Keeping the faith during college can be a difficult task for students, especially for those who identify as LGBT.
Luckily for Ohio University students, Athens is peppered with a number of churches that advocate for LGBT inclusivity within their communities and doctrines.
Reverend Deborah Woolsey of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd said she’s seen an influx of LGBT students participating in liturgies and church activities since she started two years ago.
“The Episcopal Church has taken a national stance in favor of LGBTQ rights, and we’re a very supportive community,” Woolsey said.
Although the Episcopal Church has been accepting and welcoming of LGBTQ rights for decades, it officially announced its support for gay marriage in 2015 at the triennial General Convention, an event in which bishops from each diocese are invited to discuss church issues.
“It took some time because it’s not just approving the marriage, but liturgy is also very important, so we also had to approve the materials,” Woolsey said. “We wanted to create materials that were respectful and understandable for everyone.”
After the church’s announcement, materials were altered to exclude the words “male” and “female” wherever possible, in order to be more inclusive for all worshipping.
The Episcopal Church is also very accepting when it comes to LGBTQ individuals serving higher roles. The church has a large number LGBTQ priests, bishops, and other administrators within the Church.
Woolsey said the Good Shepherd’s congregation is constantly changing and gaining new members because of their location within the heart of Ohio University.
“We’re willing to welcome and receive the gifts that everyone brings, regardless of sexuality or gender,” Woolsey said. “We’re grateful for however long people decide to stay with us.”
While many churches in Athens advocate in favor of gay rights, some LGBTQ students have not quite found a community in which they feel entirely comfortable in.
Kelly, a sophomore studying journalism and political science, said she has not yet found her religious niche in Athens. Because she is not out to her family, her name has been changed in this story to keep her identity anonymous.
Kelly was raised within the Methodist Church, and spent countless hours attending worship, participating in church activities, and volunteering before coming to college.
While the Methodist Church’s doctrine has no official stance against LGBTQ individuals as lay people, they do not condone homosexuality within church positions, such as ministers or ordained persons.
“I feel a lot more connected to my Church back home where I know a lot of people in the community and grew up with them,” Kelly said. “I know how judgmental it can be, and I don’t really know how comfortable I am joining another church.”
Because Kelly is not out to her family or church congregation back home, she has not personally gone through any unpleasant experiences with unwelcoming members, like some Methodist LGBTQ individuals.
Regardless, Kelly believes her personal faith is more important than any role she could possibly have in a church congregation.
“I just remind myself that I have the right to be there,” Kelly said. “No matter what other people in the church might think of me and my sexuality, I still feel like it’s part of who I am.”
Nestled in between the busy brick roads of Athens, Ohio and the college crowd is a place where you can take the weight off your shoulders. Located on 2 S College St., First United Methodist Church offers a prayer box that is mounted on a cross beside the church’s entrance.
Paster Robert McDowell joined the church’s staff in June 2015. After reading an article about other churches that have utilized a prayer box, he thought First United Methodist Church had an ideal location to start a prayer box of their own.
“It seemed like the perfect church to do it because of the amount of college students, professors and business people that walk by the church every day,” said Paster McDowell. “I thought that would be a wonderful symbol of our church and an innovation for people to let us know of any prayer needs.”
The prayer cross has a black box mounted on it. Under the black box is a small container with index size cards and pencils for people to anonymously write down any prayer needs.
Every Tuesday morning at 7:30AM, the morning prayer group meets at the front entrance, collects the cards and prays for any needs left in the box.
Due to Athens being a college town, many prayers involve social struggles faced by college students.
“Most of the prayer needs are related to relationship struggles, and dealing with vices like drinking,” said Paster McDowell. “Finding a direction in life is another category of prayers we get, and that relates to things like grades and finding the right major.”
The prayer box is more discreet way for college students to receive spiritual support. Being away from home along with the pressures of college can make a student feel vulnerable. The prayer box is symbol to show a person that they are not alone.
“It lets people know there’s an anchor there, and that there are people pulling for you,” said Paster McDowell.
Staying committed to your faith may not be popular in college, but you don’t have to face it alone! Finding an uplifting community on campus is a great way to meet new friends and maintain your beliefs. Read this article from Tirzah Magazine for some tips on how to keep your faith in college and check out the lists below for resources available at OU!
Student Organizations: Get involved!
There are many spiritual organizations to choose from at Ohio University. Find one that works for you and meet students who share your faith!
1.Athletes in Action (AIA):
Student athletes with an interest in their faith can really benefit from AIA involvement. Feel free to visit the AIA house, located on the corner of Washington and College Streets across from the city parking garage. Interested in learning more? Check out this video from WOUB or contact by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Campus Crusade For Christ (CRU at Ohio University):
One of the largest spiritual organizations on campus, CRU has over 400 student members that support each other in the Christian faith. CRU Community Groups are located on all greens across campus and focus on helping students explore who Christ is and what it means to live their lives for Him. CRU’s weekly meeting, 180, meets Thursday nights at 9 p.m. in Morton 201 for worship, teaching from the Bible and to hear how other Ohio University students’ lives have been transformed through a relationship with Jesus. (Want a sneak peek at a 180 meeting? Check out this article!)
