning a fine home, using my mind, etc. We were first asked to create three piles with the 100 cards: most valued, medium valued, least valued. From there, we discarded the bottom two piles and solely worked with the “most valued.” We were asked to choose a top ten from this category, and eventually, we narrowed that down to a top three. Through this narrowing down process, we were divided into pairs and asked to talk our partner through the ranking of our values: why we have them, what they mean, where they came from, etc. In the end, all sixteen of us shared our top three with the group. It was very interesting to hear the values people hold and why they feel that way. While a lot of us shared the same goals, it was informative to see how and where people varied.

On Saturday afternoon, Beth gave us the full MBTI run down along with the test results from an assessment we had taken individually prior to the retreat. There was a lot of anticipation preceding this time, but we were strongly encouraged not to put too much stock into “our letters” alone.

There are 16 possible personalities through this assessment. Each personality is a combination of four of the following letters:

E- Extrovert; I- Introvert

S- Sensing; N- Intuition

T-Thinking; F-Feeling

J-Judging; P- Preserving

While learning your own personality preferences and the preferences of others does shed much new light on situations and interactions, the four letters with which you associate should not form a box that you must crawl into and stay in the rest of your life. Your letters are meant to be a freeing association by which you understand yourself better and see areas of great potential. All personalities are useful and necessary. Learning to embrace your talents is a good first step to success.

Coming to recognize some of the unique characteristics of your own and others' personalities can be a wonderful tool to building better relationships... something the Fellows program is helping to teach each of us to do!

A peek into the weekend through pictures: 

Coherence In All We Do, Together

by Maegan Moore I remember the week before the Fellows program began, glancing at the calendar for the upcoming inaugural month of my Fellows year and immediately feeling overwhelmed. We doso much. How can all of these seemingly unrelated responsibilities have any relation to each other?

But it didn’t take long to see two things. This year was not just about doing things in abundance. Instead, this year was about being faithful with all that we were given to do. It was about continuing to work out what it means to live out our vocations–our calling to our families, church, community, work, etc. And this was only possible in the context of a body of believers–and so our journey towards coherence began, together.

Every week we were able to practice the liturgy of doing together the things that formed us.

Together, we sat in the Trinity sanctuary and listened to Pastor Greg walk us through Philippians while asking the question: “What does it mean to live as a community of friends?”

Together, we shared meals and times of fellowship, learning to hope for each other, hear each other, and carry one another’s burdens.

Together, we were invited into the homes of our host families and ushered into the routine rhythms of daily life–finding Kingdom realities at the kitchen table and in the playroom.

Together, we wrestled to understand that our work really matters–even in the nine-hour days of entering data into spreadsheets, making copies, and scheduling appointments.

Together, we learned to show up–even when we were weary and in shambles. We learned to find rest in one another.

Together, in our shambles, we learned to anchor words about community in concrete and tangible expressions of love, trust, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Together, we did our best to enthusiastically participate in the formation of the young, middle school and high school image bearers of God, even when we felt like we were speaking a different language.

Together, we marinated in ideas, relationships, and experiences that equipped us to go do all things to the Glory of God.

Everything we do is Holy work. But the whole of what we do must be greater than the sum of its parts. In anything and everything we do, we have the opportunity to work out our primarycalling as a disciple of Christ. And it is only in the context of community that we can learn to steward what we have been given and all that we do.

As a native(ish) North-westerner, I have a strong affection for the Redwoods. These massive trees, over 600 years old, are able to survive on the windiest coast in the U.S. because of their root system. Each tree relies on the surrounding Redwoods so that they don’t topple over; their roots spread out instead of down, linking together and holding each other in place–accountable in growth. As we grow, we need other people to keep us honest–to build habits of trust and transparency. We need to engage in conversation with those who will challenge us. We were designed to work out our vocational calling in the context of a body of believers.

Over the past nine months, since my first glance at the fellows schedule, the things that first looked like disjointed responsibilities of being a Fellow–to be a good tutor, a host-daughter, a friend, a student, a small group leader–have all begun to fall into the picture of our holistic, comprehensive responsibility as disciples of Christ. I have seen God’s glory worked out in all of these spheres–crossing the humanly constructed lines of dualism that too-often divide. In His goodness, He allowed me to begin to see these fragmented bits of threads being woven together into a fabric as part of a larger weaving.

And so, perhaps the most important thing we learned this year was that “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). To live out the Gospel, together.


Maegan Moore interned at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Virginia during her fellows year and will continue on with the Institute full-time.

