This school year, Webster University began offering a small Catholic mass on Sunday nights to interested students. In addition to Webster CRU — a fellowship and Bible study group — it is part of the small but growing religious aspect of life at Webster. While there is a lack of diversity right now, it is a good start that can open the door to so much more in the coming years.
Religious groups, Bible study meetings and Catholic masses all offer the same benefits as other clubs on campus — they give students the opportunity to meet new friends, catch up with old ones and to participate in activities other than going to the library to study. They offer events, incentives and even trips to their members, both current and potential, at little or no cost to the participants. And, most importantly, they make participating fun.
But religious groups on campus do so much more for their participants. The Catholic mass, for example, brings the religious service to the students at a time that is more convenient for them than a traditional mass. It’s also more convenient than a traditional church, especially for people who live on campus without a vehicle. Perhaps there is a reason behind this convenience, as well — according to a study conducted by Georgetown University, Catholic students tend to move away from their faith between their freshman and junior years, especially if they attend a secular college like Webster. The purpose of the religious groups on campus, it seems, is to keep students interested in their faith at a time when so many are going astray.
On-campus religious groups may also be more tolerant of differences in religion and sexual orientation than a traditional church and can teach its members to accept the differences that they will inevitably encounter. Unfortunately, many churches’ viewpoints are so closed-minded and condemning that many of the freshmen who set foot on a college campus for the first time are unable to handle the things that he or she may not necessarily agree with. Many churches and youth groups don’t address these issues in great detail anyway, even though young people encounter them every day. Conversely, religious groups on campus are designed to challenge a person’s faith by taking the situations many Christian students may find themselves in and showing them that they can be accepting of others without losing themselves or their faith. The result is a person with stronger faith than someone who wouldn’t take a position on others’ actions and choices without first understanding them.
Therefore a person of stronger faith can help dissipate the stigma of Saturday Night Live’s ‘The Church Lady’ type of Christian and show others that God loves them no matter what. A Christian of tolerance and understanding is more likely to have a positive impression on others than one who is pushy and closed-minded, even if the desired end result is the same — to lead others to their faith.
As a teenager, I had experiences that caused me to doubt my faith, and I still do at times. I dealt with the pushy, closed-minded people who were bound and determined to “save” me. They just ended up pushing me further and further away until I stopped attending church altogether. Those experiences are indelible, especially during those impressionable teenage years, and so I began to have a negative outlook on church. As an adult, I still struggle with fears of being judged or misunderstood by my own church family. I know how important tolerance is within a church because intolerance can, and does, turn people off to church for life.
This is where the role of the college religious group, the ones who are tolerant of differences, is of the utmost importance. If a college student plans to continue to grow their faith through their college years, an on-campus group is essential to that. And the easiest way for any Christian to do that is to be exposed to it, and to develop the discernment needed to not lose their faith as well.