Daily Egyptian

Here’s how ministries are building communities on campus

By Anna Spoerre, @ASpoerre_DE

New students experiencing college for the first time often seek a supporting community through faith. 

The Rev. Jay Holden, assistant pastor at Our Savior Lutheran Church and president of SIU Campus Ministries, an organization that helps religious groups on campus collaborate, said the purpose is to connect students to a faith community and provide religious counseling.

“Students show up with all different sorts of issues. They need spiritual care, general counseling that comes with taking classes and being away from home,’” Holden said. “Faith communities can be really helpful in showing students that it’s not just them.”

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Greg Chimitris, a staff member of Intervarsity, an interdenominational student-led ministry, said college is a chance for young adults to explore their beliefs apart from how they were raised.

“For a lot of students, faith is a really important part of their identity, so we give them a place to connect with that, but also to express and grow in it,” Chimitris said. “Nobody wants to have the same beliefs they had when they were 12, 13 or 14 by the end of their college career.”

Alli Ramsay, a sophomore from Elmwood studying cinema and French, said Intervarsity helped her transition from a small high school to a large research university.

“Before I came to college, I was really kind of worried because I didn’t think I’d find a community to get involved in,” Ramsay said. “They were so welcome and so intentional that I really got connected.”

Ramsay, now a leader of the group, said she gets to greet new students with the same welcoming she received.

“Last year, I was so impressed and grateful for the community that they provided,” she said. “So, I joined leadership to make sure I could be one of those people that welcome students as soon as they got on campus and give them that opportunity to join the community they want to find.”

Gary Kulik, a senior from Highland Park studying hospitality management, said being involved with Chabad, an Orthodox Jewish movement, and Hillel, a Jewish student organization, gave him a sense of belonging. 

“This is definitely a place you can go and celebrate holidays, especially since we don’t have family down here,” Kulik said.

Jacob Brunning, vice-president of Chabad of SIU and the Hillel Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, said the organization struggled with retention, funding and resources before Rabbi Mendel Scheiman joined. Members refer to Scheiman as the ‘Moses of Carbondale’ because membership has increased since he arrived.

SIU Campus Ministries has primarily encompassed Christianity and Judaism in the past, but they are now working to include some of Carbondale’s Islamic population. 

Tim Taylor, director of the Newman Catholic Student Center and previous president of SIU Campus Ministries, said the program is designed to be supportive and inspirational by working with other faiths to do good.

Oasmane Sawadogo, a member of the Carbondale Muslim Center, met with Holden last week to discuss future involvement in SIU Campus Ministries. He said these interfaith discussions are a necessity in society.

“When you… listen to others, you understand [their point of view] and you would not judge based off of what is being said in the media,” he said. “I think that this [opportunity] came at the right time.”

Chimitris said Intervarsity is having a teaching series this fall to discuss race and ethnicity.

“We believe God created culture and ethnicity and those are good things. We shouldn’t pretend to be the same together. Differences are to be celebrated.”

Anna Spoerre can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Aspoerre_DE.

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