One of the great privileges of my last six years of ministry has been watching Autry Housers begin their time at Rice as teenagers, and leave as more fully formed young adults. At least among the kind of students that Rice attracts: high performing, very intelligent teenagers with a fair degree of social anxiety, this process of maturation exhibits some universal characteristics that have held true despite the variety of personalities that have come through our ministry.
All of our Autry Housers struggle to define an adult relationship with their family of origin, and their parents are often not cooperative partners in this endeavor. College is the first opportunity most teenagers have to reflect back on their raising with a bit of distance. They do crucial identity-work apart from their parents’ values and expectations. But parents are in the midst of their own grief, determining who they are without their children as the central focus of their lives. They often try to postpone this identity crisis by pulling their children closer, and locking them down. I have seen this pull-push dynamic play out many times, and I have observed that a budding mature, adult relationship with a family of origin increases the likelihood that students form healthy romantic attachments, and develop a healthy adult relationship with God.
College is a crucial time for faith development as well. Our students have the leisure and inclination to ask hard, discomforting, unanswerable questions of the Church and of each other. They are starting to realize that the inherited faith of their childhood, often characterized by a set of hard and fast Dos and Don’ts, doesn’t play very well in the changeable, complex kaleidoscope of adult life. Providing Autry Housers with space to craft a faith in Jesus that is more than a set of rules and rote answers to unanswerable questions is of incalculable service to them, and to our Church. I have found that people trust a Church that has given them space to arrive at their own conclusions about important matters of faith, justice, and morality. At Autry House we strive to be just such a church, and we represent the best of our Anglican heritage in doing so.
We could not do any of these things without the support of Palmer Church. I remain profoundly grateful for the encouragement we have received from the people of Palmer over the years – through the countless cooked meals that people have provided for our students on Sunday evening, a moment and a kind word offered to bewildered students wandering into the Nave for the first time, or a seat offered at Wednesday dinner. The success of Autry House is a testament to the hospitality of Palmer Church, and I am unspeakably thankful for our wonderful partnership.