So what’s next? What are your plans after graduation? Questions like these have always provoked fear and anxiety among college students, but the challenges of COVID have made them even more urgent. This is where fellowships and other post-graduation opportunities can help transform young people into better human beings.
The Brazos Fellows program strives to do just that by seeking “to prepare women and men for lives of mature Christian discipleship.” Now in its third year, the Brazos Fellows program is a nine-month part-time fellowship established alongside Christ Church Waco. Through the unique combination of theological training, spiritual disciplines, vocational discernment, and life together, fellows are mentored and form habits in preparation for future study, work, or ministry.
For current fellow Tiffany Owens, Brazos Fellows has been a valuable time to discern vocation and calling. Tiffany was at first drawn to the idea of taking the time to study theology and to think about some of the bigger questions in life. Over the course of the program, though, she has found its most valuable aspects to be the spiritual direction and life coaching, as well as the intentional cultivation of spiritual practices. The interweaving of prayer and communal worship with everyday life has helped her reorient life toward larger existential questions and the development of virtue. According to Tiffany, Brazos Fellows can be summed up as “nine-months to pause to re-examine your assumptions, to re-examine your beliefs.” It is also a time to discover great Christian examples and mentors and to grow in a multitude of ways: spiritually, intellectually, and morally.
Unlike other post-graduate fellowships, which usually focus on preparing students for professional or mission work, Brazos Fellows takes a unique and holistic approach to the fellowship year. Paul Gutacker, director of the program, says its aim is to “help college grads discern calling and vocation.” This takes place through mentorships and disciplines. Ultimately, Gutacker hopes that the program helps “fellows grow in double knowledge… knowledge of God and knowledge of self.” Future career plans are, of course, part of the program, but its central aim is to encourage participants to mature in the Christian life. As Gutacker puts it, “we are intentionally seeking to know the God who made us and who he made us to be.”
Individually, each fellow meets with several mentors. These include a tutor, a spiritual director, and a life coach. Tutoring is focused on individual studies in the Oxford style of teaching. Here fellows are paired with graduate students as they read and study together in an attempt to answer an intellectual question. Fellows also meet with a spiritual director, who helps them recognize God’s presence in their life. Finally, life coaching is the process of addressing vocational concerns by using personality and strength tests as well as mentorship meetings.
Many aspects of the program also take place in group settings. In a typical week, fellows participate in weekday morning and evening prayer, cohort dinners on Monday evenings, course study on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and monthly retreats. They also observe the Sabbath. The program involves a significant amount of reading for both their tutor and group study, which means that fellows develop consistent habits of prayer, study, and work.
Although the program takes place within the Anglican tradition in conjunction with a local Anglican church (Christ Church Waco), Brazos Fellows draws students and teachers from many different Christian denominations. Readings for the program also come from a variety of Christian traditions as well. All fellows are asked to participate and commit to shared prayer and worship for the nine months of the program.
Through communal study and worship, fellows think through important theological questions not only with other participants and teachers, but also with the church throughout time. Gutacker observes that their shared communal life is “not just a nice bonus to the work of discernment and learning; it is actually fundamental to it.” The habits and relationships formed through shared meals, prayer, study, and worship have led to genuine friendships and a tight-knit community.
Because the program does not consume full days, it also allows fellows time to work part-time. And crucially, it provides space for rest and discernment. The busyness of college is not often conducive to the leisure and careful thought necessary for discovering one’s vocation and exploring life’s most important questions. Brazos Fellows offers a space in which people can find a rhythm and community conducive to figuring out “what’s next.”
Ultimately, as Gutacker points out, the program is a welcome and countercultural invitation “to not give all of our attention to what everyone wants us to.” It offers respite from the incessant “pressure to take sides in whatever is happening and only talk about the urgent thing today.” The program actively distances itself from the heated debates of the day. It offers a time set aside to pause and develop virtues and habits for life. True, academic and professional pressures can be all-consuming and difficult to escape. But Brazos Fellows shows what is possible when one takes the time to think, pray, reflect, and discern.
Cara Hoekstra is a senior from Oakdale, California. She is studying sociology, history, and political science. Outside of class, she works in the Baylor Honors Program Office as a Student Administrative Assistant. In her free time, you can find her watching a Jane Austen movie adaptation, browsing the Waco Farmer's Market, or hiking in Cameron Park.