Student ministries on campus and the students who help run them are important as they allow others to be curious about religion, gain community and allow students to feel comfortable exploring their own faith without fear of rejection.
Students have become less religious over the last three decades, with 34% of students in 2019 reporting no religious affiliation, which is a significant uptick over previous years, according to the American Freshman Survey.
Various reasons are given for this decline. Many believe that this is just a natural element of becoming more independent and establishing one's personal faith values that are different from their upbringing.
Student ministry offers students the chance to engage in figuring out their own values.
Faith is an aspect of oneself, and exploring it means exploring what you believe.
"I'd say that my religion is my personal beliefs," PJ Marchal, a third-year finance and management student and member of St. Thomas More church, said.
During college, a time of self-discovery and reflection, curiosity about one's personal faith may arise. It can be difficult to explore that if you don't feel comfortable in religious spaces, though.
Student faith centers are determined to guide students toward a welcoming community. The students and faith leaders who participate and drive these centers work to create a setting that is open to all.
The objective of this setting is that students will feel more comfortable exploring faith and religion in college.
The Catholic Campus Ministry of St. Thomas More is one of many religious spaces created for students at USC. It is a student ministry center that offers mass, Sunday suppers, social events and bible studies. The Catholic Campus Ministry also includes the Baptist Collegiate Ministry, C.S. Lewis Student Center, UKirk SC and the Campus Ministry Center.
Students of any denomination or background are encouraged to come to the events and explore their curiosities before deciding whether to join.
Allowing students of all identities to join in the faith offers room for discovering more about oneself without worrying about a previous background or beliefs while encouraging self-reflection.
“It doesn't matter who you are,” Father Rhett Williams, a priest at St. Thomas More, said. “This is a refuge for you to come and be present to a community that wants the best for you.”
Bible studies are among the activities that have brought more students to their campus ministry.
“We just really believe in the power of encountering Jesus through the scriptures and building good and wholesome friendships each week in a way that's consistent,” Kelly Guilbeau, a campus minister, said.
Another student ministry on campus is Gamecock Lutheran.
Gamecock Lutheran holds worship services and weekly Sunday suppers as well as a Thursday gathering.
The ministry emphasizes welcoming everyone, regardless of background, sexuality, race or religious background. These progressive values are ones shared by the students who attend as well.
"If you can't worship with people that can openly accept you, you shouldn't worship with them," Sydnie Taylor, a first-year cardiovascular technology student, said. "They are just a really great group of people that have really taken me in."
It is important to the members of Gamecock Lutheran that every student on campus feels at home and that they feel like their feelings are validated.
“We're a community that thinks you're beloved and worthy of love and community and acceptance,” Jesse Canniff-Kuhn, pastor at Gamecock Lutheran, said.
Students don’t have to be Lutheran to come to this space. Two of Gamecock Lutheran’s core beliefs are prioritizing community and valuing belonging over believing. The staff casts a wide net in evangelizing and maintains a presence at student events, including Pridechella, a campus-wide LGBTQ+ celebration event.
“We are affirming and accepting and we value making a safe space for all people,” Canniff-Kuhn said.
This sentiment is shared by the students within Gamecock Lutheran as well. Brooke Youngman, a second-year aerospace engineering student, knows that students don’t have to worry about being judged when they come to the gatherings.
“No matter who you are, as long as you're yourself, you're accepted here," Youngman said. "I think that's just a very big thing that draws people back is that they know that they don't have really any other expectations than to be themselves while they're here.”
With more college students identifying as less religious, having a safe and welcoming place to explore your faith is important. Even if students feel apprehensive, having an on-campus option available is always beneficial. Fostering a safe space to learn about your faith and feel supported is vital for students as they arrive on campus.