Cultivating Spiritual and Service Development at Ursinus College

College is a time where students question most aspects of their lives, their faith being no exception. Many students are no longer in distance to their home churches, and try to adjust to finding a faith community in their new college home. Having a space, mentors, and fellow students to do so is essential to a student’s spiritual development. As students’ lives seem to get increasingly busy, the need for a defined faith community and opportunities to live ones’ faith is essential. Many students sometimes feel disconnected from their faith during their college years, as they spend more time focusing on academics or other extracurricular activities, not realizing that their faith and the new experiences they are having in college can be practiced together.

The late Reverend Charles Rice of Ursinus College completely transformed the way many students viewed their Christian faith, especially in how it can be lived in their daily life in college. He discussed openly with students how challenging it can be to do so, especially in a new environment that perhaps tests students’ morals and values more than ever before. “Go out in peace to love and serve one another” is the ritualistic way in which Reverend Rice would close our campus Protestant Chapel service each Sunday. The two main concepts from his benediction, love and service, not only set the foundation for Ursinus Chapel, but also for the new Harold C. Smith Program in Christian Studies, as students put this testament to work in their lives.

One of the biggest ways in which students implement living their faith in college is through service in the community. Through the Harold C. Smith Program in Christian Studies, we created a pilot internship program aimed at students engaging in vocational discernment and community development. In the fall 2017 semester, five students were funded as they engaged in various internships in the community. Through these internships, students are figuring out how their passions meet the needs of the community and how their faith relates. Student interns are studying Biology, Politics, Applied Ethics, Spanish, Neuroscience, and various other majors/minors in our Liberal Arts curriculum. The array of educational interests but the common denominator of wanting to explore how to live their faith is what provides the catalyst for this program. One student, an underclassman studying Physics and on the Pre-Med track, designed a spirituality and vocational discernment program for minority students on campus. In this program, she designs the lesson plans, creates the weekly space for students to fellowship together and guides discussion in what they find most meaningful in their lives. This new student-designed program gives students an intentional space to examine these questions and discuss more openly their spirituality. The student leading this program reflected on her intern experience saying:

“I had the opportunity of teaching a vocational and spiritual discernment class to minorities for eight weeks. Since this was my first time teaching, I did experience some challenges developing course material. Through weekly meetings with my mentor, I was able to work through these challenges. By the end of my eight-week course, I was not only able to discern that being an educator was part of my calling but my class also created a close-knit community of students wishing to pursue and define their vocation and spirituality. The beauty of watching my students define their vocation and even step out of their comfort zones to explore their spirituality was a transformative experience for myself, and I can only imagine for my students too.” – Sophomore Intern

Another student who is studying Neuroscience and Health Equity Studies interned at a free health clinic, working beside a doctor that helped her discover the deep intersectionality of service and spirituality. She wrote:

“My mentor has shared with me how her faith and Christian beliefs carry her every day in the work that she does. She is someone who has truly come to understand what it means to embody the love of Christ, and radiate that love towards others. She is extremely busy, having to see patients all day, as well as oversee medical charts and other medical inquiries. However, unlike most doctors, she emphasizes the importance of stories, and therefore knows the names, family life, and situation of all of her patients. She expresses how her spirituality is what showed her these ways in which we should share love with others, despite their current situation. I have been able to explore vocation and spiritual discernment through these conversations I have with her. Her words have inspired me to push myself more, questioning why I often feel stagnant in my own quest for my spirit.” – Senior Intern

These students truly exemplify why supporting and empowering students in their faith is crucial, and how spiritual discernment is strongly linked to the other aspects of their college education.

At our weekly Chapel service this year, students have been giving extremely powerful sermons relating everyday struggles that college students face, be it financial, emotional, loneliness, illness, etc., to the word of the Lord. Leaning into scripture and fellow Chapel members, student leaders help create an environment where other students can feel less alone, and as Reverend Rice encouraged us, truly loving one another. Furthermore, one student member in our Chapel community designed a book club to remember Reverend Rice and his amazing “library of a mind.” This book club connects Faculty, Staff, current students and even alumni through books like Jesus and the Disinherited and The Cross of Redemption. This group provides the opportunity for all involved to connect with one another over the words and challenges of these great Christian authors, and further develops students to implement what is learned in these conversations out in their service work. Students learn from alumni, professors learn from students, and all are given the opportunity to take seriously the call to live their Christian faith in whatever profession they have or are pursuing.

Click here to read more about the author: Angela Upright