Experiencing Your Faith on Campus
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Published: Sunday, November 27, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 19:11
NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. -- Westminster College was founded in 1852 under the Presbyterian influence. Now, 152 years later, the college continues to embrace its liberal arts mission. This program includes experiencing all kinds of classes outside of a student's major and getting involved in various types of organizations, focused on many interests and topics.
Diversity Services was created specifically to widen the college's liberal arts curriculum and embrace a variety of people and ideas. Along the way to a liberal arts expansion and celebration, Westminster seems to have forgotten some of the principles upon which it was founded. Faith has taken a back seat placement in the curriculum, only offered if sought.
However, President Dorman has now put in place: The Westminster Way, which includes faith. Yet students still have to seek out ways to express and experience their faith. Tom Rapchak is the Christian Coalition Outreach advisor on campus. He explains the various different ways students can get together in an organized setting to experience and share their faith.
"One of the things through the Chapel Office and the campus ministry office there is a different variety and lots of opportunities as far as attending chapel, vespers, and other things through that office that are out there as possibilities. Even doing things that live out their faith, through Habitat or being involved in Newman Club. There's also Seekers, it's a great opportunity, as well as Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which I help out with on Thursday nights as well. I think there are a variety of different small groups or Bible studies that happen on campus."
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Leah Ritter is a junior at Westminster. She is a Christian but says she is not actively involved with the religious organizations on campus. However, she hopes to become more involved when she can.
"I've been to Vespers once before and it was nice to see the community coming to the church that we can go to. And I really like that when you're a senior you can sign up to give a sermon like on a Monday or Friday. I went to that and I think I would like to do that next year."
Those not practicing religion are not excluded on campus. A new organization has recently been created. The Secular Student Alliance is for students who consider themselves atheist, agnostic, skeptics, and humanists to express what they believe in a nonjudgmental environment. The college has a loose affiliation now with the Presbyterian Church so students are not pressured to believe a certain way or are not forced to attend religious ceremonies. Ritter explains why she appreciates the lack of force on campus.
"I really like that it's loosely affiliated because I don't feel like they're cramming Christianity down my throat. I can choose when and where I want to go to church. I don't have to g o to the campus church. I could go off campus, to New Life."
Although religion is not as prominent at the college as it used to be, it isn't nonexistent. Students are encouraged to pursue their faith. It may not be mandatory for students to attend chapels or church services, but that doesn't mean students who wish to explore their faith can't. Westminster students have that ability to do so in a different way.
"I feel like Westminster is a little bit more like what it looks like to live out there in the real world, so to speak," Raphack said. "But I feel like when you go to places like Grove City or Geneva, I think there's more of a bubble aspect to those schools, not that they don't have opportunities to live out their faith in those places, but Westminster kind of deals with some real life stuff on a regular basis which I think can be a great opportunity, whether that be in a classroom where there may be things that don't necessarily align with a student's Christian beliefs that will challenge them in that way. It really makes them think about what it takes to live out their faith and really to own their faith. Being at Westminster gives you more of a real world type of experience to help you make your faith your own because you have to make choices and decisions and really think about your faith in some of the classes you have to take."
Westminster may not be the most religious affiliated schools, but it seems that many students appreciate that. The liberal arts curriculum encourages students to make their own decisions and explore the world from a personal standpoint. In regards to faith and religion, students can seek it however they wish. The time for making one's decisions begins now.