Campus Religious Life Needs Some Prayer
Issue   |   Wed, 10/05/2011 - 01:30

No longer must I worry for my eternal soul. Thank God! I finally found a church service.

Vita Nova, as it is called, is the only church service I know of held inside a bar. There were two or three dozen other cool young people there, all enthusiastic about Christ without pretension. And they have a real rockin’ band for the contemporary hymns we sang. What could be better?

But before a leader from freshman Bible study had emailed me about Vita Nova, I was completely lost about how to get to church. For three Sundays in a row, I had slept in until noon or later after staying up all night either hanging with friends or witnessing the drunken revelry that we all know and love. I would wake up, look at my clock, groan and throw my head back into my pillow, refusing to get up to finish the homework of Biblical proportions I had to complete. Sunday morning was behind, all the Protestant church services I knew of were over and there was nothing I could do about it.

Amherst and religion seem like oil and vinegar. They don’t mix well. If anything, over my first month or so here, college has truly been an obstacle to my spirituality. I hadn’t established a supportive spiritual network, especially since I kept missing Wednesday Bible study due to homework. But worst of all, the Saturday night party culture presents a conundrum of the worst sort: go to church, or have a social life and get the “full college experience”?

I am willing to sacrifice sleep and alcohol to both have fun with my friends at parties and go to church. That’s because I want the best of both worlds. Like the bluesmen of days gone by, I want to sing the blues and party on Saturday night, then wake up and sing spirituals in praise of Jesus on Sunday morning.

People have been forced to make such decisions between pleasure and religious fulfillment for thousands of years, but why does it have to be so stark here at Amherst? My faith is an important part of my identity, and I really want to go to church, but I feel guilty and asocial sitting in my dorm room on Saturday nights and getting to bed at a reasonable time.

Part of the problem is also that the College seems to barely acknowledge religion. There is the Cadigan Center, which is neatly hidden away from the rest of campus down a random side street. Jewish Hillel meets there every Friday but, as far as I know, they are the only ones who consistently use the center. The College’s site lists of local church services that are outdated and full of errors, leading me to walk 20 minutes to a 1 p.m. service at MercyHouse that didn’t actually exist. And during Orientation, we learned much about respecting others of different racial and class backgrounds — but nothing of respecting people of different religious backgrounds.

That’s no knock on most of my fellow students here, whose openness and respect awes me. I’ve had several comfortable and truly meaningful discussions about religion here, something I could never have in high school without people ridiculing or criticizing me. But religion is just not something that pops up on most people’s minds. This applies both to people with and without religious backgrounds. In fact, several other first-years I’ve talked to have started skipping out on church services in favor of either sleep or homework.

For anyone who wants to continue with their faith during college, becoming part of a religious community is essential. I know that Jews have Friday Hillel at 6:30 p.m. in Cadigan, and that Christians have the Friday Night Fellowship in Chapin at 7 p.m.; these are probably good places to start meeting fellow believers. From there, I’m sure other members of the religious community will point you towards services you can attend. Either that, or you can just Google “church services in Amherst,” and go to one on a whim.

To aid those of us who want to continue living spiritual lives, the College could update its website to provide more accurate information, and give students a handout with information about local religious services in the Orientation packets. At an even deeper level, Amherst could better incorporate religion into Orientation activities, since spirituality is important to so many students. Amherst’s Saturday nights aren’t going to change anytime soon, but a healthy dialogue about religion would more than make up for that by making religion something that everybody is aware of and concerned with.

It’s tough, balancing faith with the demands of college. Moving away from home to a challenging academic environment and hard-partying social scene can distract from religion. There is so much to try, so much to think about, so much to do and, mostly, so much to get done. But whether you believe in the God of Abraham, in the teachings of the Buddha, in ghosts or in any sort of spirituality, your spiritual beliefs will always be relevant to your life and always shape how you live, whether you have 100 pages of reading due Monday or not, whether you party or not. Whatever decisions you make, wherever you plan to worship, I wish you the best of juggling.