Stepping Outside of Church to Practice Religion
Words by Marissa Nichol | Photos by Angelo Angel
Being religious is usually associated with going to church. However, millennials are showing a 6 percent increase in being unaffiliated with a religious tradition compared to Generation X. Millennials breaking their family tradition of going to church doesn’t mean they’re cutting ties with religion; some are just practicing it in a different way. Students of Kent State have shared their own ways of being religious or spiritual that fit their lifestyles and interests.
Finding strength in running
Holly Brown is a junior psychology and business management major who expresses her spirituality through running. When she failed to find fulfillment in going to church, she started talking with God as she ran and found the strength to overcome an eating disorder.
“My relationship with Christ is personal, and I don’t feel like I need a church to have a strong faith,” Brown says.
Brown considers herself spiritual because she doesn’t associate herself with a denomination and is very in tune with the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t until her freshman year of college, though, that she found a true alternative to organized religion.
Brown grew up going to church twice a week, being in a Catholic family and attending Catholic school until college. However, once she got her driver’s license at 16 and her parents allowed her to drive to church separately, she decided to stop going on Sundays.
Brown made this decision because she began to disagree with the Catholic Church, mostly with believing the Body of Christ manifests in the appearances of bread and wine.
“I think I’m always going to question,” Brown says about her faith. “When you become stagnant and accept, there’s no room for growth, and so that’s why I always continue questioning.”
When Brown got to college, she tried attending H2O Church, but didn’t find community in what she felt was a cliquey atmosphere.
Brown’s father was supportive in her decisions, but her mother prayed and talked to her daily about why she should be Catholic. She says her brother treated her as being ignorant.
As she experienced her hardest time with questioning her religious beliefs and where she belonged in college, she also struggled with bulimia. Brown has had challenges with disordered eating from late grade school through high school, but it became most prominent her freshman year at Kent.
“I feel solitude and solidarity with Christ,” she says of what running provides her. “It’s kind of like my church.”
“I was listening to evil spirits, I guess you could say, or the devil just whispering in my ear telling me I wasn’t good enough,” Brown says.
That’s when she discovered running.
Following her father’s footsteps in running the Boston Marathon in 2004, she started training to do the same right around the time she stopped going to H2O Church. The longer distances she ran, the more she realized she needed to nourish her body.
Brown’s father taught her the habits she needed to form with food and water consumption to keep up with running three to 16 miles at a time.
Spending this time alone brought her closer to God as she had time to ask for guidance. Brown says her parents have grown to be happy she is spiritual and has a personal relationship with Christ.
While she recovered from bulimia physically, she says she will always struggle with it mentally. That’s why she continues to run about five days a week for recovery and a healthy lifestyle and encourages others to do the same.
Most of the time she discusses her obstacles as a college student and what direction to go in life.
“Sometimes I don’t realize that I’m talking to God when I am,” she says. “I’m just having a continual conversation with him.”
Engaging in bible study
Brown also does a one-on-one bible study with herself and Jesus, which gives her more opportunities to have conversations with him. As for others, there are more than 10 groups listed on Kent State’s website that study the Bible together around campus.
Five of those locations are smaller groups of Identity Project, a Bible study group that serves as a solution for those who get bored or don’t find fulfillment in going to church.
Identity Project is run by Xenos Christian Fellowship, which is a non-traditional church with “mainstream” biblical teachings. The fellowship holds meetings in Cuyahoga Falls, Stow and Hudson, and its Bible studies are centered around Kent State’s campus.
The locations include Fletcher, Beall and Bowman Halls and the Center for Undergraduate Excellence. Kyle McCallum is an associate pastor working for Xenos Christian Fellowship who helps run Bible studies in Studio A of Beall Hall at 8:30 p.m. every Tuesday.
“It provides that place where it speaks to the kind of issues in everyday problems that students struggle with, but it also gives a place where they can see friends and have people to be real with about their issues,” McCallum says.
An average of 200 students with various backgrounds attend meetings, many expressing they have no religious background. To that McCallum says, “good. That’s fine; you don’t have to. Anyone can come feel free to discuss and if (nothing) else, it’s a good time.”
