- Associated Press - Saturday, February 18, 2017

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) - More than 60 people filled the chapel in Blades Hall at University of Dubuque on Feb. 10, clapping along to the music of a student-led worship band.

Most of the people in the room were students, who stood and sang along through most of the short service.

“It’s just been crazy how the numbers are growing,” said Elizabeth Swan, a UD student studying communications who is part of the band.

For the past three years, chapel attendance at UD has climbed as staff worked to reach the campus’ diverse group of students and to incorporate students into the services.

While younger generations statistically are less likely to affiliate with a particular religion, Dubuque’s religiously affiliated colleges say involvement in campus-ministry- related activities has been stable, if not rising.

“I think the biggest thing is meeting people where they’re at and building relationships with them and understanding that everyone has a story that brings them to the belief system they have now,” said Stacia McDermott, coordinator of campus ministry and peace and justice at Loras College.

Across the U.S., younger generations have been more and more likely not to affiliate with a particular religion. A 2014 study by Pew Research Center found that 36 percent of people born from 1990 to 1996 were religiously unaffiliated, the Telegraph Herald (https://bit.ly/2lciddK ) reported.

At UD, chapel attendance has risen as staff worked to incorporate students into leading the services. Staff started by building a team of students to lead worship during Friday chapel, which has become their favorite service of the week, according to the Rev. Jim Gunn. There are now multiple student teams that help with worship.

A heavily attended Friday chapel service might draw 90 students, according to Gunn. Monday and Wednesday services can draw 60 or 70.

Four years ago, a Wednesday chapel service might have drawn 15 students, Gunn said.

“Whatever is happening in campus ministry has an opportunity to affect culture on a larger scale,” he said.

McDermott said student participation in campus ministry at Loras has been relatively stable over the past five years. She estimated 400 to 500 of the school’s about 1,500 students were engaged in a spiritual life division offering such as attending Mass, going on a mission trip or participating in interfaith activities.

“With increasing opportunities for higher education, our Catholic identity is something that sets us apart,” she said. “It’s infused into everything that we do at Loras, inside and outside of the classroom, so I think that’s a pull for students who apply and are accepted at Loras.”

Hunter Darrouzet, director of campus ministry at Clarke University, said attendance at campus Mass seems to be up this year, though it was difficult to say whether that was a trend.

Students at Emmaus Bible College know they will receive spiritual investment and formation, said John Walker, director of campus life.

“We just really haven’t dealt with a lot of students who come who aren’t super interested in spiritual things,” he said.

Swan met Gunn while she was moving in to her residence hall for her freshman year at UD.

When she visited the school’s chapel during new student orientation, Gunn remembered her name. That interaction would play a role in her involvement with the school’s campus ministry.

“Ever since then, I’ve been in chapel every single time, just because of the initiative he took,” she said.

From Gunn’s perspective, college ministry is essentially doing whatever he can to establish relationships with students. Dana Perreard, campus pastor and associate chaplain for worship at UD, agreed with that assessment.

“There has to be a core element that knows they’ll experience care when they go there,” he said.

Though Darrouzet’s office offers a variety of programs for students such as retreats and service trips, he and the staff in his office will spend time going out to meet students and attending club meetings, sporting events and other activities.

“My thing is trying to walk with them on their spiritual journey,” he said.

Darrouzet said that while the additional freedom that college students have might lead some away from their faiths, it also gives them space to figure out how they engage with their own spirituality.

“I think I do sense a big exploration, so I think they’re engaging with it on their own, whether it’s with their peers or the things we do,” he said.

For McDermott, one key to engaging with students’ faith is helping them find common ground. Students who might not be as interested in faith might be willing to engage in social justice opportunities, or other students might participate in interfaith activities.

“I think finding that common ground is a key point of engaging with people and realizing that everyone’s voice is valuable and to try to build on common ground and to learn how to have a dialogue and points of disagreement,” she said.


Information from: Telegraph Herald, https://www.thonline.com

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