Campus RENEW Groups Celebrate Mardi Gras
and Small Christian Communities
By Leah Thomas, Young Adult Ministries Team Leader

Mardi Gras on college campuses conjures up many images: students crowded into tiny rooms, decked with gratuitous beads, their favorite beverage in hand; some who decide to skip classes and take an impromptu road trip to New Orleans; others whipping up their own versions of hurricanes to toast the holiday. Yet, at Catholic University, Mardi Gras was marked with over 200 students packed into a chapel to celebrate one thing: their small communities. Group members from over 40 groups gathered to pray together and to give thanks for the gift of their RENEW groups, in a service where evening prayer was accompanied by a blessing over representatives from every group. “RENEW has been such a gift in my life,” said one group member, a senior, “Our community has been together for the last year and a half, and it’s been fantastic.”

Small communities have been in existence at Catholic University for the last three semesters, when they began the Campus RENEW process. These groups are not merely one more program offered by campus ministry; they were started as a way to reach out to students who were not involved in campus ministry, and to allow students to minister to other students in the comfort of a dorm room. What makes these groups unique are that they are covenanted groups—at the beginning of the semester, the group chooses a name and designates such things as the purpose of the group, ground rules, their specific outreach to the wider community, and reasons that are acceptable for missing the group. Each group member then signs the covenant, a symbol of his or her commitment to this particular group for the semester. “To covenant with one another is to say that this is important. It’s something that takes priority in my life,” said a first year, a varsity lacrosse player, who had just joined a group. When asked if it was difficult to make time to meet once a week, especially as a varsity athlete, she paused. “It’s all in how you look at it. I do have a ton going on, but RENEW is a chance to step back and refocus. It helps me to remember that God should be the center of my life.”

The prayer service was followed by a spaghetti dinner, where group members sat around round tables in a gym. I sat down at a table with a group of five women and one man, fodder for many a joke about the “lone man in the group.” To the side, however, he whispered to me how much he’d learned about women from faith sharing with his group: “All good of course,” he confided with a wink. When I asked the group members how they had heard about RENEW, their answers were similar: a friend told them to join, someone in their hall said it would be a good thing, they knew someone who had participated last semester. And was the group a good experience? “It’s been awesome,” said a sophomore with a laugh, “I never knew sharing about God could be this much fun.”