Emory Wesley Fellowship Aids Graduate Students in Finding Church Communities through Grad+ Progressive


By Ansley Brackin
Communications Specialist for North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church

Like Emory University, many colleges have mastered the art of providing undergraduates with a thriving Christian community on campus. Different needs must be met, however, for graduate students.

After achieving a Bachelor’s degree, those continuing their education move past the dormitory lifestyle and set their sights on a place of permanence. Piling such changes on top of classes and school work can make a graduate’s transition from campus ministry to permanent church settlement seem like a lost cause.

Ashley Kirk and Rev. Joseph McBrayer created GRAD+ Progressive Graduate Ministry for the students in Emory’s seven graduate schools who are seeking a “home church” .

“Spiritual development goes beyond undergrad,” says Ashley Kirk as she explains the importance of helping students at this stage of life.

The two began developing GRAD+ in November of 2013. The idea came to mind when McBrayer began to notice graduates attending undergraduate Wesley Fellowship events. They had nowhere else to go.

While graduates can still receive and understand the messages within campus ministry, McBrayer and Kirk felt they could better benefit from a setting that contained more members that were in similar circumstances.

GRAD+ connects students to one of 3 nearby churches. McBrayer and Kirk carefully chose these congregations in order to provide a variety of worship and service styles for students to explore.

Druid Hills UMC is the most traditional of the GRAD+ churches. With Rev. Dave Allen Grady as Senior Pastor, the congregation is known for being very involved with the surrounding community.

The youngest church of the three is Eastside Church, where Kirk attends.

“I think the newness brings curiosity,” Kirk says.

Eastside, described as having an eclectic style, is led by Rev. Tim Lloyd (pictured).   
The Gathering (at Glenn Memorial UMC), led by Rev. Josh Amerson, was chosen for its Sunday evening service option. Students sometimes struggle with committing to the usual morning times and feel disconnected if they are unable to attend service regularly, but Glenn Memorial has a successful history of engaging Emory students.

“Every visitor is a gift to your church,” says McBrayer regarding occasional church attendees, advice he received from Rev. Phil Schroeder.

The program encourages students to find a church community despite their inconsistent ability to attend every Sunday service.

GRAD+ held their first mixer on January 30th. The idea of the mixer was to connect graduates to other students and introduce them to the pastors of Druid Hills, The Gathering, and Eastside UMCs.

Their attendance goal was 30 students, but with Atlanta’s most damaging snow storm occurring days before the event, there was a fear of the mixer being a bust.

However, about 25 students were ready to thaw out and join GRAD+ for a night at Manuel’s Tavern in Atlanta. The next mixer, date to be determined, is already in high demand.

Leading up to the event, Kirk and McBrayer hung posters around the school.

“We think the posters really caught people’s attention,” McBrayer says of the simple design.

A typical college poster is covered in photos or a colorful design. Using a mostly black and white layout without any images caused the advertisement to pop out among the rest.

“Many said they came solely because they saw the poster, adds Kirk.

In addition to their success in printed advertising, the group uses social media as a way to “maintain a connection” with interested students. GRAD+’s 

Facebook and Twitter are used to share relative, inspirational articles as well as GRAD+ and Emory updates.

Their biggest hope for GRAD+ is to cause a chain reaction. As students become more involved, they can encourage their friends and classmates to join as well.

“When you join a community, part of your job is to bring others to it,” McBrayer explains.

Roughly five weeks in, Kirk and McBrayer have received positive feedback on this innovative program that draws attention to a common struggle of church-seeking graduate students.

To learn more about GRAD+ Progressive, visit their website.