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The St. Thomas Collective:

A Haven for Students in Recovery from Fundamentalism

You’re a student at a fundamentalist Christian college. Your grandparents promised to pay for your entire college education if you would enroll in one. But after your first year, you begin to think critically about the doctrines you were taught as a child – doctrines upheld by virtually everyone you know and respect – beliefs that are starting to unravel in your mind and heart. But to speak out about your changing understanding would risk expulsion from your college and alienation from your family and friends. You are expected to continue to show loyalty to a form of faith that no longer makes sense to you, and the dissonance in your soul becomes a torment.

And then you get into a conversation with a fellow student whom you sense might understand at least a bit of your predicament. She quietly invites you to attend a gathering of the St. Thomas Collective, a student-led group that meets off-campus in a progressive church nearby. The meeting opens with a circle in which students share, openly and honestly and without judgment toward each other, where they are right now in their spiritual and personal journeys. You sink back in your chair with a sense of overwhelming relief. You have found peers who are going through so very much of what you are experiencing – peers who listen and support each other no matter where their paths lead them. Now you know that hard as this transition might become for you, you aren’t going through it alone.

The first paragraph of this scenario is playing out painfully in the real lives of students at fundamentalist colleges around the country every day.

But the second paragraph manifests only on the outskirts of Biola University near Los Angeles.

The St Thomas Collective provides a safe community for Biola students/alumni who find themselves doubting, frustrated, and spiritually homeless,” reads one of their Instagram posts. Their gatherings are soulful, making space for tears and laughter. They are leaving evangelical theology behind, but they maintain the earnestness and closely-knit community life of their tradition. They have developed their own impressive set of resources for guiding their meetings and retreats.

The Collective is interested in helping to establish chapters near other fundamentalist colleges. To assist them in this quest, and learn more about the Collective, contact their student leaders here.

Rev. Jim Burklo is the Senior Associate Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life at the University of Southern California.  An ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ, he is the author of six published books on progressive Christianity, with a new one coming out soon:  TENDERLY CALLING: An Invitation to the Way of Jesus (St Johann Press, 2021).  His weekly blog, “Musings”, has a global readership.  He serves on the board of ProgressiveChristiansUniting.org and is an honorary advisor and frequent content contributor for ProgressiveChristianity.org.

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