Down the street from the Kansas Memorial Union sits an organization that has been serving the Lawrence and KU communities since 1905. However, despite its age and location, most have never heard of it.
“Nobody knows what we are,” said David Cooper, administrator of Ecumenical Campus Ministries (ECM), which is a non-profit that serves as a gathering place for both students and Lawrence locals.
However, Cooper and volunteers at the ECM aim to change that.
According to Cooper, the mission of the ECM is to create an accepting community space for all; however, he would like to create a more meaningful, tangible mission statement.
“How do we communicate more effectively who we are?” Cooper said. “I think that’s a struggle that we have.”
The name ECM can also create confusion for people.
“On the one hand, people are like, 'Oh, that’s church,’ but we’re not,” Cooper said. “And then you have people who don’t want to come in because they say it is just a religious organization.”
Although the word “ecumenical” is rooted in Christianity, Cooper says the space welcomes people from all belief systems.
“It’s a very inviting space to be in, in a lot of different ways,” Cooper said.
Volunteer and ambassador Reagan Thompson echoed these sentiments.
“The ECM is one of the most welcoming places I’ve been to in Lawrence,” Thompson said.
Thompson began volunteering in January of 2023 to fulfill the service hours requirement of her sorority.
“I found the volunteer opportunity for one of the "Food Not Bombs" prep days, came in, saw the building, and was like, 'Oh my gosh, this is amazing,'" Thompson said. “I need to be here more often.”
Shortly after she began volunteering at the ECM, Thompson had an idea.
“I’ve been cooking since I was a kid,” Thompson said. “It became a very relaxing, kind of peaceful meditation kind of experience to cook and bake.”
Thompson uses her cooking skills at the University by making large dinners for her friends, who would bemoan their lack of culinary skills.
“I hear so much about people wishing they knew where to start with cooking,” Thompson said. “I was talking with David, and I was like, ‘What if you did a cooking class where it was for beginners or everybody?'”
Cooper loved the idea and put Thompson in charge. After realizing the kitchen at the ECM was too small, Thompson began creating her own cooking lessons for college students and uploading them to the ECM’s YouTube channel.
“The whole goal of it is to just, like, give someone a palace to start if they wanna start cooking,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s first video, which clocked in at under 10 minutes, was a recipe for lemon chicken pasta. Next, she is planning to make chipotle chicken quesadillas.
“I hope they gain confidence in the kitchen,” Thompson said of her viewers.
Beyond online cooking courses, the ECM offers a variety of resources and programs for the Lawrence community.
“They offer tons of different classes and opportunities, including a veggie lunch that is free every Thursday,” Thompson said. “They’ve got yoga, tai chi, tango, and kickboxing.”
Liam Hurley, a senior who has been volunteering at the ECM since 2020, also spoke to the ECM’s inclusive, eclectic atmosphere.
“I think it has something for everybody,” Hurley said. “It has lots of volunteer opportunities.”
Hurley, who is an out-of-state student, said that the ECM helped him find his place at the University.
“Getting involved here is something I wish I did a lot sooner because it really helped me expand my social network,” Hurley said.
Thompson is also passionate about the ECM and maintains that it is a special place.
“It’s such a beautiful space,” Thompson said. “I feel like everybody that’s been in this building has wanted to be here and is happy to be here.”