RISE reaches out to college students,
young adults in Harrisonburg area

As part of “All Things New,” the Virginia Conference is establishing a new faith community that will reach out to college students and young adults in the Shenandoah Valley.

RISE is a new faith community that has grown out of what was the Wesley Foundation at James Madison University and will continue to meet in that building.

RISE, a new faith community in Harrisonburg, seeks to connect with young adults ages 18-30-ish, particularly "disconnected" young adults. RISE has grown out of what once was the Wesley Foundation at James Madison University (JMU) and is the result of the combined efforts of the conference Board of Higher Education Ministries, Church Development Team and the Harrisonburg District.

This new faith community will be in ministry with local college students at JMU, Bridgewater College, Eastern Mennonite University and Blue Ridge Community College. It also will try to connect with young adults who are out of college. A broad mix of ages will allow for peer mentoring, more stability over the long haul, and the ability to connect with a demographic (age 25-40) that is absent from most of our churches.

“RISE is a new creation and a new faith community, and it has amazing passion and boldness,” said the Rev. Amanda Garber, founding pastor of RISE. “Our ways of functioning are very different than they were when we were the Wesley Foundation at JMU, and our overall understanding of ministry and outreach has been transformed. We will be actively seeking to connect with our local institutions of higher learning, and so we absolutely will still be reaching out and connecting with our area campuses (hopefully, now more than ever). But, we no longer are Campus Ministry in the more traditional model ... we truly are a new thing.”

On May 5, Brayden Zanks and Annalisa Adams, members of the RISE leadership team, hung a banner on the old JMU Wesley Foundation building to officially rename it The RISE Mission House.

September 12 is the launch date for this new faith community. Its first worship service will be held in the basement of a local Ethiopian Restaurant which is a popular young adult hangout and often features bands.

Currently, the RISE leadership team consists of 15 people between the ages of 19-38 years of age. Staff includes Garber; Brent Levy, worship leader; and Christy Blagg, part-time Ministry Assistant. They are assisted by three ministry interns.

“Our young adults see brokenness in us and all around us,” said Levy. “We see tens of thousands of students and young adults in our community looking for meaning, purpose, hope and love. We see a deep yearning for grace – when we’re walking to class, peering outside office windows, and, perhaps most of all, when we look in the mirror. There’s a need for Jesus.”

Levy said members of the leadership team believe greater things are still to be done here, and “these greater things won’t happen if we just sit comfortably inside our cozy building.”

Other interested young adults joined the RISE leadership team for a May 5 worship service in the parking lot to celebrate the former campus ministry's new identity. "It was our version of a ribbon cutting," said the Rev. Amanda Garber, RISE founding pastor.

Members of the leadership team make sure that they don't spend a lot of time sitting inside their building. Every Friday morning throughout the summer, the team has been holding sunrise worship services in various places around Harrisonburg.

"We're mainly doing this for our leadership team," Garber said, "to keep us focused and spiritually centered." But she said it is also a way to get out into the community to "understand our mission field."

During their July 9 sunrise worship, team members did a prayer walk around downtown Harrisonburg. They walked around town, stopping periodically to join hands and pray. They had a communion service on the steps of the Harrisonburg Courthouse. Then they sat in a popular coffee house to visit with young people, asking them about their hopes, dreams and pain.

Julie Yannuzzi, Brittany Conley and the Rev. Amanda Garber greet passersby in dowtown Harrisonburg as part of their outreach to get to know people in the community.

"We're listening to people's stories. We want to make a video documentary called 'The Stories of H'Burg' to record the stories," Garber said. "Too many churches just talk and don't listen. We're going to start out by listening."

For more information, visit the RISE Web site at riseharrisonburg.com.



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