“There is an existential quandary that students find themselves in. They’re trying to find meaning, purpose in their lives. There’s a lot of uncertainty out there,” University Chaplain Joe Eldridge explains. “That leads to the existential quest, and it’s more pronounced in this generation.”
After over a decade at AU, Eldridge has seen scores of students arrive on campus and at the doors of the Kay Spiritual Life Center. Some come looking to deepen their faiths; others to explore the possibilities and find community.
It’s during that time, as freshmen begin their studies and lives away from home, that many pursue ideas of spirituality and religion. Father Augustine Judd ministers to AU’s Catholic students, one of the largest faith communities on campus. He understands that college students are in a state of flux.
“It’s a time of transition,” he says. “[Religion] is a way for them to find some reassurance in a context that can be stressful and full of change.”
Like Eldridge, Fr Augustine has also noticed an increase in students at religious events and services.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a flood, but it’s an uptick,” he explains. “They’re trying to experience their [spiritual] tradition in the context of their peers.”
Ethan Goss, a junior and Religious Studies major, counts himself as a part of the spiritual uptick on campus. Coming from a small town in Pennsylvania, Goss timidly approached the Kay Center his freshman year but immediately recognizing a welcoming air and sense of community.
“It’s where I first felt home away home at college,” he says. “Before the campus itself felt like a home, before my dorm room felt like a home, being at Kay and at a Methodist service felt like home.”
It was a feeling Goss embraced, as he started to engage in a faith that had budded only a year before. Now, three years later, he holds positions as vice president and service coordinator of the United Methodist Student Association.
“The faith aspect, coming in, wasn’t a huge part of my life, but it has become a huge part of my life,” he tells.
College is generally considered a time for self-discovery, a period where students form their identities and direction. Like in Goss’ case, Fr Augustine also sees college as an opportunity for students to approach spirituality on their own.
“In some ways, they get to examine it in college for the first time away from parents,” Augustine explains. “So they’re bringing their own questions, their own concerns.”
With an examining eye and a desire for purpose, many students find a path further into spirituality, especially at a university with such diverse options as AU.
The Architecture of Things
Goss has pursued spiritual involvement in true Kay Center fashion, also supporting the Jewish student group Hillel with their services and events. He credits architecture for his connection to the group.
“Even in a different geometrically-designed office, I might not have become involved with them,” he says. “The building is a physical representation of the atmosphere here. Everything is open. All the groups are together.”
Fr Augustine, while leading in the Catholic tradition, knows the value of an interactive, diverse spiritual community for incoming students.
“You can be both authentic and true to your tradition as well as engaging with those whose traditions have similar areas and some differences,” he tells. “I think that’s important to see.”
Exploring spirituality during the college transition can be all about discovering a higher purpose and sense of identity, something often born of the relationships found in a faith community. When those communities themselves have relationships with one another, it’s something special.
University Chaplain Joe Eldridge explains, “It’s a human desire to feel that we belong, that we’re part of something. If you can be part of something that’s larger than yourself, I think that community feeling is enriched and more profound.”
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