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College fellowship leads to devotional cookbook

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo courtesy of the Rev. J.J. Whitney

Courtney Lobban enjoys a home-cooked meal at the weekly dinner and devotional program at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark.
Dec. 7, 2006

A UMNS Feature
By Linda Green*

Graduating seniors involved in the fellowship program at a United Methodist-related college wanted to leave a legacy, so they turned the recipes for the meals they shared into a cookbook.

The result is the Fellowship Cookbook, produced by students in the religious life program at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark. The book was inspired by a weekly dinner and devotional program started four years ago by the Rev. J.J. Whitney, the school's assistant chaplain and coordinator of the Hendrix Lilly Vocations Initiative program.

Every Thursday night during the school year, about 40 students gather to eat dinner. The meals -- with wide-ranging themes such as luau, Valentine's, Harry Potter and Dr. Seuss -- are followed by a devotional or activity to help the students find their life's calling, Whitney said.

Three graduating students -- Jessica Bridges of Bridgeport, Texas; Rebecca McBrady of St. Louis; and Margi Ault-Duell of Larned, Kan. -- decided to record the meetings in a cookbook to keep the memories with them when they left the school.

Junior Hillary Stine of Harrison, Ark., describes the dinners as "a really fun time to relax and enjoy good food. It's very laid back, a time where you can refocus with the devotions."

Bridges wrote the introduction for the book, explaining the effect the event has on the students. "Through my time spent with the folks in the Lilly office, I have come to realize what I like to call the 'uniting power of food,' or the unique moments of sharing that arise out of the offering of hospitality to strangers, and through the simple act of eating together in the same place, at the same moment," she said.

In hosting the weekly dinners and devotions, Whitney wanted to create a meeting similar to the youth group meetings at the students' home churches. The home-cooked meals would serve as an outreach.

The students involved in the religious life program are Christians from various denominations or seekers searching for a spiritual home who meet to break bread together in Christian fellowship, Whitney said. "It has provided a connection within the campus community for students who seek to integrate the life of the spirit and the life of the mind."

Exploring a calling

The Hendrix-Lilly Vocations Initiative is funded by the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment through its Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation. The school's fellowship program serves as an entry point for students to become connected to other programs that will help them focus more deeply on their college experience as a time of vocational discernment, Whitney said.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo courtesy of the Rev. J.J. Whitney

The Rev. J.J. Whitney (left) and students Nicole Mayerle (center) and Sarah Kopp decorate cookies for the Thursday night dinner.
The initiative encourages students to explore their life's calling through involvement in service to those in need, participation in a faith community, and reflective exercises for identifying worthy values, as well as through academic preparation, according to the school's Web site.

"We provide programs that help students not just find a 'job,' but a calling," Whitney added. Every year, the program sponsors several national and international mission trips for students.

Any student, regardless of personal beliefs, can apply as long as he or she wants to help others. Students can also apply for individual projects called Service Fellowships, which allot as much as $4,000 per student to pursue a project or to research an issue. It is an opportunity to help rising juniors and seniors discern their vocations within the context of service work in churches, church-related agencies or nonprofit agencies.

"We want students to find their calling through helping others and find out how their greatest passion can serve the world," Whitney said.

Power of food

The premise of the cookbook falls under the realm of the uniting power of food. "Food is a vital part of offering hospitality to others," she said. As the disciples in Luke's gospel soon recognized that the stranger they'd invited into their home for dinner was the risen Christ, "we believe that sharing food invites Christ to be among us," she said.

"In the Lilly office, we believe that hospitality is an important spiritual discipline in overcoming obstacles of difference between people. We are one body in Christ, which is symbolized as we break bread in Holy Communion and around the dinner table in Christian fellowship."

As Hebrews 13:2 is the fellowship group's guide for hospitality, its foundational Scripture is Acts 2:42.

"We believe our Christian walk is enhanced by partaking in the elements found in this verse each week as a community of faith on a college campus," Whitney said.

The students' favorite recipe is for Valentine's Day Sinful Brownies, which are baked with a layer of chocolate bars between the brownie batter. The accompanying devotional examines scripture based on love, including 1 John 3:18, "Our love must not be a thing of words and fine talk. It must be a thing of action and sincerity." The students created a list of habits for friendships to fulfill this description of love, including replying to all phone messages and e-mails and only making promises that can be kept.

Whitney and students in the fellowship program said the cookbook could benefit youth directors and youth leaders because the recipes and devotions can be used to create programs for weekly youth meetings. The cookbook contains a year's worth of weekly, themed meals including recipes, game ideas and devotion topics. Many of the recipes in the cookbook came from leaders, students, and

The Fellowship Cookbook costs $10 and can be ordered by calling (501) 450-4590 or e-mailing

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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