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3.Chinese Bible Study Group:
The Chinese Bible Study Group desires to glorify God by ministering to the spiritual needs of Chinese students on the OU Campus. Weekly praying meetings are held in Gordy Hall room 113 eachFriday from 7:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m., followed by a Bible study from 7:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. with Pastor William Hixson. Activities and services are also available to these students throughout the year, including hiking trips at Hocking Hills or free rides to the grocery store! (Contact John Swaim at 740-594-2783 to schedule a ride.)
Hillel serves the OU campus community in areas of Jewish culture, education, history, social service, Israel advocacy, and communal experiences. Through involvement in Hillel, Jewish students learn valuable leadership skills, enhance their Jewish identity, and diversify the religious and cultural campus community. Contact Rabbi Danielle Leshaw at her office: 740-592-1173, cell: 740-274-9265, or email: email@example.com if you’re interested in joining! Student work and internships are also available at Hillel for qualifying students. Get the info here!
5. Muslim Students Association at Ohio University (MSA):
As a student organization, the MSA provides OU students with the opportunity to come together as a Muslim community. As a Muslim organization, the MSA seeks to educate the Ohio University campus and Athens communities about Islam. All Muslim and non-Muslim students are welcome to join their religious and social events!
You can find the Islamic Center of Athens on 13 Stewart Street. Visit the MSA website, or contact by phone (740-594-3890) and email (firstname.lastname@example.org) for details about their events.
6.Reach Out on Campus (ROC):
Reach Out on Campus is a community of people who desire to put a spotlight on Jesus Christ through words and actions in the Ohio University community. ROC members enjoy one another and love hanging out, serving together, and exploring the life Jesus has given them. The community is found all over campus. On Monday nights at 7:00 p.m., a small group Bible study meets in the ministry office, called the ROC House, which is located on the corner of Court and Union Streets at50 S. Court Street suite C (on the 3rd floor above the College Bookstore.) On Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m., ROC’s Cross Walk group meets on campus in Baker Center room 231 for weekly worship, teaching, prayer & fellowship. Anyone is welcome to join at any time!
UCM’s mission is to engage the Ohio University and Athens communities in spiritual growth, fundraising, community service and work for justice, guided by socially progressive and interfaith values. It is a non-profit organization that was born out of the Ecumenical movement and progressive social action. All programs are free and open to everyone, regardless of who you are, what you believe (or don’t), or where you come from.
United Campus Ministry is located on 18 N College Street in Athens. Feel free to give them a call at 740-593-7301 or visit them on their website and Facebook page.
8. Young Life:
Young Life is an organization that allows Ohio University students to change the lives of young people across Athens County. Young Life leaders gain leadership opportunities at local high schools and log hours with those students by building relationships with them and attending events and activities, such as high school football games. Young Life believes in the power of presence and impacting young lives by sharing God’s love. Being a Young Life leader allows students to see that their lives have great worth, meaning and purpose.
Churches: Want to go a bit deeper with your faith?
Check out these local churches and find one that fits for you! All within walking distance (or a short drive) from campus. If you drive – all uptown parking is FREE on Sundays!
1.First Baptist Church
Pastor: Jim DiFilippo
Sunday Service:10:40 a.m.
Address: 336 East State Street, Athens, Ohio. Near Papa John’s Pizza.
First Baptist provides a friendly atmosphere that welcomes students, singles, couples, families & children. You may dress up or wear casual attire. Jeans are acceptable. Sermons are relevant and informative with practical application for everyday life. Multimedia with Power Point presentations of music and sermons enhance the worship and learning experience.
2. Athens Catholic Community (St. Paul Church & Christ the King Parish)
Pastor: Rev. Fr. Mark Moore
Mass Times: Christ the King Parish: Saturday 5:00 p.m. and Sunday 10:00 a.m. & 6:00 p.m. Daily Mass is held in the chapel of the Holy Family Center, Tuesday through Friday 5:30 p.m. St. Paul Church: Sunday 8:30 a.m. & 11:30 a.m., Mondays 7:15 a.m. and Monday through Friday 8:15 a.m.
Address: 75 Stewart Street, Athens, Ohio.
The Athens Catholic Community comprises part of the Southern region of the Diocese of Steubenville. St. Paul Church is located about 2 minutes away from Christ the King University Parish, where the parish offices are located. Both churches exist as one parish to serve the local communities of the Athens area, as well as the needs of Ohio University students.
Learn more at the Athens Catholic Community website. Call 740-592-2711 or 740-593-7822 and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
Denomination Not Specified:
3. Brookfield Church
Pastors: Aaron Kuhnert, Lead Pastor; Kenny Basnett, Staff Pastor; David Carter, Staff Pastor
Sunday Service: 10:00 a.m.
Address: 5 North Court Street, Athens, Ohio. Across from Pita Pit.
