New Christian Student Group on Campus
In their sophomore year, Betty Louis ’20 and Alanna Haslam ’20 both knew there were other practicing Christians on campus and they had heard of a few small gatherings here and there for Bible studies. "But there was no specific place for us to gather," Haslam said.
While some students belonged to an off-campus group, Louis and Haslam thought there would be benefits to chartering a club on campus, especially as it would be eligible for College funding and support, allowing them to put up posters in campus buildings and send emails to their members. "That element of outreach and visibility is really valuable," Lin said, "I think it lowers the barriers to entry, so students can find out what the Christian faith is all about and what Christians are like."
Working with a small group of students, they launched the Christian Student Association (CSA) last fall.
The club today has eighty-four students on its roster and four active board members: besides Louis and Haslam, Joshua Lin ’22 and Eunice Shin ’22 help lead.
The Christian Student Association is open to all students, no matter their religious affiliation or background. Its leaders try to organize an array of activities—from Bible study, social justice advocacy, and prayer night, to board game night and worship services (which have involved singing and s'mores)—so if some members are less interested in one they may easily participate in another.
Eduardo Pazos Palma, Bowdoin's director of the Rachel Lord Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, supported the students' efforts to establish the club last year. He now serves as its advisor. "The CSA has helped establish a welcoming and accepting place on campus for Christians to find community, mentorship, and spiritual guidance," he said. "CSA is about community; it's about walking with others along their Bowdoin way."
Practicing a Faith, Making Connections
The Christian Student Association offers a lot beyond scheduled activities—its weekly Bible study is also an important part of the club. This semester, that study is focusing on spiritual practices. "We're trying to digest scripture in an academic way, while keeping our focus on particular disciplines we can work on to be closer to Jesus," Haslam said. So far, they've discussed ideas like celebration in worship, community, and contemplation.
Additionally, the board members are preparing a larger campus program on discernment, the Christian concept of "listening to the will of God in your life and being able to discern where it is that God wants your life to lead," Haslam said. Louis, a history major and education minor, and Haslam, a math major and computer science minor, said they thought seniors especially might appreciate this.
In its mission statement, the CSA aims "to foster community on campus, celebrate Christian holidays, plan educational events, ask difficult questions, have meals together, and help students continue to engage their faith while they’re at Bowdoin. We are a welcoming space for all students in our community, regardless of faith affiliation, or Christian background."
For students of faith, being able to practice their religious traditions with other students has many benefits—not least that it offers a boost to their wellbeing, Pazos Palma said. "Things like joining a group of people and singing a song together in service—that can be a very beneficial experience, both spiritually and biologically," he said.
Additionally, he noted, "a lot of religious practices are practices of contemplation, meditation, solitude, prayer, self-reflection, and self-awareness. And a lot of those are beneficial for wellness and for stress reduction."
Haslam said that she relishes meeting other Christians in an academic setting. "So we can offer one another encouragement," she said. "It's not just, 'Oh, you'll be fine!'" Instead, she explained, "it's a comfort to have another Christian acknowledge the realness of a hardship while affirming Christ's presence as a real assurance that it will be okay."
Louis recalls a time last year when she confessed to a friend that she was worried about a paper she had to write, and her friend, who is Christian, responded, "I'll pray for you."
"I was taken aback," Louis said. "It's always easy to talk to my friends and say, 'I'm stressed,' and they say, 'me, too!' But my when my friend said 'I'll pray for you,' I was like, 'thank you.' And I was less stressed. It was a powerful moment."
Shin said the club has helped her stay close to her faith. "I grew up in a very Christian family [in St. Louis]. I went to church every Sunday," she said. But in her first weeks at Bowdoin, she struggled to find a Christian home here, and was left feeling disconnected to her faith, something she says can be a struggle still. "I feel like I am constantly being challenged on this campus to keep up with my faith, because there is so much going on, and I'm always so busy."
But the weekly Bible meetings and praying with friends before meals—these small things, she said, help a lot. "I was so happy that I found the people in this room because I know that these people exist on campus, even if we're not the most visible," she said.