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‘Holy Friendship’ journey begins March 11

Young adults embracing

The Michigan Conference offers a new 8-week program free to young adults wanting to deepen real friendships through meaningful conversations. Registration closes March 1.

Content Editor

God has created us as social beings with the capacity for friendship, a gift modeled in scripture and through our United Methodist history and traditions.

In the Bible, friendship bonds develop between Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, Elizabeth and Mary, and Elijah and Elisha. The Gospels describe Jesus’ beautiful friendship with Martha and Mary and their brother, Lazarus. Jesus calls his disciples friends in John 15.

The Methodist movement in England grew mainly due to the duplication of the Holy Club, which brothers John and Charles Wesley started at Oxford University. In essence, Holy Clubs were student-led covenant groups that focused on prayer, Bible study, and conversation.

Friendships are chosen relationships, but it’s often more challenging to make new and sustain existing friendships the older you get. Some studies on friendship have shown that the season of life when people have the greatest capacity for making new friends is during the young adult years. There’s an increased need for peer social support after high school as young adults juggle life transitions, manage stress, and face responsibilities and new horizons.

The young adult years are also a time for grappling with faith matters and coming to terms with one’s beliefs and spirituality. Young adults ask hard questions — deep questions about faith and life — and seek a welcoming space to talk through their thoughts and feelings with others.

Next month, young adults in the Michigan Conference will have a chance to join a new program designed especially for young adults navigating their spirituality in the modern world.

Holy Friendship, an 8-week journey from Nearness, has been created for any young adult aged 18-26 from the Michigan Conference who seeks deep connections and honest conversations and wants to meet other young adults in a covenant community of 6-8 people. Holy Friendship begins on March 11 and will end on May 5. Registration is now open and will close March 1.

The program occurs as a series of Zoom calls, and group members take turns hosting. There are conversation starters, readings, and exercises to guide the weekly 90-minute gatherings. Click here to view sample exercises. Participants have two meeting options: Tuesday evenings at 7:30 pm Eastern / 6:30 pm Central or Sunday afternoons at 1 pm Eastern / noon Central.

There is no church membership requirement, just a desire to connect with other young adults in an intentional spiritual community. Participants can even attend an out-of-state school but are from Michigan. This is one of the positive aspects of this online program. The only requirements are completing a simple application and committing to participating for all 8 weeks.

After signing up, young adults will be matched into a small group of 6-8 people based on complementary interests and backgrounds. This will be an excellent opportunity for young adults to meet others from different parts of the state.

Holy Friendship is made possible and offered free to any young adult from the Michigan Conference, thanks to a partnership among the Michigan Conference Board of Young People’s Ministries, the United Methodist Foundation of Michigan who provided a generous grant, and Nearness, an online program that matches people into small groups for soulful conversations.

Do you know a young adult, 18-26, who would value being part of this program? They don’t have to be attending a college or university. Talk to them and invite them to read about Holy Friendship on this web page to see if it is a good fit. The registration deadline is March 1.

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All campus ministries throughout the state are invited to participate. Ministry leaders and young adults attending Albion College, the Wesley Foundation at the University of Michigan, the Wesley Foundation at Northern Michigan University/Marquette: Hope UMC, the Peoples Church in Lansing, and Michigan State University have already agreed to help find young adults to participate in Holy Friendship. Also, staff at various United Methodist-affiliated camps and the Michigan Conference Board of Young People’s Ministries will be invited to join the program.

Nearness created this program, which has been customized with a United Methodist lens with guidance from Rev. Tim Kobler, Director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Kobler has worked in higher education ministries for 21 years.

Kobler first heard about Nearness from following the writings and podcasts of co-founder Casper ter Kuile. A campus ministry colleague who has served on the board of directors for Nearness connected Kobler with ter Kuile to brainstorm what bringing Nearness to his campus ministry would be like.

Kobler has been instrumental in ensuring that Holy Friendship feels suitable for our United Methodist context. In some ways, it continues the spirit of the Oxford Holy Club formed by the Wesley brothers.

“Methodism was born on a university campus,” explains Kobler, “and was based on small groups of people intentionally seeking spiritual growth. The 8 sessions center around the theme of Holy Friendship, which will draw upon the example of the Holy Club and early Methodist Societies, as well as be informed by Methodist theology.”

Founded in 2022, Nearness has hosted over a thousand online journeys with people worldwide. In a short time, ter Kuile and Nearness leadership have received an overwhelmingly positive response from participants. According to information Nearness has provided, “95% of participants complete the entire multi-week journey, and they report deep connection with new friends, improved mental health, and an enriched sense of purpose and meaning.”

In their words, Nearness has “created a set of tools and practices to help people connect more deeply with themselves and each other during life transitions.” Holy Friendship is focused on young adults and developing healthy, positive peer relationships, so the customized curriculum paired with the online community-building platform will guide them through a “series of powerful conversations with just enough structure for connection to bloom.”

Kobler knows that members of Michigan United Methodist churches have young adults in their congregations and hopes they will talk to them about this wonderful opportunity to connect with other young adults and discuss their faith and spirituality.

He hopes that Holy Friendship by Nearness will be one more bridge for young adults seeking spiritual and relational connections. The church offers that in many ways, but other ministries adjacent to the institutional church, like Nearness, are meeting the needs of young adults, especially Gen Z, and providing spiritual care and resources. This is one new initiative that the Michigan Conference Board of Young People’s Ministries is launching in 2024 due to the feedback they received from recent young adult listening sessions.

Kobler sees this program as addressing two specific needs. First, it provides intentional community and social connection in this season of life following the COVID-19 pandemic. This will be a vital boost to the overall mental health and academic progress of students he knows. Also, it helps young adults and young alumni find a spiritual community to connect with. He says, “I frequently hear from young alums that they have difficulty finding a spiritual community after graduating from college or university, so this will be of great value to them.”

Holy Friendship can provide a vital link to deep wells of spirituality that go back generations to the Holy Club of Oxford and to the bonds of friendship and kinship that our biblical forebears gave witness to in the scriptures. But it’s a new method of connection-making for our time.

Do you have questions? Contact Rev. Tim Kobler at [email protected] or by phone at 734-668-6881, ext. 23. He’ll gladly answer your questions about Holy Friendship or Nearness.

Last Updated on February 12, 2024

The Michigan Conference