When I decided to enroll at Elmhurst College, I knew it was a Christian school, affiliated with the United Church of Christ specifically. At the time I chose it, I was not religious at all. My mom was raised Catholic and my dad is Jewish, so I grew up celebrating Christmas, Easter, and Hanukkah. I have received the sacraments of baptism and communion, and my mom, sister, and I attended church and Sunday School regularly until about fourth grade when I began to feel uncomfortable with the whole religion thing. I didn’t really know where I stood with it, and I felt like an imposter sitting in church and in class listening to things I wasn’t sure I believed happened.
However, choosing a Christian college didn’t faze me, because I knew I wasn’t going to be forced to participate in any religious ceremonies or pressured to believe in something I didn’t. Religion was at the foundation of the school, part of its history, but definitely not a requirement of going there. A lot of schools with religious backgrounds do require students to take some kind of religion class, but lots of secular schools offer religion classes too. And my school offered so many, I thought it would probably be a really cool opportunity to learn about a religion I had only learned existed recently.
By the time I entered college, I had matured and begun to appreciate religious beliefs and spirituality a little more. During our five-day freshman orientation, different (optional) religious ceremonies were offered on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, open to all who wanted to participate. I thought it was so cool of my school to do this, so devout students could maintain their religious routines even during the crazy orientation week and so people who had never seen a Jewish Sabbath Candle Lighting or other ceremony could go and watch with their new friends. I also appreciated that a Christian school was offering Jewish and Muslim ceremonies.
My sophomore year, I fulfilled my religion requirement with a class entitled Geography of Religion. And I was right: it was an extremely informative class about how the geography of the world influenced various religions, helped or impeded the spread of religion, and even how certain regional characteristics influenced aspects of the religion, such as what is worshipped or who (or what) the believers pray to. Super engaging, and I learned a lot.
One my assignments for the class involved visiting a religious ceremony of my choosing and writing an essay about it. I chose to go back to the Catholic Church, because it had been a good 10 years since I had stepped foot in a church, and I wanted to see if anything had changed for me. I was also dealing with some difficult personal and family situations and nothing seemed to be helping me move forward, so I thought that maybe it was time for some faith in my life.
The moment I stepped foot in the church, I felt a sense of relief wash over me. It was so inviting, and I felt like I was in a community where I belonged. I ended up going back every week for the rest of the year, just listening, taking it all in. I found the stories relatable, and even though I’m not sure where I stand in my beliefs, it’s comforting knowing that documents written thousands of years ago teach lessons that are still applicable to modern day life (okay, except for a handful of things, like how women were treated, but that’s another story for another day).
Soon after, I had another assignment to attend a student organization on campus that I wasn’t currently a member of and observe their communication habits. I chose my school’s Spiritual Life Council, because now that I was feeling more connected to my spirituality, I wanted to surround myself with people who were very open and excited about their religious beliefs. And—you might’ve guessed it—I started going back every week. I’m even a member of the executive board now!
I’m thankful that I chose a religious college, because nothing is forced here. Students are given all the opportunity in the world to participate in religion, but it’s totally up to them. Christian colleges aren’t just for people practicing a Christian religion (although you might get a scholarship if you are of the same faith as the college). I know a good number of Jewish students who attend my college. And it’s embarrassing to admit this, but I hadn’t even met anyone of the Muslim faith until I came to college. We have a very large Muslim community here, and they are some of the most involved people I have ever met, thriving in a “Christian” environment. How cool is that?
I strongly suggest visiting at least one Christian school as part of your college search. You just might be surprised by what you find on campus. Did you know that all Christian colleges have chaplains on campus? They’re also probably the nicest people you’ll ever meet! If you’re torn about attending a religious college, you can sit down with the chaplain of the college and discuss your beliefs or even non-beliefs. Find out what a religiously affiliated college can offer you, regardless of where you are on the religious spectrum. College is the perfect environment to cultivate all kinds of new beliefs and attitudes. Just be open minded and willing to let your character be changed, because regardless of where you go to school, you will be in for some huge changes!