trinity fellows


A few weekends ago I had the privilege of leading a group of sixth graders on a retreat known as Modgnik. I felt silly when having a conversation a few days later with Dennis Doran, the Fellows Program director at Trinity, that the “Modgnik” is just “Kingdom” spelled backwards. (I hope you were as blown away by that news as I was.) The retreat took place at a Young Life camp called Rockbridge just about 15 minutes outside of Lexington, Virginia. I would be remiss not to say that this camp was absolutely gorgeous. Modgnik was designed as a retreat to provide middle school kids with an opportunity for an amazingly fun weekend, but most importantly, as a place where the Gospel could be presented to them in a clear manner. We spent the weekend playing basketball, a getting scraped up in a crazy game called “octoball,” and blobbing kids into the Rockbridge’s lake. The most important time, however, was spent listening to the Gospel laid out clearly and concisely. On Saturday night, our speaker used the story of the Prodigal Son in Matthew 12 to effectively express to the kids the love the Father has for all people. I got to talk about this parable with a few of the sixth graders later that night. So many people have heard this story, the son asks his father for his inheritance, and then goes off to lead a very dark life. The son finally realizes he could return to his father if only to work for him. We then see the beauty of the father running ridiculously to embrace his son. He brings the son back into his house, and throws him a grand party. Jesus is expressing how much God loves his creation. We also know that the older brother in the story was not too happy about what transpired. Some of the guys I was talking with seemed to agree, saying, “I would be mad.” The sentiment of these sixth graders makes sense. It is a reaction many of us would have. Why is it fair for the son to be treated this way? Why would the father welcome him after all he did? I got to express to them what so quickly came to my mind, what God has spoken into my life through His word and His people: we should rejoice when someone, who does not seem to deserve God, receives Him as savior because I never deserved Him either.

Leading and teaching these kids has forced me to think about and face questions I do not have an answer to sometimes. But in an instance like this, it was another opportunity for God to speak His Gospel into my life as well as preach the Gospel to these young men.

-Luke McCann (Fellows '15)

"You'll Hear About it on the Testimony Retreat"

1491463_759009830835941_6012717593640277062_o “I’ll tell you about it on the testimony retreat.” “Just wait for the testimony retreat, I’ll explain more.” “I don’t want to explain this before the testimony retreat.” These phrases peppered our casual conversations, as we tip-toed around, attempting to get to know one another before we knew where we came from. We had been told to prepare to tell our stories three weeks into the program, on a weekend called “Testimony Retreat.” I knew that this would be a sweet time of learning each other’s stories, and attempting to have a better grasp on how to enter into one’s own story. However, I am not one for small talk--so cutting real conversations short with the excuse of “you’ll hear about it on the testimony retreat” was getting somewhat old.

In the days leading up to this retreat, there was much conversation about how to share our stories. The Fellows spanned across the spectrum of confident to scared, knowing the reality of the intimacy of becoming known. In my opinion, some of the conversations before the retreat were just as crucial as the actual retreat. Times of question, intentional thought behind one’s own story, and careful consideration of how to portray a lifetime of moments in 20 short minutes caused each Fellow to think individually about where they had been and where they are going. The great intentionality behind this retreat was evident in the way that Fellows thoughtfully considered their lives before declaring their story in front of a group of people.

The actual time of hearing each other's stories was incredibly rich, as each Fellow individually portrayed what they felt like were the most important parts of their being. We sat for hours on end, looking through pictures, laughing, crying, and praying for one another as these God-given stories unfolded before us. There was a sense of relief, at least for me, in feeling known. A threshold was broken as each story was told.

This retreat was merely a platform for the rest of these 9 months together. As we continue to journey towards whom God has created each of us to be, this retreat will serve as a backdrop to love, care, and understand each other better. It was an undeniably meaningful and beautiful weekend of sorting through where the great God of this universe has blessed us, taught us, and most importantly rescued us.

And in deep relief, I will never have to hear the phrase “you’ll hear about it on the testimony retreat,” again.


