College plays a pivotal role in shaping an individual’s world view, and it can also be a time of spiritual exploration.
“God showed me how finding myself was impossible without finding out who made me,” said Noah Mata, college pastor at Montgomery County Church of Christi n Maryland.
Nearly 85 percent of black protestants ages 18 to 29 believe in God, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. This same group of younger millennials also reported that 73 percent feel religion is very important in their lives. Despite this strong sense of God and faith, only 48 percent attend a religious service at least once a week.
Some students are interested in nurturing their spirituality and attending services more often, but may not know where to start. Exploring spirituality, especially while in college, can provide a level of support to push students through the academic rigors a semester can bring.
“Spirituality reinforces the academic environment of colleges,” said Glenn Vaulx III, president of the Howard University Chapel Assistants. This was also a founding principle of many Historically Black Colleges and Univerisities, Vaulx added.
“Many black institutions of higher learning were established on the basis of educating the mind, body and soul — understanding that all three were necessary to a well-rounded experience,” he said.
Here is advice to help students grow spiritually:
1. Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
Vaulx suggests exploring different possibilities to develop one’s spirituality.
“Do not limit your experience to what makes you comfortable, because growth is oftentimes uneasy,” Vaulx said. “Also, do not let negative experiences, remarks, stereotypes, or people deter you from your own development.”
2. Learn How to Love
Learning how to love and what love is will also be important in growing one’s spirituality, said Mata, who works with the Alpha Omega Maryland campus ministry.
“Love isn’t weak; it’s strong,” Mata said. “Love gets beneath the surface.”
3. Channel Your Emotions
“Don’t be deceived by your emotions,” said Jacqueline Hodge, who has worked for the campus ministry group. She encouraged students to look to scripture as a way of growing their spirituality in college.
“I think our emotions can tell us what to do a lot, but at the end of the day we have to look to what the Bible says. When we pray, we wait for answers but those answers need to match up with the word of God.”
4. Find a Faith Mentor
Hodge also encourages individuals to connect with people who share the same beliefs as a way of measuring progress along the spiritual journey. Talking with someone who has similar beliefs but is older and can serve as a mentor may help guide individuals when they are unsure.
5. Don’t Be Afraid of Setbacks
“Allow correction; allow yourself to be exposed,” Hodge suggested. In doing this, Hodge believes that individuals will continuously be redirected from setbacks along the way.
6. Serve Others to Grow Spiritually
Vaulx sees service and spiritual growth as a cohesive process.
“The desire to serve is a vital element to my spiritual growth,” Vaulx said. “Being involved with the Office of the Dean of the Chapel has allowed me to put my faith into practice by serving others through Alternative Spring Break and Chapel Assistants.”
Mata warns against being too self-centered. “We’d never grow,” he says. “We’d constantly push others away or continue to stay one-track-minded.”
7. Check Out Campus Ministries
College campuses nationwide often have programs, events and groups led by students, churches and other ministry organizations. Some local churches will even offer transportation and food to college students attending their services.
In the Washington area, colleges with campus ministry programs include the University of Maryland, the University of Maryland University College, Montgomery College, American University, Howard University, and George Washington University.
“I encourage anyone who is looking for a place to serve, opportunities to grow and people who care to join,” Vaulx said.
“College is not always an easy experience for everyone,” he acknowledged. “I am fortunate that I have found students, faculty and administrators who have supported me through my entire Howard career.”
Shayla Farrow writes about spirituality for 101Magazine.net