Laura Burch believes the Episcopal Church has a message that is relevant to young people.
As the recently-appointed Campus Missioner at Georgia College, reaching out to students is her job.
As a life-long Episcopalian, it’s her passion.
“I think one of the biggest things is, we really focus a lot on the love of Jesus. Our interpretation of the Bible and all the gospels and kind of all of the stuff that’s out there is that we are kind of called to love, above all,” Burch said. “And that that love is truly unconditional. That what we get from God, we are accepted exactly as who we are.”
As a denomination that is very much driven by tradition, the Episcopal Church has gained the reputation as being an “old person’s” church, Burch said. Church services are driven by liturgy, and you probably won’t see a rock band leading worship on Sunday. But the message of love and acceptance is one that branches across generations, she said. And repetition and structure hold an appeal for many people.
“The biggest thing is I guess just showing them the energy that is there, that we do have. There are parishes, and there are presences in young places and spaces.” Burch said. “I feel like most of the time, it’s one of those examples like ‘come and see’ because once they come and experience groups of like-minded people who leave room for their lifestyles and for Jesus, who show them like, a different way to worship.”
Burch got involved in leadership as a high-schooler at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Decatur, Georgia, where she said her family had attended for four generations.
“(I did) different things — leading weekend workshops, retreats and just generally being a youth group kid,” Burch said.
When she came to Georgia College in 2008 to study teaching, she naturally got involved in the campus ministry at St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Milledgeville.
After graduation, she stayed in town with her new husband and began teaching full-time for Georgia Cyber Academy.
Her journey would circle back to youth leadership, this time at St. Stephens.
“It’s a really supportive church. It’s a very lovely family,” she said.
After serving high school students for seven years in a volunteer capacity, the opportunity opened up for Burch to serve as the campus missioner for Georgia College starting this year, — to show another generation the message of love and acceptance that drew her to stick with the Episcopal Church.
She still works as a full-time teacher, but also puts in 10 hours a week as an employee of the Atlanta Diocese of the Episcopal church.
“It is every day in a way— that I maintain communication with my students,” Burch said. “And then we do meet twice a week kind of in an official capacity.”
Burch said between 10 to 15 students currently attend the ministry, which holds a Wednesday service at 7:30 p.m. at St. Stephens and a meeting at noon on Fridays at Blackbird Coffee.
On many Wednesdays, they observe compline, an evening prayer service from the Book of Common Prayer and sing worship songs.
“Short-term goal is just to maintain what we've been doing. We’re building a great program,” Burch said. “I don’t know if we’ll ever be super big, because either it appeals to you or it doesn’t. I do think if you get into it, people find love in it and that’s fine.”
Burch said she wants to grow the group to it’s potential a little bit at a time— and eventually further the community with a student mass, and one day, a campus house.
“The way that Jesus built his ministry was one person at a time, and it was very slow. It took three years for him to build a group of 12,” Burch said. “So, I’m feeling pretty good about where we are.”