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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Finding new ways to keep up old traditions

NICKI PADAR / AGGIE

College students find ways to keep their religion present while in college

For students who grew up with organized religion, it can be difficult to include their practice in the college starter-pack when they move away from home for the first time. Even though there seems to be an infinite number of new opportunities to try once the college journey begins, many students also find ways to keep their faiths and traditions alive despite other distractions.

Pastor Jocelynn Hughes has lead the The Belfry, UC Davis’s Lutheran/Episcopal ministry, for about eight years and helps both Christians and non-Christians experience Lutheranism. Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, was a particularly busy one for Pastor Hughes.

“Some services are really important to students more than others depending on how they grew up, so here we try to offer as many of the holiday services as we can,” Pastor Hughes said. “For Holy Week we had services for each holy day, such as Good Friday, in preparation for Easter Sunday.”  

Although spring break does not coincide with the Easter holiday, this did not stop students from celebrating. While it might be discouraging to students who have never celebrated their religion away from home, The Belfry, located just off campus, and other organizations offer services to bring students together and celebrate as a community.

“Being able to offer these services that students may have experienced at home with their families is comforting because the ones that don’t go home for Easter weekend really appreciate having the ability to just walk across the street and celebrate here,” Pastor Hughes said. “A lot of these services encourage more participation because our ministry is so small and it gives students a chance to dive in in a new way.”

For students who had a good experience with the Christian community growing up, Pastor Hughes believes that having a community in their college town is very important and helps students stay connected to their faith. However, many students that The Belfry connects with are not religious themselves.

“Something that sets this ministry apart from the others is that we don’t have all of the answers, and we want you to come with your questions because we’re all on this journey together,” Pastor Hughes said. “Many students are in a questioning mode in their lives, and this can be a really fertile time to ask those hard questions and start seeking out what works for you as an adult.”

For students who are used to a more structured religious path, UC Davis organizations such as the Muslim Student Association, the Newman Catholic Center and Cru, an on campus Christian ministry, provide students with opportunities to stay connected to their faiths while away at college.  

Jared Fong, a fourth-year environmental science and management major, has been an active member of Cru since his freshman year and found an even stronger community than the one he was used to at home.

“I wasn’t looking to find a Christian group on campus, but Cru was the first time I saw a community that was generally loving to each other, and that was very attractive to me,” Fong said. “Going through the school years was not always an easy ride, but Cru has always encouraged me to see my relationship with God as the most important thing.”

According to Fong, college is the time that makes or breaks students’ faith as many people fall out of their practice once away at college. He recommends participating in a student organization because it helps provide structured opportunities to practice faith. For example, Cru hosts Bible studies every week in addition to weekly meetings on Thursdays in which students worship, sing songs and host speakers.

For Leah Ahdoot, a second-year biological psychology major and an inreach chair for Aggies for Israel, attending school at UC Davis was a serious transition from the schooling she was used to.

“I went to a Jewish school my entire life and coming here was the first time nothing was organized like that,” Ahdoot said. “The first week of freshman year I went to Hillel [a Jewish campus organization] just to see what it was, and I ended up meeting my best friends and roommates now.”

According to Ahdoot, when students live with people who practice the same religion and similar beliefs as them, it becomes easier to remember the traditions they were used to back home and keep those alive throughout their college years.

“The first holiday I experienced on my own, Yom Kippur, was during the second week of fall quarter my freshman year, and it was different because my schools growing up would cancel classes during the holidays so we could all go to temple,” Ahdoot said. “However, the Hillel organized some activities and we were able to go to temple and fast on our own, but it was still different because you’re not with your family or in your usual place.”

Joining Aggies for Israel, a student organization dedicated to preserving the bond between the United States and Israel, allowed Ahdoot to have more friends who were Jewish and have the same practices and understanding of what she was going through.

“Through Aggies for Israel I helped make a Passover Seder for Tuesday night of Passover when everyone came together since we couldn’t celebrate at home,” Ahdoot said. “It was a way for us to have a little piece of home.”

According to Ahdoot, college students are generally at points in their lives where they value other things more than their faith. However, joining Aggies for Israel was a way for her to reconnect with a familiar part of her life and find a motivating group of friends to help put life away from home in perspective.

“Keeping my Jewish faith alive has helped me solidify the long-term values I want to have and what I want to see in myself and other people I surround myself with whether they’re Jewish or not,” Ahdoot said. “Students shouldn’t be afraid to branch out and meet new people of various faiths and go out for different organizations because it might be one of the best experiences you’ll have had in college.”
Written by: Gillian Allen — features@theaggie.org

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