Brothers Ryan and Bryan Anderson found LCM in an unconventional way. Yet, once they got to LCM, the ministry made a major impact on their college experience.
Early on a Sunday morning, Ryan and Bryan Anderson were fast asleep in their dorm room. Then, Ryan heard someone banging on their door. Thinking someone must be messing with them, Ryan dragged himself out of bed.
When he opened the door, Ryan met Pastor Widmark. Before Ryan could get a word in, Pastor Widmark strutted into the Andersons’ room, plopped himself down and dug through their stash of snacks.
“My mom sent me an ice cream pail of chocolate-chip cookies,” Ryan said. “And he opened it, and he just started eating.”
Meanwhile, Bryan was fast asleep. In between bites of cookies, Pastor Widmark told Ryan about Lutheran Campus Ministry and the ways he could get involved. Once Pastor Widmark had left and Bryan had woken up, Ryan told Bryan the story—about the pastor who made himself at home and devoured their mom’s cookies.
Pastor Widmark showed up at the Andersons’ dorm multiple times after that early, Sunday-morning visit. He continued coming back, inviting himself in, talking about LCM and helping himself to whatever snacks he could get ahold of.
“After one of his visits, I jokingly said to my brother, ‘We better check out this campus ministry, or he’s going to eat all of our food,” Bryan said.
So Ryan and Bryan decided to give LCM a try.
The brothers grew up in Eau Claire, Wisc., three hours northwest of Madison. They didn’t come from much and would be supporting themselves through school, but UW’s culture and the idea of being a Badger drew both brothers to Madison. While they were both raised Lutheran, they hadn’t heard about LCM until Pastor Widmark showed up at their dorm.
Becoming a part of LCM’s community drastically influenced the Andersons’ college experience and altered their views on faith.
“The big change that occurred when I got to college was that it started to become my own faith versus just, you know, things that I did with my parents or in my family,” Ryan said.
This idea of finding faith for yourself fascinated Ryan. Growing up, he perceived faith as rules from a God we must always obey. In college, he began seeing faith as a two-way relationship with God filled with joy. Yet a change in perspective alone did not make Ryan’s faith life at Wisconsin any easier.
“To be a faithful person, as a college student is not easy sometimes,” Ryan said. But, at LCM there was this ability to feel comfortable with your faith.”
Ryan and Bryan made LCM their second home. They began investing in LCM’s faith and fellowship opportunities by studying in the space, attending services at Luther Memorial and serving with other LCM students.
“I think it was a refuge,” Bryan said. “It was a place where you could land on a big campus and make friendships.”
Those friendships coupled with a strong support system within LCM got the Andersons through school. At the start of their junior year, the brothers had fallen upon hard times. They didn’t have the means to support themselves and no longer had a place to stay.
With the help of LCM staff, the Andersons worked out a deal with Luther Memorial. They could live in apartments above LCM if they cleaned the church.
“Bad things happen, but I think we can be thankful as faithful people when good things happen,” Ryan said. “God does give gifts.”
Ryan says if he wasn’t able to stay at Luther Memorial, he and Bryan would not have graduated from Wisconsin.
Bryan graduated in 1996, and Ryan graduated in 1997. Bryan currently serves as a pastor for a Lutheran Church in Clear Lake, Wisc., while Ryan works as the Senior Director of Instructional Design for the University of Wisconsin’s Extended Campuses in Madison. Ryan also serves on LCM’s Board of Ministry.
Today, over 20 years since Bryan and Ryan were students at UW, they still feel a connection to LCM.
“Things started out a little rocky, but we found this little oasis, this campus center, thanks to Pastor Widmark,” Bryan said. “Then we blossomed and grew there, and that became our home base.”
Bryan and Ryan hope LCM continues opening their doors to all people and incorporating the legacy of radical welcome that they experienced from Pastor Widmark 30 years ago. But maybe now, in 2022, students can keep their cookies.
Emma Conway, UW-Madison student