"Establish the Work of Our Hands"

Let yourwork be shown to your servants,and your glorious power to their children. Let thefavorof the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”

~Psalm 90:16-17~


A few weekends ago all the Fellows packed up the infamous and unreliable Trinity bus (insert saga of the Lexington Bus Breakdown) and headed to Eagle’s Landing Retreat Center near Roanoke, Virginia for the annual Fellows Initiative Retreat on Social Justice. We found ourselves in the beautiful mountains of Virginia, unpacking our belongings in quaint, log cabin-style accommodations, and ready for a weekend of fellowship, learning, and fun. Seventy Fellows gathered in total, representing programs from Falls Church, MeClean Presbyterian, Raleigh, Charlotte, Kinston, and Knoxville.

Gideon Strauss, President of the Center for Public Justice, prepared several “conversations” on his walk as a believer in pursuit of biblical justice. As a native South African speaking both English and Afrikaans, he found himself serving as an interpreter for the Truth and Reconciliation Committee after the fall of apartheid in South Africa in the late 1990s. These experiences provided Gideon with deep insight into the brokenness of humanity and the pain, heartbreak, and rage that God’s people experience in the face of great injustices. Left to his own devices, the weight of these emotions would have crushed his soul and his marriage. Gideon found that the only adequate response to the brokenness was to pray through the Psalms, expressing these deep emotions in the safety of the hand of the Lord. He invited us to do the same and to consider what it would look like for us to act justly in our everyday lives; including the clothes we wear, the food we buy, and our politics.

As a group of seventy, we each entered the weekend with a different understanding of justice and its relevance to our lives. What does the call to do justice in Micah 6:8 really mean? Is it only for my cousin who serves as a missionary in Uganda, my friend who teaches at an inner city school, or my neighbor who runs the soup kitchen at our church? What does it look like for us as twenty-something Fellows and for the businessmen, lawyers and museum curators that we may become? Gideon avoided any speculation and provided us with a biblical framework for understanding the call to do justice. He suggested that the call to do justice is a thread in the fabric of the biblical narrative. It is not optional, but rather, essential and interwoven, it is part of what it is to be human. What a bold statement! Throughout the weekend we heard from Gideon about ways that we could begin to “do justice” and had great discussions around our tables with the other Fellows.

The weekend was filled with great food, fresh mountain air, an Ultimate Frisbee tournament victory for the Trinity Fellows, and much laughter. We returned to Charlottesville grateful for each other and aware of the friendships that the Lord has established. Conversations on the ideas Gideon presented still linger and can be traced in g-mail threads that relate articles about justice to one another and uncover areas of injustice that we participate in by nature of our consumerism. I think we will continue to see the fruit of these discussions in years to come and each in our own spheres of influence. For now, we will pray and ask God to establish the work of our hands and open our eyes to the world around us.

--Ally Jaggard, East Stroudsburg Pennsylvania

You Make Beautiful Things

"If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for the Creator, there is no poverty."  – Rainer Maria Rilke  


Walking into the Doran house on Monday nights for Roundtable always brings a smile to my face. Before I even reach my hand out to turn the doorknob I can already hear laughter and chatter from within and smell something delicious cooking in the oven. Each week we gather there together, the 15 Fellows, Katherine, Greg, Dennis & his family, to share in life. Reclaiming the act of sitting down to meal together is a powerful reminder of one of the primary aims of the Fellows Program; exploring the ways in which our lives matter. How often do we arrive at the end of a given day wondering to ourselves, “What did I do today? Will it have any lasting importance?” The dust covering the lenses through which we see the world makes it so hard sometimes for us to see the answers to these questions. One work day gives way to the next, a blur of spreadsheets, legal documents and phone calls. Yet somehow over the course of the past two months, through prayer and earnest conversation, we have just begun to wipe the dust from one another’s eyes enough to catch a glimpse of God’s work unfurling in our daily lives.


God created Adam from the very dust of the earth, should it come as any surprise that he can make beautiful things from of the dust of our lives? One of the first things we did together as a Fellows class was to share our testimonies; how God has been shaping each of us throughout our twenty-some years. It was such a privilege to hear how God’s hands have been conforming each of my friends to look more and more like Him. Some of our stories are loud; God has moved mightily to deliver us from tough situations and convict us, changing lives in short order.

The stuff of day-to-day life is quieter, admittedly, but the changes I’ve witnessed in the past two months can still be heard. Several fellows have taken steps to glorify God with the ways in which they spend their money, a middle school student has found sweet certainty of her salvation, and dozens of conversations have been sparked by the idea of a program designed to acknowledge God’s sovereignty in every area of our lives. Friends, the gospel is at work here. We’re not the same people we were yesterday or last year. God is making all things new.

-Erin Sheets--Mechanicsville, VA