Shaped since her earliest youth by the powerful, social justice messages and bold missional outreach of her home congregation — Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Churchin Duluth, GA — Lauren Connell’s faith taught her to look both within and outside of herself.
“It was great to grow up with so many examples of Presbyterians working through their faith to better the world,” Connell said. “Not only was I spiritually and emotionally supported in the church, I was also able to find so many opportunities locally and globally to get outside of myself to see God at work in the world.”
Connell’s hunger to seek and to do justice led her during her senior year in high school to apply to the University of Georgia-Athens (UGA) to study International Affairs, a program for which she knew she would require financial assistance.
“Surprisingly it was my high school literature teacher who encouraged me to seek out scholarships related to my Presbyterian faith,” Connell said. “Because he knew how committed I was to following where my faith would lead me, he pushed me to write essays about not just anything but about the issues that deeply mattered to me.
“It was then that I researched and discovered the scholarship opportunity available through the National Network of Presbyterian College Women (NNPCW), Connell said. “When I saw their mission, it really called me.”
NNPCW’s mission — to seek “to understand what it means to claim a Christian faith that empowers women” — is among the critical efforts being nurtured at the General Assembly Council by Lydia Kim, who recently joined the staff of the Racial Ethnic and Women’s Ministries/PW ministry area as the Ministry Specialist for Women’s Leadership and the National Network of Presbyterian College Women (NNPCW) & Racial Ethnic Young Women Together (REYWT).
In her new role, Kim will have oversight of the NNPCW scholarship program and other initiatives that serve to empower young women like Connell.
“I believe that we are faced with exciting but challenging times ahead as today’s young adult Christian women continue to find their places in this world and the church,” Kim said. “I have been deeply impressed by the vision of Racial Ethnic and Women’s Ministries/PW in supporting ministries like NNPCW & REYWT and am excited to participate in the endeavor.”
Because of the door that the NNPCW scholarship opened for her, Connell has just completed her second semester at UGA, where she immediately became involved with one of its campus ministries, the Presbyterian Student Center. During her freshman year, the accomplished 19-year old often helped to lead the group’s worship by singing with the band. “I was glad that there was this amazing, smart, and funny group of people to worship with,” she said.
Connell’s core belief that “every one of God’s people is important” has kept her actively engaged in human rights issues. At UGA, she has participated in the work of Invisible Children, a student organization that helps to raise awareness about the crisis in Uganda, including the plight of that country’s child soldiers. She now hopes to create a club or awareness group for the issue closest to her heart, human trafficking.
“My choice of studies is unique and challenging, but God does not call us to do what is easy; he calls us to do justice,” Connell said. “My studies of international economics will lead me to new solutions, conclusions and possibilities about how to better serve, and free, God’s children.”
“One in the Spirit” is a monthly email from General Assembly Council Executive Director Linda Valentine to leaders of the PC(USA)’s middle governing bodies.