Arts & Culture / Mosaic / September 26, 2012

Finding God in Galesburg

Freshmen Allie Yu and Hannah Steele board the bus to Bethel Baptist Church Sunday, Sept. 23. (Michelle Orr/TKS)

College: it is a new beginning. A time to find new friends, new interests, maybe even a new identity and a new church?

When students go away to school, it is an opportunity to declare their own spiritual identity, separate from that of their parents. For some people, this means choosing not to attend. For others, it means finding a church that expresses their individual faith.

This was the case for junior Lauren Styczynski. Although she had attended church with her parents, she never felt like it was her church.

“It was a relief to go to college,” Styczynski said.

After years of going to a church where she was not satisfied, she felt that finding her own church was a “declaration” of personal faith. When she visited as a prospective student, her lunch host told her that there was a shuttle for Bethel Baptist Church’s Sunday morning services. After that, her search was easy.

“I tried Bethel first, and I stayed at Bethel,” she said. “I was comfortable there.”

Another student who might settle at Bethel is freshman Holly Sumner. Her family has been hunting for a new church at home, so she was used to moving from church to church, but she liked Bethel Baptist Church enough to attend for two weeks. She said it is easier to find a church when she is looking alone.

“It’s the distinction of pleasing myself, not all my family,” Sumner said.

Sumner thinks of a church community as her second family, so it is important for her to find a place where she can get involved. Although she knows she will be busy with schoolwork, she hopes she will still have time to help with children’s church or another activity outside of regular church hours.

“My passions are still the same, and I still chase them,” Sumner said.

For junior Emily Nield, finding a church was less about finding a specific church and more about merely finding a church at all.

“It’s kind of a priority for me,” Nield, who is president of Newman Club, Knox’s Catholic organization, said.

Since deliberately choosing not to attend mass is considered a sin in the Catholic church, it was important to her to find somewhere to worship. Last year, she attended Newman Club’s on campus mass, but since the club is not holding mass this year, she has started attending Corpus Christi Catholic Church.

Since she has not been attending long, Nield does not feel like she has connected to the church specifically, but she still can feel comfortable there.

“It’s a familiar landscape, I just don’t know the particular people,” Nield said. “I’ve been to other churches [on vacation], so I’m used to going to other churches.”

Nield feels that after coming from a predominately Christian town, it is odd for her to be a Catholic on the Knox campus. She said she often finds herself questioning if she should act more or less Catholic when she is at school, where she is in the minority. This is also true for many members of Knox’s Jewish organization, Hillel.

“I feel like I act more Jewish at school,” senior Mollie Phillips, the president of Hillel, said.

Because Knox and Galesburg do not have a huge Jewish community like the one in New York City, her cultural identity is more important to her.

Phillips and the other Hillel students attend Galesburg’s synagogue for Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Passover, but not on a weekly basis. The temple is smaller than any of the Hillel members’ home synagogues and does not have its own rabbi. Instead, visiting rabbis from other areas come in and stay for a few months at a time.

“No one prefers the Galesburg synagogue to what we have at home,” Phillips said.

By visiting the Galesburg synagogue, though, Phillips said she has gained a better appreciation for her home synagogue and a better understanding of what she looks for in a synagogue.

Since there is not a big Jewish community on campus, the Hillel community becomes very important around holidays. Jewish students come out of the woodwork to celebrate the Passover dinner, which the club spends two days preparing.

“That’s what we’d expect at home,” Phillips said. “So, the meal becomes very important for people who cannot go home for the holiday.”

Tags:  Bethel Baptist Christianity church Corpus Christi Emily Nield Hillel Holly Sumner Judaism Lauren Styczynski Mollie Phillips Newman Club synagogue

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