Campus religious leaders reach out to new students
2:30 p.m., July 10, 2003--Susan Detwiler knows most Jewish freshmen dont have synagogue services at the top of their to-do lists when
they hit campus in September.
Detwiler and other campus ministers begin planning welcome events before incoming freshmen mail their housing deposits in the spring.
If I wait for them to come to a religious service, it just isnt going to happen, at least not for most of them, Detwiler,
whose Hillel community serves Jewish students, said. College is a time of exploration. It is a time when theyre no longer being
dragged to services by their parents. We have to make it relevant.
If David Letterman had a top-10 list of techniques to draw college freshman to religious events, number one would be free food.
If you feed them, they will come, Detwiler said. Number two would be upperclassmen who are natural connectors.
Ninety-nine percent of the students we make contact with come through friends who are members, Blake Hardcastle, director of
the Baptist Student Ministry, said. Parents will stop by our table at orientation and say, Oh, look at this. Isnt this
great? But its totally the students choice when theyre at college, regardless of what mom or dad want. We will or will not
see them, based on their own desire.
|The University Religious Leaders Association posted a
Religious and Spiritual Life web site in April at [www.udel.edu/PR/spirituallife].
It includes information on the religious and spiritual leaders who serve the campus community and how to contact them. Also included are links to
the 22 faith-based student organizations at UD. |
Anything that gets done on this campus gets done because of a relationship, Hardcastle said. Somebody really needs to
hold someones hand and bring him here. One time, when we started a coffeehouse, we handed out 2,000 fliers, and we saw no new
The Rev. Laura Lee C. Wilson, a United Methodist minister who runs the Wesley Foundation Campus Ministry and serves as a liason between UD and
the religious community, said campus ministries are no different than local churches.
A local church gains its members by word of mouth, and campus ministry is the same thing, she said. When students are excited
about whats going on in their campus ministry, then they invite their friends. We all want to go where we find a community of friends, a
community that has as close to our morals and values and our world view as possible.
The burgeoning Catholic campus ministry is so popular that the Rev. Michael Szupper asked adults who attended Sunday Mass there to attend Mass
elsewhere. Still, theres standing room only.
|Laura Lee C. Wilson|
They go to Mass and all of a sudden they find its only students there, Szupper says. And, these are people who
are going through the same things theyre going through. I think thats a powerful support for them.
Szupper, who has been the Catholic campus minister since 1964, says he wraps his sermons around the subjects that can put students in a
tailspingrades, college costs, soured romances and divorce, death or job loss within their families.
About 50 to 70 students come to the basement of the Catholic ministrys Thomas More Oratory every night, studying together, sometimes all
night long. They eat free peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and drink 25-cent Mountain Dews to stay awake. The space was originally designed for
social events, but the students requested it be used as a quiet study hall.
Its amazing to watch them because theyre sitting shoulder-to-shoulder at these long tables studying. I could never do
that, Szupper says. It is crowdedso crowded that sometimes theres no chair left.
S. Ismat Shah, associate professor of materials science and adviser to the Muslim Student Association, said, The way to get them to
accept the invitation is to offer food, but the way to keep them in is to offer people with similar interests.
Shah stages soccer matches and basketball tournaments. The Rev. Bruce Heggen of the Lutheran Student Association slates fondue parties, hayrides
and service projects. Grant S. Wolf, adviser to the Bahai Club, arranges student activity nights, volunteer opportunities and an annual
barbecue. The Episcopal Campus Ministry invites students to dinner and a movie or a field trip to an ice cream store.
On moving-in weekend in September, Hillel will sponsor Freshman Fest for new students. Freshmen will move into their dorms early and
join Jewish upperclass students for three days of activities and sharing. "It's very powerful to have new students learn about campus life
from other students," Detwiler said. "Our counselors will represent a cross-section of the Jewish spectrum here at the University."
Wilson said shes known students who joined four denominations campus ministries seeking friends who share the same values and
sometimes groups that dont drink alcohol.
Media-savvy ministries communicate with students the same way students communicate with each other. Rabbi Eliezer Sneiderman, of the Chabad Center
for Jewish Life, instant messages them. Jose G. Ramirez of the Delaware Zen Group has an e-mail list.
The Rev. David Blackwell of the Blue Hens for Christ said discussions with students center on moral issues they relate too, such as burning their
own CDs of copyrighted songs.
|Patricia E. Davis|
Campus religious leaders said they try to react to students needsand those needs change as the students do.
The students are looking for support. Many of them have come out of a religious background and now theyve come to college and they
dont have that kind of support, said Patricia E. Davis, adviser to the UD Gospel Choir and the Warriors for Christ, a Bible
study group. I find many of our students are looking for alternatives to all of the other activities on campus because lots of the
activities dont fall in line with their values.
Szupper, who has been working at UD longer than any other clergy person, said new students are usually thinking, How do we get through this
thing called school, not just academically, but socially.
Campus ministers cant work miracles, Szupper said, but we can walk with a student.
Article by Kathy Canavan
Photos Kathy Atkinson
©Copyright 2003, UDaily (Delaware, USA)
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