--Katie Randazzo (Fellows '15)

First Impressions

What I’ve loved about the Fellows program so far are the conversations that have arisen, both topical and organic. So much of the program is structured; Dennis and the Fellows Ministry Team put a lot of time and effort into logistics and scheduling. And the fruits of that labor are awesome retreats, bible studies, and formative class time. What I have enjoyed about this structured time is that it creates opportunities to freely talk and share, focusing on the people in the room and what they have to say. When we are not doing something on the calendar, what I look forward to is the unstructured fellowship time we have together. For example, this past weekend a few of us spent almost an hour sharing embarrassing middle school stories. It can’t be planned and that is what is so fun about it. It was such a joy to open up and laugh with new friends.

--Waters Faulkner (Fellows '15)

I'm Not In Texas Anymore


“I will walk by faith even when I cannot see.” 2 Corinthians 5:7 

Has The Lord ever called you to go to an unfamiliar place that you have never been before? A place where you don’t know a single person within a two hundred mile radius? This was Charlottesville, VA for me. When I accepted my spot in the Fellows Program, I was just being completely faithful to God and hoping that he was leading me to a place comparable to Texas.

You see, I love Texas. I was born and raised there, went to college there…I even have a nephew named Texas. I didn’t know what to expect from my time in Virginia. In all honesty, I started off with a bit of a bad attitude. My thoughts were: “The amount of trees and mountains make me claustrophobic”, “It gets too cold,” “Everything is organic?” and “I won’t be eating any decent Mexican food for a while…” It wasn’t that I didn’t like Charlottesville; it just wasn’t Texas.

But God has challenged me on these preconceived notions. Especially this one: “People are nicer in Texas”. My first few days of interactions with people were great, but they were a whirlwind of meeting so many new people and being exhausted from the two and a half day drive up from Texas. One of my favorite parts was getting to know people in smaller groups. One conversation in particular stands out:

We were driving to a cabin in Lexington over our first weekend retreat. There were four of us in the car talking about a range of topics, when finally, they asked about part of my story. I ended up telling them about paying for college and graduating with debt, and how money has always been a struggle for me. Thinking about this still brings tears to my eyes because when I finished telling my story, my new friends—that I barely knew—started to rally behind me, telling me how fired up they were about my struggles, and how they were on my team. If I needed help, they were there and would find ways to help me out.

At that moment I knew God had proven me wrong. These people were as nice as Texans. Even more, I felt secure in these relationships and felt Christ’s love all around me through the support of these new friendships. I am not sure yet why The Lord has brought me here to Charlottesville, but I know that the people I am meeting here are some of the greatest that will be placed in my life.

–Ashley Crank (Fellows ’15)

A Reflection on Wisdom

“She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed” (Proverbs 3:18). Wisdom. She has been a life jacket to me lately.  She’s kept me a float. She’s kept me safe, protected, and deeply rooted in the scriptures. Maybe for the first time, I’ve embraced her. Or maybe just relied on her more heavily than my own human mind. And, boy, have I been blessed.

Upon graduating from The University of Georgia in May, I moved to Charlottesville, VA to begin the Trinity Fellows Program- a nine-month leadership and spiritual development program that equips first year college graduates to embrace the church, engage in God’s world, and explore what it means to live out an all-encompassing faith. Attempting to clearly articulate all parts of the fellows program is difficult. This year is busy, challenging, and from what I can already see, powerfully formative. My host family’s home is a haven of peace, my job in youth and children’s ministry is a joy, and seminary classes I’ve always yearned to take are challenging me beyond measure. I’ve been surrounded with fifteen talented and loving “fellow fellows”, who are quickly becoming people who both love me well and inspire me to think deeply about the world. In the midst of one crazy transition, I’m experiencing the most beautiful communion with God that I’ve ever experienced.

