How campus ministries handle college culture
Stories featuring different ministries on and offf campus
GSU campus ministries attempt to stretch their reach
By Katie Tolbert
Georgia Southern University has several religious organizations and nearby churches that are looking to reach out to its college population. At a university of over 20,000 students, many religious organizations are trying to make their way on campus, but not all have been successful.
From Christianity to Earth-based faiths, the religious organizations on campus cover a wide range of religions and beliefs. The religions that are more accepted have organizations with a large following, while the religions that aren't have organizations that are dwindling in size and impact.
Presence on campus
The Wesley Foundation is a ministry centered around the sense of community through the studies of followers of Jesus Christ. Its main focus is the Georgia Southern campus.
“Most things come down to community, who are you surrounding yourself with and what direction is that group heading,” Campus Pastor Jonathan Smith said. “Students who come into our campus with a strong faith but have no community to plug into or connect to often find that their faith gets eroded because they’re swimming upstream.”
Smith said Wesley wants to be the place students can hang out together and worship together. The Wesley Foundation building where students can worship and study in lounge rooms is located on Herty Drive right across from Hanner Fieldhouse.
“One of the things campus ministries get criticized for all the time is being leeches to the campus culture. That we are constantly calling people off the campus into this other thing, into a different community,” Smith said. “We want to invert that at Wesley. We want to be on campus and a part of campus life because the only way that we can minister to our campus is if we’re there.”
Baptist Collegiate Ministries is another ministry at GSU practicing Christian practices that is located right near campus off of Chandler Road.
“The best I can do is to tell you we exist to help students find a relationship with Christ and to disciple them in that journey,” Senior Campus Minister Dr. Jerry Johnson said.
BCM is a ministry reaching out to students through worship services, dinner gatherings and bible studies. The ministry provides special ministry for international students and provides mission trip opportunities for students interested.
Feeling pressures of campus
The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro is a congregation that practices Unitarian Universalism, which has a mission statement that says, “as a welcoming congregation, we work and worship together to become people of open minds, loving hearts and helping hands.”
Rev. Dr. Jane Page of UUFS said that unlike most religions, their faith celebrates questioning, which often surrounds college culture. Page said they embrace the college culture, but the “religious college culture” at GSU hasn’t embraced them.
“We’ve tried to do some things on campus, we have had some negativity,” Page said. “Put up posters and people put ‘this is a cult, beware.’ So, we have ended up, for the time being, trying to encourage instead of us doing as many things on campus, especially with us being so close, is trying to encourage folks to come here to us.”
UUFS just moved into its new building location and proudly flags its rainbow flag out front reflecting its acceptance of all people. Page mentioned it drawing in some college students for Sunday morning service, but she said she believes the college culture has become to sleep in on Sunday mornings.
In efforts to reach the GSU campus, Page has reached out for student volunteers and has been pleased with all the responses. She believes spending your time doing for others is beneficial for students and people in general. Page said their “focus is on this life.”
With a similar desire to be a helping hand out in the community, GSU Hillel is a Jewish organization that wants to be a place where students can explore their Jewish identity.
GSU Hillel President Hannah Leman said that the organization is beginning to get back on its feet after a series of graduations, but are actively looking for ways to serve in the community.
“A big part of Judaism is a thing called Tikkun olam, which is doing your part for the world. We really want to emphasize that,” Leman said. “People affiliate so many bad things with Judaism that we want to show them that, no, we aren’t that stereotype or that thing you think we are.”
Hillel at GSU hasn’t been too active as of late, but Leman plans to change that. She is planning several events and socials for the organization. Today, they will be having a Sabbath dinner in Savannah at a synagogue.
The Muslim Student Association at GSU used to exist but has gone inactive due to limited numbers. Former MSA President Nadia Dreid said it has been inactive for several years.
“I was trying to run it my first couple of years, but there just weren’t enough students to keep it going,” Dreid said. “We mostly focused on outreach to non-Muslims more than ministry though since we were so few. It was more of a ‘hey, don’t be scared of us type thing.’”
GSU has several different religious organizations on campus ranging in all kinds of faiths. Some have a strong presence and some can’t hang onto the organization itself. A list of all spiritual organizations at GSU can be found on myInvolvement.