Brookfield is a church plant of Vine Community Church in Carbondale, Illinois, that moved to Athens at the end of June 2011. Most Sundays at Brookfield, the attendance is roughly half college students! If you are a student at OU or Hocking College, Brookfield will be a great church for you! Enjoy free coffee and bagels before or during worship.
Address: 1008 E. State Street, Athens, Ohio. Service held in the Athena Grand Movie Theater.
New Life in Athens, an Assemblies of God member church, is now almost 40 years old. It primarily serve the Athens County, Ohio, area with a focus on the Ohio University campus. Join them in the Athena Grand!
Sunday Services: 8:00 a.m. (no music) or full service with music and choir at 10:30 a.m.
Address: 64 University Terrace, Athens, Ohio. At the top of Morton Hill on College Green.
The Church of the Good Shepherd is not only for Episcopalians. It is here for everyone – with a prominent location on campus, Good Shepherd is a religious cornerstone of Ohio University. All are welcome to visit a Sunday service!
Address: 69 Mill Street, Athens, Ohio. Turn right off of College St. and head down the hill. Christ Lutheran is on the right side.
All students are welcome! A student brunch follows after worship each week. Meet downstairs in the Fellowship Hall for tasty meals prepared by members of the church. It’s a great time to meet one another and get to know each other a bit better over a home-cooked meal! Wednesdays at 5:00 p.m., Christ Lutheran hosts “Oasis Time,” where students take turns preparing a meal to share with other students of various faith backgrounds (or none at all). The cost is covered by the church.
Visit the website or give them a call at 740-593-3144.
7. First Presbyterian Church:
Pastor: Rev. Robert Martin
Sunday Service: 10:30 a.m.
Address: 2 South Court Street, Athens, Ohio. On the corner of Court and Washington Streets, across from Chase Bank.
All are welcome to worship and participate in activities at First Presbyterian Church. There is a free college lunch for students on Wednesdays, 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Stop by for some delicious home-style cooking and a chance to relax with friends. Vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes are prepared and dessert is always served. (Psst… for all you journalism students out there: E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Director, Robert Stewart attends here!)
Sunday Service: Regular services at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Worship U service at Noon.
Address: 2 South College Street, Athens, Ohio. Next to the city parking garage.
Worship U is a new, modern worship experience at First United designed specifically with young adults, young families, and college students in mind. It is a blend of contemporary worship with traditional elements and meets each Sunday at Noon in the Chapel. Immediately before Worship U, at 10:30 a.m. in the first floor lounge, the College Fellowship study meets to discuss the topic of the day. At 11:30am (also in the lounge), students enjoy lunch together in an informal and friendly atmosphere, to discuss current events on campus and in their daily lives, as followers of Christ.
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9.Central Avenue United Methodist Church (Uptown Venue location)
Pastors: Paul Risler, Senior Pastor; Joe Graves, Associate Pastor
Sunday Service: 10:00 a.m.
Address: 29 E. Carpenter Street, Athens, Ohio. Down the block from Athens Underground.
Central Avenue worships with contemporary Christian music, updated hymns, and original songs. They desire to partner with the Athens community through faith, education, music and the arts. Many Ohio University students attend Central’s Uptown location, so feel free to join!
Ohio University has so much more to offer than just a party scene. If you want to keep your faith in college, there is a place for you! Find student organizations or local churches that fit with your beliefs and personality and get plugged in!
Editor’s note: In a nod to the Thanksgiving holiday, reporters for the Shopping section of Court Street Stories have decided to “shop” for a local charity. What better way to say “thanks” than to find an organization worthy of a donation or volunteer work? What’s the UCM?
Religious institutions have the reputation of being exclusive and righteous to a fault. The United Campus Ministry in Athens couldn’t be more different than that.
Supported entirely by a few local congregations and personal donations, it accepts people from any faith or non-faith. Their mission is to engage the community in spiritual growth, community service and work for justice, guided by socially progressive and interfaith values.
UCM facilitates cooperative activities and discussions among people of varying, sometimes contradictory, faiths. How can a Christian and a Satanist agree on anything about religion? Rev. Evan Young, Campus Minister, says it’s all about open discussion. “We encourage understanding each other and in doing so, we understand ourselves better,” he said. “We all have the same questions: What happens to us when we die? Why do we suffer?”
The United Campus Ministry would love for you to participate in these discussions and/or get involved in their volunteering efforts this holiday. Here are just a few ways to contribute.
Thursday supper and Saturday lunch
Student and community volunteers work together to plan, prepare, set-up, and serve free, hot, nutritious meals for low-income community members. Every Thursday and Saturday.
Interfaith impact student organization
Interfaith dialogue facilitated by Rev. Young, every Thursday night (7:30-9)
An award-winning campaign that focuses on environmental justice and food insecurity in Athens County. Students have raised money and awareness for local and international organizations including Charity Water, the SE Ohio Foodbank, and Community Food Initiatives.
Alternative break trips
Winter break trips have included Witness for Peace delegations to Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela; Pine Ridge Reservation, post-Katrina New Orleans, US-Mexico border, and Washington D.C. Available to all students.