Life is messy and ever changing. You know this well- I am sure of it. Yet wisdom never changes. She is absolutely infallible. If you’re anything like me, however, your pride probably tells you you’re already pretty wise. You know God. You’re following Him. You read the Bible. But, are you really seeking wisdom? Here in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, God is chiseling away the parts of me that are idolatrous and selfish. He’s continuing to bring healing and victory over addictions. He’s showing me the true meaning of community through relationships and a God-centered church. Above all of this, however, He has given me this authentic, all-consuming thirst for wisdom- an unquenchable desire to read His word and know it. A desire to surrender my own yearnings, and to abide fully in His words and ways. I challenge you to dig. Dig deep within your own heart, and, I challenge you, meditate on wisdom for a while. You may come to realize just how much God wants to bless you, strengthen you, and bring you into closer communion with Him.

Checking the Rear View Mirror

Have you ever had one of those moments when you pull into your driveway and realize that you don’t remember driving home? I’m having one of those moments. All of a sudden, I looked up and realized that I am 4 days short of being home for Christmas and halfway through the Fellows Program. How did that happen?! I don’t want to let all the wonderful experiences from the last semester slip by, so I think it’s time for a study break to reflect on the past 4 months. I still remember pulling into my host family’s driveway right as my host mom was putting out a sign that said, “Welcome Home Keri!” in purple paint that still hadn’t quite dried all the way. This very same sign would stay in the driveway for the next month, reminding me that this really was home. I remember walking through the front door, directly into a flurry of hugs and introductions, followed quickly by the order to put my shoes back on because we were going to a party. I went from not knowing a soul in Charlottesville to meeting 10 former fellows and an array of Trinity members in the span of an hour.

The next morning I nervously walked into the Trinity foyer to overhear Elizabeth and Hannah telling someone they were new fellows. I cannot begin to describe to you how relieved I was to know they were there, and I didn’t even know them yet! By the end of the service I had been introduced to Murry, Kristin, Christine, and Alex and John gave me a hug but didn’t introduce himself until much later. Typical J-Flan.

Of course there was the Kick-Off Banquet where we tried to determine who was a current fellow and who were the former fellows we were supposed to be learning from. That’s where we all met David, who’s name we didn’t even know until that night! As we awkwardly huddled together looking up at the barn window, none of us suspected that we would be taking the picture that would adorn websites, blog posts, Christmas cards, and even the cake we ate for dessert at Roundtable last week. To be fair, it ended up being a great picture. Not to mention a delicious cake.

Who could forget our adventurous weekend of rafting and climbing? Nothing like facing your biggest fears the very first weekend to facilitate group bonding! Thank you again to whoever decided that we should climb the cliff in a girl-guy pattern and volunteered me as tribute to take the lead. You owe me. I do have to admit though, sitting on the top of that ledge was one of the coolest things I have ever done.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the precious time spent at Alex’s cabin for the testimony retreat. It was beautiful to be able to share in the tears, laughter, sorrow, and joy peppered throughout the stories of the other Fellows.  What a gift to be invited into each of their lives for this part of their journeys. Of course, the cherry on top was the opportunity to laugh and rest together, with the highlight being watching Alex pancake Dennis in a tubing war. There is, of course, an abundance of photographic proof.

New York. That happened. From listening to Mako Fujimura, to watching visual artists perform, to figuring out which of the shower stalls at the hostel was least likely to be hazardous to my health, New York was an experience. We stayed busy the entire time, but we still managed to make time to take a picture in Times Square. It’s all about priorities, right?

At long last there were the much anticipated youth group retreats for high school and middle school. The jury is still out on how “Modgnik” is pronounced and whether “Tree-hugging Tilly” is actually Rachel’s real identity. It cannot be denied, however, that Ben and Rachel love these youth group kids with all their hearts. I am constantly impressed by their dedication to serving and loving these kids. I would be even more impressed if they actually drank the smoothies of death they get the kids to drink at youth group, but I seriously doubt that will ever happen.

The Calling and Career retreat at Michael’s cabin may have been my favorite weekend in the Fellows Program so far. Despite the fact that I did not hear a voice from God telling me what my future vocation will be starting June 1, 2014, I left feeling full. Dennis graciously gave me the opportunity to lead a discussion about the Clifton StrengthsFinder, which opened doors to some beautiful conversations about using our gifts as a way of serving this community. The memories I will treasure most though, are sitting on the stairs with Rachel, Mallory, and Elizabeth just talking about life, listening to Christine, Jordan, Hannah, and Wilson play music that I’m fairly confident I will hear again in Heaven, being with Elizabeth when she got exciting news about med school, and listening to Jordan talk about his passion for music. I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything.

