Written by Annyston Pennington.
I stumbled upon the Friday Nights Club one afternoon in the West Mall. Events Coordinator, Michel Lee, and Chair, Weslie Onsando, were handing out free samples of vegan street corn, potato salad, and Juiceland juices set out in a colorful table display. While nibbling on the vegan potato salad—which was delicious—I asked about the organization. Michel handed me their flier and, to my surprise, invited me to their Friday night fellowship.
As I’ve come to find out, my initial cognitive dissonance in response to a vegan Christian fellowship was somewhat unfounded. At the time, however, my preconception of veganism, and those who practiced it, was primarily limited to young, white, secular individuals, not a diverse group of devout Christians. Hoping to learn more, I contacted Michel about attending fellowship. That Friday night, I met with Weslie in the African American Cultural Room where fellowship would be held to learn more about Friday Nights Club and their mission.
When did Friday Nights Club begin, and what motivated its creation?
The FNC started because several of us went to Austin Central Church. We realized a bunch of students went there but didn’t have an organization on campus. The name came […] well, we wanted it to be Friday Night Lights, but we couldn’t be affiliated with the movie. [She laughs.] We always meet every Friday night—on the seventh day we keep Sabbath. This is a time to decompress, relax, transition from the craziness of the week. Sing, eat, have discussion. [There is] no designation between youth church, old church. We’re all a family. I really appreciate this about my church. Something about our generation, we want to be separate from old people and kids. [We] miss out on so much learning.
What has the student response been to the club and how do you feel it has influenced campus?
When we first started, response was really, really good. The first meetings we had were very open […] we had an open forum, invited people from all denominations. We would meet every Friday night and talk about truth: absolute truth versus relative truth. We had agnostics, atheists, Muslims – we had a lot of people coming in, and there was a lot of interest. (Now, Weslie said, the group is predominantly comprised of churchgoers). Lately we’ve been picking up more interest. Still love to have people asking questions. Is your faith truth because you believe it, or do you believe it because it’s true? At a university – you’re exploring, you’re learning, you’re experimenting. We want a space where you choose God for yourself. It’s friendship, it’s fellowship, it’s family.
Why vegan meals?
We’re Seventh-Day Adventists, [and] we believe that the body is a temple. The original diet, and what God intended for us, is to eat vegan, not vegetarian actually. Even studies now in 2016 tell you it’s very healthy. (Weslie also noted that the meat industry is not good for people or for the environment).
One of the biggest things for [Seventh Day Adventists] is the health message. A healthy body means a healthy mind – better communication with God and better communication with people. The Adventist principle, “The New Start,” includes: nutrition, exercise, water, sunshine, temperance, air, rest, and trust in God.
What kinds of events does Friday Nights Club participate in or host?
We take this club as our friendship; we do a lot of things together. Wednesday night, [we have] a more formal prayer meeting. Food is a big part! We’re looking to do more this semester. We handed out ice water to people on Guadalupe; we’ve done ministry to homeless people, gave them gloves and woolen hats. Some people actually recognize us; we’ve made friends with them. We’re looking to do more service projects like that.
What kind of students are you hoping to attract to your org?
All people! Campus can be a lonely place […] a scary place. It can be a place where you come and everything is shaken. People start questioning you, and you can’t answer. We really want our club to be a place where you can express those questions and those fears and find an answer that […] is meaningful. We want people to go into a deeper understanding of who they are and what they stand for.