by Brian Beise
When she first chose a college, Erin Brinkman ’13 prioritized one criterion over any other: “I wanted to be at the least Christian school possible, basically,” she says. The daughter of missionaries, Erin grew up in the tightly-knit Christian communities that often exist among missionary families overseas. When she graduated from high school in Germany, she was concerned that her faith would not stand up on its own. Erin is a poet, and she worried then that her voice would never grow strong from within a Christian community.
“I was a little bit disenchanted with the Christian community,” she says, “and I also really wanted to test myself. I had a lot of friends and a boyfriend who all lost their faith around the same time, and I was like, ‘How do I know that this isn’t going to be me? How do I know that this is real?’” Erin applied to five decidedly secular universities, and soon enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College.
She had not been a student there long before her fellow students made it clear what they thought of her faith. “It was really intense,” she says. “In the first week, I remember people coming up to me and saying, ‘What are you doing here? What makes you think you can come to this school and make it?’” Erin spent most of her energy that year working to disprove a stereotype that Christian students were stupid. “I was trying to earn respect,” she recalls.
More importantly, though, she found that her faith was able to withstand considerable adversity. “My faith definitely survived. In most ways, it only strengthened it. I felt such intense loneliness at the beginning, but it really drew me closer to God.” Erin began carrying a book of Psalms with her, and read from it when she felt overwhelmed. “Feeling like I was looked down upon and alone in my faith made me rely on God to get through every day.”
When her first year at Sarah Lawrence ended, Erin had to decide where to spend her summer. Her family was serving in France, and because she was not close to any extended family that lived stateside, she took an opportunity to work on a ranch in Wyoming. She made a few friends there, but as the summer ended, her financial aid fell through and she dropped out of Sarah Lawrence. She prayed about what she should do next, and within hours received a call from a friend, Jenna, who was a Christian, and who was moving to Brooklyn to attend film school. Erin decided to move with her.
When they arrived in Brooklyn, though, their housing turned out to be unavailable. Erin and Jenna slept on the floors of friends’ apartments, and soon moved in with a small collective of artists. “It was rough,” she says with a laugh. “It felt like a really fast-paced world and I felt really small.” She attended church at first, but quickly stopped. “I knew a lot of brokenness and emptiness during that time, and I knew it was because I was trying to live separate from God and his church.”
As she kept writing and considered what to do next, she thought back on one of her friends from the ranch in Wyoming, a girl who had attended Covenant. “She was very honest about having her own set of anxieties and struggles, but her faith was so sincere,” says Erin. “Her testimony was just amazing to me. I looked at people I had gone to school with at Sarah Lawrence who were brilliant but really empty. Then I looked at this girl who was kind of a normal girl on the outside, but who really knew the grace and love of God, and who really relied on God for all of her strength, and I could see that her relationship with Christ was alive. I knew that’s who I wanted to be.”
Erin applied to Covenant as well as several other schools, but “before I heard from any other schools, I knew I needed to go to Covenant,” she says. The moment she spoke to an admissions representative at Covenant, she felt things were different. While other schools wanted her to see that they were bestowing an honor upon her by allowing her to come to their institution, “with Covenant, it was much more that they value you and your story, and I felt like I had never been valued like that before. I began to see the difference in what the different schools were hoping their students would become. I knew that what I needed was Covenant.”
After a year at Sarah Lawrence, and another year in New York City, coming to Covenant was an adjustment. In a strange reversal of dynamics, Erin found herself judging younger students, whose faith perhaps had not yet been challenged intellectually. “But those people turned out to be the people at Covenant who taught me the most,” she says. “It was really humbling and really wonderful, and they’re some of my best friends, now.”
As an English major, Erin continues her work in poetry and intends to pursue a master of f ine arts in creative writing after graduation from Covenant. From there, she may teach high school English. Looking back at her courses here, she remembers learning that art is born out of something that is broken. “That was lovely,” she says. “Then, realizing that one day it will be mended, and that we’re writing to bear witness to that, that was a really beautiful thing. Knowing why writing is so important to me has been really valuable, and Covenant gave me that.”
Erin has come to love Covenant’s community, even serving as a resident assistant to her hall. “I saw Christian community as being limiting,” she says, “but I’ve found that the core of Christian community is unconditional and unrelenting love, and there is nothing more freeing than that.”