However, to think that the experience of the last 4 months can be captured in snapshots of weekends away would be a gross transgression. The heart of this program is found in the everyday things; in laughing around the dinner table on family night, in getting a superhero pillow from your host brother because your room is “too girly” and you “need it more” than he does, in driving to Richmond with your host sisters to find the perfect homecoming dresses, in laying hands on a hurting sister at bible study, in tackling hard questions with youth group kids after smashing each others’ faces in baked beans in the name of Jesus, in the look of relief on your boss’s face when you accept a huge project without complaint and turn it in without mistakes, in listening to Dennis’s kids tell you about St. Thomas for the 16th time and still loving every detail, in sitting with Jess just talking about life and checking the clock to realize it’s been 3 hours, in getting a hug from Greg and really understanding how much love is being conveyed, in staying up late to study for your final exam because you actually want to know about God’s faithfulness throughout generations, in waking up to 30 missed messages on the group text stream, in being volun-told that we will stack every chair owned by Trinity Presbyterian Church as many times as humanly possible over a 9-month period,  in waking up early to make coffee and pancakes for our church family on Sunday mornings, and in the truths God is whispering into each of our lives as we journey through this time together.

I know that when I go home for Christmas, my family and friends will ask me to tell them what I’ve been up to. I will try, but I make no promises that I will be able to really convey all that I have experienced in the last 4 months. The truth is, there is no readers digest version. We serve a BIG God and he writes the stories of our lives in equal proportion. There is no 20 questions description for this experience. Is it bigger than a breadbox? Yes. Is it animal, vegetable, or mineral? Nope. I can only say this, if you could see my heart (the spirit-like one, not the one full of chambers and an aorta), you would see a joyous party. It hasn’t all been fun and games; we ran out of chips a couple times and somebody broke an expensive vase, but it is a wonderful celebration nonetheless and it’s not stopping anytime soon.

From a Host Family's Perspective

This entry was originally written for Trinity's website and weekly publication of Trinity Life. My name is Brian Uthlaut, and I'm writing to encourage you to do something maybe a little bit crazy, maybe a little bit overwhelming, maybe moderately uncomfortable. Would you consider hosting a Trinity Fellow this year?

With three children ranging almost three to almost nine, our family's days are spent similarly to many of yours—running to and from work and around town; getting children fed, clothed, taught, practiced, to bed...hopefully without injury, meltdown or forgetting something major along the way. Trying to figure out how to connect more with friends and family. It doesn't ever feel like we are "caught up" on much of anything, let alone everything.

Two summers ago, my wife Heather and I responded to Dennis Doran's requests for host families for the Trinity Fellows Program, as we felt a calling to open up our home to give what we could—a roof overhead, some good food, time with our affectionate and energetic kids, and a real look at the joys and challenges of life down the road—to these young people and to our church family.

Two years later, we have been blessed in ways that exceed our giving in the relationships that we have built with the two fellows who have been, and will always be, part of "our family." Hosting fellows has brought community to our home, when we might not have pursued it as actively, and has stretched us outside of our comfort zone in a good way.  As we take part in the lives of people wrestling with how to enfold what might be seen as fragments of faith, occupation, calling, love, family, community all into life, we're reminded to continue to wrestle actively with that as well, when life can so easily lapse into those separate fragments as we live by the clock and the calendar.

On top of these blessings, our children have had the sweet and joyous gift of a really big brother, who cares about them and invests in their lives. They learn about intergenerational life and the appreciation of others' needs with Fellows living with us and joining our family. Just as in so many aspects of our life in the Lord, we can easily think that we don't have enough of what it takes to serve Him and the community around us—not enough space, not enough time, not enough energy. It doesn't take as much as you think, though, to make a difference in a Fellow's life and for your family's life to be blessed in kind.

Please email us (Brian Uthlaut or Heather Uthlaut) if you'd like to talk more about life with a Fellow.

Brian and Heather Uthlaut