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Christians on campus promote community against cultural headwinds

On+Friday%2C+November+10%2C+2017%2C+University+of+Illinois+students+gathered+in+Foellinger+Auditorium+for+a+night+of+worship%2C+teaching+and+prayer.+The+event+was+called+Christianity+on+Campus+and+was+put+on+by+the+joint+effort+of+many+Christian+groups+on+campus.+
On Friday, November 10, 2017, University of Illinois students gathered in Foellinger Auditorium for a night of worship, teaching and prayer. The event was called Christianity on Campus and was put on by the joint effort of many Christian groups on campus.

On Friday, November 10, 2017, University of Illinois students gathered in Foellinger Auditorium for a night of worship, teaching and prayer. The event was called Christianity on Campus and was put on by the joint effort of many Christian groups on campus.

Ethan Scholl

Ethan Scholl

On Friday, November 10, 2017, University of Illinois students gathered in Foellinger Auditorium for a night of worship, teaching and prayer. The event was called Christianity on Campus and was put on by the joint effort of many Christian groups on campus.

By John O'Brien, Staff writer

Father Robert Lampitt is worried about the health of Christianity in the 21st century. He fears the religion is eroding with each successive generation.

“It’s getting worse; it’s not getting better,” Lampitt said. “The studies are very clear about that. So then, the question is, are we at just the beginning of this, or are we at the tail end?”

However, the vibrancy of the University’s Christian community was on display at the All Campus Worship event Friday night at Foellinger Auditorium. The event was organized by the Evangelical Christian Union, along with many other Christian RSOs on campus.

Neal Overbay, senior in Business, is the worship leader for the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. At the event, he performed as the lead vocalist with the All Campus Worship Team, a Christian rock band made up of volunteer musicians from the University’s Christian community.

By having a rock band perform in what is typically considered the staid environment of Christian worship, Overbay hopes the younger audience felt accommodated and connected to Christ.

“What we were going for tonight was to try to be as representative of as many different people as possible, so as many people as possible felt at home,” Overbay said.

Lampitt, who graduated from the University in 2002, is head chaplain of St. John’s Catholic Newman Center.

“The community is really strong here,” Lampitt said. “It provides an environment where faith is respected and honored. If you’re looking to practice your faith, you know that this is not going to be an environment where that’s challenged.”

The challenge Lampitt referred to is both intellectual and interest-based. It has contributed to the decline of Christianity that Lampitt is trying to stem.

As Christianity has lately become more maligned and politicized, Lampitt said organizations like the Newman Center are taking on the responsibility of encouraging students to become more involved in religion. 

David Null, junior in Engineering, is the current presi dent of the Illini Life Christian Fellowship. He believes Christians at the University are challenged by the distractions that overwhelm today’s college students.

“There’s so many distractions and so many different things to do, that I’m wondering if people have time to even think about it or focus on the questions that surround Christianity,” Null said. “It’s the path of least resistance to just watch ‘Stranger Things’ than to go read the Bible.”

Null understands why today’s students may not take the time that is necessary to make Christianity part of their daily lives.

“What is your immediate task that you need to get done? It’s definitely not figuring out where I stand with God,” Null said.

Illini Life was founded by Pastor Wayne Wager after he moved to Champaign-Urbana in the early 1980s.

When Wager first discovered the Christian community at the University, he found a group of actively religious students and professors who he felt could have intelligent discussions about faith in ways that didn’t automatically dismiss it.

“One of our campaigns in Illini Life is to try and recover the Christian mind, and we think we can do that with Illini where it’s not as easy to do in other places,” Wager said.

The group offers free coffee on the Main Quad every Friday at 9 a.m., Wager said, to engage students in religious discussion.

Wager said he has found in his 33 years in Champaign-Urbana that the University has a thoughtful student body.

That thoughtfulness, which both Null and Wager believe is vital to properly understanding Christian teachings, informs a large part of how Christians at the University practice their faith.

Wager and Null hope those students on the outside of the faith can apply that thoughtfulness if they choose to become more involved.

For the students who are already active Christians on campus, the community is a large part of what keeps them invested.

Jonathan Zoia, junior in Business, is currently the president of Catholic Illini Retreats.

Zoia said an important element to his organization and an important tool to attract new members is the sense of togetherness Christianity can provide.

“We want people to know that our church is not just for the students that live in the hall that’s connected to Newman,” Zoia said. “It’s open to the (greater University) community, and we really promote that community both internally and externally in order to welcome others in.”

 

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