Hidden Under a Bushel?

What do Westminster Alumn do in college.

What do Westminster Alumn do in college.

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, Let it shine, Let it shine, Let it shine.” These few simple lines have echoed in the ears of most Christian children in church, school, or at home at some point in their young lives. Sure, it’s a peppy song with an encouraging, hopeful message, and it’s easy enough for kids to memorize, but is their a deeper message? For many WCA students who grew up in the church, were raised in Christian homes, and attended Christian elementary schools, this is not just the refrain of a popular Sunday school song; it is the mission to which we dedicate our lives and a promise to be servants and ambassadors of God’s Kingdom.

But what about when WCA students graduate from the safe, welcoming community of Westminster and move past their childhood church and their guiding parents as they step into college and adulthood? When the bubble around their lives finally pops, do they hold onto the faith and relationship they have developed with Christ or do they find themselves persuaded by the busy college life, finding little time for a growing relationship with God?

It seems that with the stress of school, the newfound freedom, the distance from home, the influence of professors and other students, and the presence of many new pressures, students may be inclined to stray away from their faith and find their opinions and beliefs being challenged. But on the other hand, sometimes our faith grows the most in our greatest struggles as we learn to rely not on our parents and friends but instead on the Lord.

“During my first year of college, my faith grew tremendously as maintaining my Christianity in a secular environment became much more of an active choice. For the first time in my life, I was no longer completely surrounded by a faith-based community in which everyone shared a common sense of morality. Instead, I had to separate the differences between a cultural sense of morality and a Biblical sense,” said Alyssa Despotis, a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis.

Many WCA alums like Despotis leave Westminster on fire for God, eager to change the world and make a difference. These students may not care if their atheist professors disagree with their faith or try to force their ideas or beliefs on them because they have a firm identity found in none other than Christ.
“Keeping your faith in college is important because you’re going to be challenged by many different worldviews while at college, and you have to be able to defend your faith no matter what. In order to maintain my faith, I’ve surrounded myself with a good group of Christian friends who are always there to support me and talk me through times when I’m struggling,” said Alec Hollmann, a freshman at Baylor University.

So are Despotis and Hollmann the majority? Westminster’s hope is that they are. Westminster, of course, is unique in the sense that it strives to prepare students not simply academically but also spiritually for college and the “real world” ahead.
“All schools, whether private or public, want to prepare students academically. But at Westminster we also have a social and emotional aspect of education, helping students to interact with each other, build community, and problem solve. Westminster is unique in that we prepare students spiritually for college, too, which means preparing them for an environment in which not everyone believes the same thing and in which some are even hostile to Christianity. Classes like biblical worldviews hopefully give students a biblical foundation and help them understand what they believe and why they believe it and how we fit into a world that doesn’t always see the way we do,” said Shelley Milligan, Head of Institutional Advancement.

As Ms. Milligan stated, Westminster is an anomaly in that the teachers and administration specifically seek to prepare students spiritually for college, in the hope that they will maintain a relationship with God into college life and adulthood.
Westminster administration sends out a survey to each graduating class seven years following graduation in order to better understand whether they are providing an adequate foundation for students. According to the data from the class of 2000 through the class of 2009, the average percent of alums who list a church home is 67% (about 81 alums) with 36% of these attending Reformed churches (about 29 of the 81 alums). While this number is encouraging because it includes the majority, there does not appear to be a specific trend in alums who attend church regularly, whether increasing or decreasing, in the data between these classes.
Of course, having a church home is not a complete or accurate representation of being a believer because people can have a relationship with God and not regularly attend church. However, this data does indicate that the majority of Westminster graduates are carrying their faith into adulthood.
In addition, a September 2018 study on Christian students in the U.S. conducted by Barna Group in partnership with the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE) showed that “three in 10 practicing Christians (31%) and one-third of evangelicals (33%) express interest in ‘continued professional development that focuses on integrating faith and applying it to my career.’” While this may not be the majority, this data proves that almost one-third of Christian students across the U.S. show interest in not only maintaining and growing their faith in college but also in applying it to future careers.

So, the majority of Westminster students, as well as many Christian students nationwide, seek to cultivate their relationship with Christ even apart from their parents, churches, and schools. However, this may not be as easy as it sounds. Many Christians leave their homes eager to make their mark on the world and to face any challenge thrown their way, knowing their faith is stable and strong. But as difficult classes, social anxiety, illness, busyness, the stresses of independence, and the whirling tornado of change overwhelm students, the growth of faith can be pushed to the side. However, for those who are willing to take action steps, a stronger relationship with God can be achieved.
“Change grows your faith if you want it to. Anytime things are changing, you are driven to a place of needing guidance, support, and understanding. Change causes us to ask a lot of questions, which can be really healthy, but unless we ask the right source, we’ll get the wrong answer. The source is what determines whether our faith will grow or not grow. There is always potential for it to grow, and that is why the Lord puts us in situations that cause us to need to lean on Him,” said Ms. Milligan.
Change can be both completely healthy and necessary, but that does not mean it is easy. However, “the Lord designs change for our growth,” as Ms. Milligan claimed, and with a positive attitude and the conscious effort to use change for the better, students can take advantage of new opportunities to grow in their faith and face challenges that force them to rely on the Lord.
“In college, you have to really put in the effort to pursue God and grow in your relationship with Him because you’re on your own. Being disciplined with reading the Bible, praying, going to church, etc. is a lot easier when you have others encouraging you to do it, and that may not be the case in college. Trying to find a good church and on-campus ministries can be incredibly helpful when maintaining your faith becomes difficult,” said Emily Stevenson, junior at St. Louis College of Pharmacy.
For many students, the difference between continuing to pursue the Lord or choosing to allow other people or things to take His place is the people they choose to surround themselves with, the time (or lack thereof) dedicated to God, and the decision to openly proclaim their faith or hide it for fear of judgment. These are just a few simple decisions students usually make in the first semester of college, yet they can drastically affect one’s eternity and entire life.

“Who you surround yourself with is really important to your faith, all the time. And in college, if you don’t find people that are like-minded, then you start to become who they are. They really influence you one way or the other. Find people around you who want Jesus to be a part of their lives and therefore want Him to be a part of yours,” said Ms. Milligan.
This, of course, begs the question of how to interact with non-believers and even atheists who Christian students will inevitably encounter in college. Building a relationship is often the most important step to take before trying to convert others or even to bring up the topic of Christianity. Planting the seed of faith is often best done through a trusting relationship and actions that set apart Christians.

“I think we often should let our lives speak first, rather than our words. It’s not what you do, but how you do it or what you say, but how you say it. Earning the right to be heard and building a relationship is really important in that situation,” said Ms. Milligan.
Overall, data and personal anecdotes prove that the majority of Westminster graduates remain bold in their faith even after leaving Westminster. These students nourish their relationships with God through attending church, reading scripture, embracing new opportunities, choosing friends wisely, and not being ashamed of their faith but instead seeking moments to share the Gospel with those who are unaware of God’s gift of grace.