[Episcopal News Service] The Diocese of Atlanta’s Wright House at the University of Georgia in Athens, probably the only project of its kind undertaken by an Episcopal diocese in recent years, combines student residences, the Episcopal campus ministry and a chapel all under one roof. With the first cohort of residents now moved in for the fall semester, the building is already a hub of activity and connection.
The Wright House – named for Atlanta Bishop Rob Wright – is now at capacity, with 123 undergraduate and graduate students living there, along with the Rev. Clayton Harrington, the campus missioner. Students don’t have to be Episcopalian – or even Christian – to live there, and only one or two of them are, though there are about 50 Episcopalian students living elsewhere on campus who are now gathering in the building for worship and other events, Harrington told Episcopal News Service.
“It’s been really fun to see those two worlds, with some overlap and some non-overlap,” Harrington said. “The students who live here seem very excited. Probably the best location of any living space on campus, I would wager, and … the design of the building lends itself to community.”
The building’s location and amenities are a major draw to students of any background, said the Rev. Lang Lowrey, an Atlanta priest who specializes in church development projects and shepherded the Wright House from concept to reality. It’s right in the center of campus and has bike storage, a gym, study spaces, a coffee bar and a rooftop deck.
“The location of this facility is incredible,” Lowrey said. “Our students do not have to bring a car – they can walk. We’re on the major bus lines, but they can walk to all the dining halls. The stadium is right down the way.”
The site used to be occupied by a chapel, but that hadn’t been used since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The diocese demolished it in March 2021 to make way for the new building. There was also once a small house for Episcopal students on the lot, Lowrey said – a setup that was once more common on college campuses.
“We had an old boarding house on this site going back 40 years, and the house was literally falling in,” he told ENS. “It was unsafe for students to live there anymore. It only housed about six students anyway, and the program has been growing. We had a separate chapel on the side of the property. So it was not used very effectively.”
Two of the new building’s communal spaces are primarily used by the campus ministry: the chapel and the lounge. Both are open, modern spaces conducive to large gatherings. The building’s biggest regular event is the Wednesday evening compline and dinner, which is hosted by the campus ministry. All are invited, though Harrington makes it clear that students don’t have to attend the worship portion to enjoy the dinner portion, which typically attracts about 50 people from inside and outside the building.
“We’re not manipulative, and we’re not doing a bait-and-switch. If folks come to our times of worship, we want it to be because there’s a genuine desire for worship or curiosity. We’ve had a few who have popped into our various worship services who were not part the Episcopal community before. And that’s been really exciting.”
The diocese owns the property but uses a real estate firm to handle leasing and management. Units range from one to four bedrooms and go for between $1,750 and $5,000 per month. The Wright Foundation, which is independent of the diocese, has been set up to help students who cannot afford the cost. Through the Wright Foundation, profits from the Wright House are used to provide grants for lower-income students to live in the house, Lowrey said. This year, four students are receiving those grants.
For Harrington, having the Wright House buzzing with activity and community is especially meaningful because of how disconnected the campus community was in 2020 and 2021, when the core group of Episcopalians could only meet outside. It feels right, he said, “after being nomads for a period of time, to have a place.”
“It’s been really fun to see the students claim it, to see the Episcopal campus ministry students really claim the chapel. You can already see, even in just the month and some change that we’ve been in the building, it’s becoming their space, which is cool.”
Most of all, Harrington is proud of his student group, whom he tasked with writing a mission statement for the campus ministry, which he shared with ENS.
“‘Together, we strive to cultivate a community of belonging that fosters spiritual growth as we share God’s love with the world.’ And I think that captures what we try to do.”
– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.