He also says Identity Project is unique because its increase in members has been mostly convert of growth, which means people who aren’t baptized or don’t have church experience.
“Most churches you see are the opposite,” McCallum says. “It’s almost completely transfer growth; that’s to say people from other churches switching to this church.”
About 40 students mingle before the meeting starts, gathering plates of pizza and orange Crush. Each study is run by a student in the group and a leader from Neoxenos Christian Fellowship, this time being Mike Hudock.
“I don’t know what you’d call me — don’t call me a teacher,” Hudock casually says with laughter.
Hudock reads through Acts 8:25 to Acts 8:40 of the Bible, engaging students with a PowerPoint and humorous photos, including one of shirtless Terry Crews holding his “scroll of Isaiah.”
Students erupt in laughter, then grow silent when Hudock relates the lesson to experiences in his own life. At one point, he speaks of the time he saw a man reading the Bible in Kohl’s with a confused expression on his face. Hudock uses his regret of not having a conversation with the man to encourage those in the room to listen when God is trying to work through them.
He also brings up seeing too many Christian churches living in hypocrisy and pushing away “dirty” people from joining them.
“Let’s get dirty — am I right?” he yells. “Get dirty. Roll around in the filth, but be able to be washed clean.”
A question-and-answer session follows his lesson, but more students take the opportunity to point out which lessons stuck with them. One student emphasizes what Hudock said about having the courage to let God work through them.
“We’re all sitting here because God worked through somebody to step out of their comfort zone,” they say.
They end the discussion in prayer and lower their heads, taking the opportunity to thank the readers for sharing the word of God.
An activity follows every reading, including a hot wing eating contest, an ‘80s dance party, capture the flag and pumpkin carving. This night a lip sync battle took place after a 15-minute break.
One student starts off with “Remember the Name” by Fort Minor. Most of the group is still there scattered around the room, some standing, all cheering him on. They continue to laugh and clap along to the music as the mood shifts when another student performs “Let it Go.”
“It’s not like I’m just running to run. I’m running for recovery, I’m running for my spirituality, I’m running for peace of mind,” she says. “I want to be able to share the success of running with others.”
The discussion of religion isn’t exclusive to Bible study.
Brendon Ridge is a junior at the Kent State Trumbull Campus who uses his faith to encourage others to strengthen their own. He does this by looking for opportunities in his daily routine to get to know people and have meaningful conversations with them.
“Worship has now turned into not something you go do on Sunday, but something you live,” he says. “It’s a way of life.”
Ridge came into faith at the age of 19 when he started getting involved in Champion Presbyterian Church youth group and worked there for four years. His interests haven’t changed, but he now uses them as an opportunity to connect with people.
Ridge started skateboarding regularly when he was 10 years old, and is able to use it as a common ground with others. He goes to different skate parks around his hometown of Warren, including in Akron and Kent, allowing him to get to know more people and address specific situations he sees them in.
A memory that sticks out in his mind is when he reached out to a younger skateboarder he saw giving in to drug use. Ridge explained to him that falling into his own bad habits interfered with his skateboarding progression at a young age and took away from the things he loved.
Once they started taking classes together at Kent State-Trumbull, they had conversations about faith, their beliefs and where they were at in life.
“I feel like personally I’ve been able to become a person in his life that he can be real with,” Ridge says.
He also finds himself starting these kinds of conversations with people he does dishes with when working at Chipotle. He has a silent rule of at least needing to know someone’s name before delving into the topic and explaining the story of Jesus and salvation.
“You can be more destructive than effective if you approach people the wrong way, without really considering them or getting to know them,” he says. “It’s the best message in the world, so I take it very serious when it comes to sharing it because I wouldn’t want to turn somebody away from it.”
Ridge also makes a point of being very upfront with his intentions so people don’t think he is trying to sneak religion up on them. Even if others deny or oppose what he tells them, he wants them to know it is all out of love and he will not judge them for it.
“It really isn’t about me,” he says. “If I’m talking to them, it’s about them. I know that I cannot save people. I cannot change people. I can encourage them. I can influence them, but it’s up to God.”