For many students, the pressures of studies and work and all the other pressures of college life can easily push God into a little box they open for a little while on Sabbath morning. But at Union College, a wide variety of worship and service options help students grow spiritually all week long.

“Union offers standard worship opportunities such as chapels, vespers, Sabbath school and church,” said college chaplain Rich Carlson. “in addition, our goal is to offer at least one other type of worship each day to meet individual students’ needs. The school is getting closer to meeting that goal through dorm worship, hall worships, personal Bible studies, praise services and other student-initiated opportunities.”

A reason to rise and shine

Getting up early on Saturday mornings isn’t something most college students want to do. But a vibrant, student-led college Sabbath school can make the difference between hitting the snooze button and welcoming the day. Union currently has between seven and nine Sabbath school options each week, one of which, Just Jesus, caters to students who want a creative, high-energy program.

“Just Jesus is for students who are trying to revamp their spiritual life,” said Abner Campos, the junior theology major who heads up the program as part of his duties as Campus Ministries Family Worship coordinator. “It can be challenging for lifelong Adventists to recharge their relationship with Jesus, so we give students an opportunity to do that every week.”

The gathering seeks to make Jesus available to every student. “We don’t want students to have just a seventh-day relationship with Jesus,” Campos says. “We want them to have a seven-day relationship with Him. But it can be challenging to start that process on your own.”

Just Jesus draws students who are looking for a larger, corporate gathering where they can have conversations and share their journey with a like-minded group. Every Sabbath morning starts with breakfast and then delves into a fast-paced mix of music, prayer, service, Bible study, communion and conversation.

The flexible program always revolves around the same features, but those features take different forms depending on the week. “Our program style is focused on helping everyone experience worship in the way they best connect to Jesus,” Campos said. “Some are more into service and outreach, others like music, Bible study, prayer or deep conversations. You don’t have to be a theology major and read the Bible in the original text to benefit from it. Just Jesus makes the Bible practical.”

Scanning hearts rather than scanning cards

Like other Adventist colleges, Union asks students to attend a certain number of religious services each year. Students who have met all worship credit requirements their freshman year can opt into HeartScan, a one-on-one mentorship program. Students apply for the program and then meet with a chosen faculty member every other week to discuss God, spirituality and life in general.

Senior communication major Natalie Bruzon said HeartScan has been a “fabulous experience” for her. “As an introvert, I find it more effective to personally connect with my mentor in a one-on-one setting,” she said. “I enjoy corporate worship and song services, but they don’t give me the same deep connection as the mentor relationship of HeartScan.”

Bruzon meets once every two weeks with Tamara Seiler, officer manager for the Division of Humanities. “I chose Tamara as my mentor because I wanted a different perspective,” she said. “I enjoy the freedom I have with her; I can explore outside ideas and gain wisdom. Tamara is my sounding board, and I learn spiritual and life lessons by talking through things with her.”

Senior elementary education major Elliott Moseley is in his second year as a HeartScan participant. As an off-campus resident, Moseley found it more convenient to meet with his mentor while he was already on campus, rather than having to drive back to school to attend additional worship services during the week. During their sessions, Moseley said he and his mentor “discuss anything and everything—life, relationships, spiritual issues, educational issues,” and more. “However,” he said, “the largest benefit for me has been my own personal growth. [HeartScan] really gives me an opportunity to talk about important issues in life and spirituality that I don’t often get to hear at vespers or chapel.”

Bruzon adds that she is grateful for Union’s dedication in helping students develop their personal relationship with God. “Programs like HeartScan add a whole new dimension that reading a book or sitting in a worship service can’t,” she said. “We students have different needs when it comes to scheduling and personality. I know Union really cares about my spiritual growth because of all the different opportunities and formats we can choose for worship and involvement.”

Peer-to-peer ministry in the residence halls

Students living in the residence halls have multiple dorm worship programs available to them each week. Joint worships on some Wednesday evenings open up the girls’ dorm chapel to men and women. Special speakers, praise teams, important presentations and other features draw a mixed crowd.

Hall worships are provided by dorm resident assistants on their own halls, but all dorm residents are welcome. These worships have a more relaxed feel and are often shorter to meet busy week-night schedules. Most include an uplifting thought or mid-week encouragement to keep students on track and focused on God despite the pull of outside responsibilities.

Colin King, who heads the Men’s Ministry programming through Campus Ministries, says he likes the personal approach of hall worships and the glimpse they offer into the spiritual life of his peers. “Dorm worships tend to cater more to the students’ personal needs, and hall worships and dorm worships let us talk about things that the other gender can’t relate to,” he said. “It’s nice to have other male voices that speak up and address issues we are all facing in our own lives. When someone gets up front and lets us peer into their spiritual life, it helps me know I’m not alone in my Christian walk.”

He adds that smaller gatherings help students feel more comfortable asking questions or bringing up their own spiritual struggles. “The atmosphere of vespers and church is great for praise and worship, but a small group lets us delve deeper into the journey that all of us are on,” he said.

For college chaplain Rich Carlson, being a part of a campus with a thriving spiritual life is rewarding. “I am beyond blessed to see how students at Union own their spiritual journeys and take responsibility for their spiritual walks. Being a Christian is the popular thing on this campus. It’s not about flash and pizazz, it’s about being down-to-earth and responding as a Christian responds. It’s not unusual to see kids praying together on campus, having devotions on the administration building steps and showing up for service projects. They want to get involved and to share their testimonies. Union students aren’t embarrassed to show that they are Christians, and our goal is to have campus worship opportunities to reflect that practical Christianity.”

Lauren Schwarz graduated from Union College in 2004 with English and public relations degrees. She writes (freelance) from Bismarck, North Dakota and enjoys spending time outdoors with her husband, Jonathan, and dogs, crafting and baking. She and Jonathan recently moved from California, and he began teaching at Dakota Adventist Academy this school year.