Taylor Condre delivers sermons in senior project series
Her short, messily-styled hair and glowing cheeks radiate the many colors of the stained-glass windows around her.
On Nov. 21, the campus sanctuary moves for Religious Life intern Taylor Condre and the quaint congregation. She steadies herself and walks towards the pulpit to deliver the fourth sermon of her student-led series.
A Bible sits open, near the script of the message she will present on faith through tragedy, choosing relationships and refashioning one’s pain through God.
Her project—the capstone of the senior’s religious journey at Franklin College—is the product of months of research, a lifetime of faith and one of her final marks on the campus before graduating in December.
She begins to speak.
A NEW COMMUNITY
Condre’s first impressions of the college’s religious community came from chapel services and interactions with Rev. Leah Rumsey, the former campus chaplain who left last year to pursure her doctorate at Harvard University.
“We were struggling through faith,” Condre said. “When I have people ask big questions with me and talk through big things with me—that struggling—I think that grows your faith more than just hearing what you already believe.”
Rumsey invited Condre to attend events like Dinner and Faith, deliver sermons and travel to New York with the Religious Life team to learn more about ministry with the poor.
There, she met with a homeless outreach minister who emphasized the sacrifices made by those in that position. It was in that moment that the choice to pursue homeless ministry, for Condre, was obvious.
After her own family lost everything in a house fire in March 2016, Condre wanted to spread awareness of homelessness on campus. With the help of Rumsey, she lived outside for an entire week in nothing more than a tent. She cleaned herself with wipes in place of showers.
“I don’t think people realize that, on this campus, there are people who have been homeless, who don’t have that much money, who are really affected by these things,” she said. “But because Franklin College is so expensive, and because it’s a private school and most of our demographic is middle, upper middle class, people forget there are people on this campus who aren’t.”
As the current vice president of Franklin College Pride Alliance and a pansexual woman, Condre also works to unite religious life and the campus LGBT community.
THE WEIGHT OF FAITH
One of Condre’s greatest struggles is balancing her mental health with the tradition of her work.
After being diagnosed with depression and anxiety, she weighs personal belief and need with the teachings of scripture.
She takes issue with the Bible’s portrayal of mental illness as a lack of faith.
“There’s a lot in the Bible that portrays mental illness as a demon, and then Jesus casts it out and everything is fine,” Condre said. “A lot of people believe that they just have to wait for Jesus to cast out their demons. Then the question is, ‘How long do you have to wait?’”
Recognizing this, Condre designed her sermons to better address the role of God in emotional pain, particularly through the lessons in the Book of Job.
“One of the things I talked about in my sermon about depression was a cross of mental illness,” Condre said. “This is the idea that mental illness isn’t bad, it’s not caused by God, and it’s not a punishment—just a chemical imbalance in your brain you have to live with.”
A “BRITE” FUTURE
For the past few months, Condre spent hours applying to several seminaries, or religion-based graduate schools, across the country—the next step in her journey through ministry.
She realized early on her dream seminary was Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas, which is an institution known for its progressive approaches to religion.
To her surprise, Condre received a full-tuition scholarship from the seminary in October.
When she graduates from Franklin College this month, she will have a little less than a year to work and prepare for the move. She will also contribute to the youth group at her home church, Speedway Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Broad Ripple.
In summer 2018, Condre will marry her long-time friend and fiance, senior Justin Braunsdorf.
The couple will hold their ceremony at Richardson Chapel with a reception to follow in the Branigin Room, where their friendship began as incoming freshmen.
“The most wonderful thing about college is that you get the chance to explore,” Condre says as she concludes her Nov. 21 sermon. “You get to explore majors, clubs and activities, but you’re also exploring your friends and who you are as a person. And use this time to explore that deeper, using it afterward to become sure of who you are.”