At UKirk UTK, we believe that every person, without qualification, should have the opportunity for God’s amazing love to be made known to them. We believe what God intends for the world is a reality in which people recognize God’s image in the other and value diversity of perspective, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ideological and political beliefs, or any other point of contention or division in our society. We believe all people are invited to Christ’s table, not to fit in, but rather to bring their honest, authentic, and, at times, broken selves to belong and experience the grace of God.
Our mission here at UKirk granted us the opportunity to expand our ethos through our new coffee shop, UPerk, which opened in the fall of 2017 thanks to a grant from the Sequoyah Hills Presbyterian Church Benevolence Foundation. We partnered with a local roaster, Vienna Coffee Company, to create our own blend of coffee which is both direct trade and organic (which you can buy on their fundraiser page!). UPerk has been an extension of hospitality from us here at UKirk to the entirety of UT Knoxville, welcoming all students, no matter what their campus ministry affiliation is or if they have one at all as well as faculty, staff and other campus ministers.
Aside from the hospitality that UPerk offers the campus we have our regular UKirk activities such as UWorship and Seminary Light. Every Monday during the school year we gather for lunch at UKirk where we welcome a pastor or educator from the Presbytery of East Tennessee for our Seminary Light program. There have been lessons on topics from Eschatology, to Missiology to Israel and Palestine. We have around 8 to 14 students on any given Monday and I stay amazed at their interest in these topics and the ways that they continue to explore their faith. On Wednesday evenings we have dinner and worship. The students are fed each Wednesday by churches right here in the Presbytery of East Tennessee that value collegiate ministry. After dinner we move into worship where we follow a normal order of worship with students reading liturgy, a sermon from Rev. Andy Morgan and music lead by our student leaders. It never ceases to amaze me at the 30+ students that show up on a Wednesday in the middle of the semester because they treasure this time of worship.
For those of you that don’t know me my name is Jaclyn Beeler and I am the Communications Coordinator at UKirk UTK. At UKirk I manage all of the social media as well as the website (including this blog, even though this is the first one that I am writing myself), I send out our monthly newsletter, and organize weekly meals for worship, I organize fundraisers making videos for our annual Giving Tuesday campaign, selling coffee at area churches, coordinating with churches to have students give minute for missions as well as overseeing our largest annual fundraiser FootVol parking (which is open now for bidding, send us an email!). I also manage our new coffee shop and even do some pastoral care. On any given day if you walk in UKirk you will find at least 1 maybe 3 students sitting and hanging out in my office and it is not a large office but I love every minute of it. I have worked for the church for 7 years now, as a youth director for 3 years and then as a children’s ministries coordinator for 3 years but it wasn’t until UKirk that I found my place, my calling. I love working for the church and the PCUSA and I also love digital marketing and fundraising and this job combines the best of both worlds for me, but what I didn’t realize I would love so much is the honest, real relationships that I have built with these students.
I often tell people that I have the best job in the world and I mean it because I believe that these students are experiencing truly life changing things here at UKirk, like the three students in the last year that have started or will start seminary this fall and the student that found her passion for gardening at UKirk and is now serving as a young adult volunteer at Ferncliff Camp in Little Rock, Arkansas as their garden steward and in other ways like showing up on a Sunday afternoon to help Seeds of Abraham pack and serve meals to the homeless community here in Knoxville or with the student that frequents ours coffee shop and one day told tell me that he isn’t a Christian but UKirk has been the most welcoming and safe place for him on campus and he was thankful for that. There are other students, students from the Pride Center that have been hurt by the church but find themselves coming to UPerk to study on a regular basis.
Every day these students teach me new things, they teach me how to stand up for what I believe, the teach me compassion and love, they teach me it’s okay to ask questions, they teach me about Jesus and help me grow in my faith.
It is a true honor to get to do the work that Andy and I do at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.