More Than Just a Mission Statement? The Status of Religious Life at Witt
What significance does faith have in the lives of America’s college kids? In a 2013 study of the religious identity of current undergraduate students, the Center for Inquiry discovered the “split” existing at American Colleges. 32 percent of participants identified as “true believers,” while an equal percentage of students claimed “spiritual, but not religious” identity. Another 28 percent of students distinguished themselves as “secular.” Of all currently enrolled undergraduates, 64 percent “reported a decline in attendance… of religious services.” As a supposedly “faith-based” campus, what do these numbers mean at Wittenberg?
Our mission statement proudly proclaims both the Lutheran faith of Wittenberg’s founders as well as the University’s commitment to “[helping] students… find their callings.” Weaver Chapel hosts services of both Catholic and Lutheran traditions, and Witt is home to a variety of faith-based clubs and organizations. In the face of a decidedly more secular academic and social environment, however, it’s easy to wonder what real significance these religious elements have in the lives of students. Even though attendance is not recorded, the number of people in chapel on Sunday and during the week is fairly small. Does this mean our campus reflect the growing religious apathy among the rest of America’s universities?
I spoke recently with University Pastor Rachel Tune about the supposed decline in religious involvement at Wittenberg. Tune blames not poor attitudes towards religious involvement, but the sheer busyness of the average Witt students. Tune stated that involvement in “jobs, classroom experiences, athletics, and other commitments” prevents students from participating in the religious community at Witt. “People may have an interest in Chapel and other areas of involvement, but competing schedules and even exhaustion can keep them from going.”
Even in my own experience, Tune is right. We feel that a purely academic experience at Wittenberg would be one-sided, so students attempt to round it out with a flurry of other activities. We continue a sport we played in high school or pick up a new instrument. We join sororities and fraternities and campaign for causes we care about. A peek into the weekly schedule of any Witt student reflects such a smattering of diverse commitments.
So shouldn’t you be doing something else? Shouldn’t you be writing that paper or running that 5k? Shouldn’t you be fundraising or just having some other kind of fun? In the face of our ridiculously crammed schedules, it’s easy to feel guilty about relaxing with a cup of coffee and a copy of the Torch!
As a result of our harried pace of life, we as students often overlook the importance of what Tune calls “taking time to breathe.” She continued with, “We need to take time to pause, to enjoy life. I feel that campus ministries is a place on campus where students can do just that.” Perhaps it’s difficult when students see involvement in religious activities as another strain on their time.
If students don’t identify with Wittenberg’s Lutheran tradition, several other groups encompass a variety of faith backgrounds. For those among the “secular” percentage of America’s students, Witt’s gorgeous campus offers several spaces beyond Weaver Chapel to pause and reflect. While members of our diverse campus may or may not choose to participate in the Christian and Lutheran traditions we offer, it’s important to step away from our rushed schedules and stressful commitments.
Take some time to be mindful this week, whatever that means to you, from prayer or taking time to pause. The status of religious life on Wittenberg’s campus is different for every person here, so embrace the diversity of our individual definitions.