A group photo of members of campus church on a weekend trip to one member's cottage. Courtesy of Rob McTaggart

“The feeling of being in (a) community is so important.”

That’s how 21-year-old Durham College (DC) student Abby Bell describes being involved in campus church, a non-denominational, student run organization for the Durham College and University of Ontario Institute of Technology communities. “We all want to be in a group and we all want to be in a community…we want as many people to join us as possible.”

The organization gets support from Calvary Baptist church in Oshawa, as part of a massive group called Power to Change, which extends to about 60 colleges and universities across Canada.

 The campus church has operated for more than a decade. There are roughly 50 student members, who can meet at a variety of scheduled events throughout the week.

The program Alpha, which Bell describes as “Christianity 101” runs Mondays. It addresses questions such as “what is the purpose of life?” says Dc student Rob McTaggart, 21, who is co-president of campus church with Kyra Cooper.

Small group gatherings are held on Tuesday to Thursday.

The church has a meeting every Friday in room L207 at 6:45 p.m. called Refresh, bringing in local pastors and speakers and encouraging questions and small group discussions. These meetings average 35 people, with occasional attendance of college staff. They tackle tough topics such as why the Bible is relevant today, and whether or not the Bible is sexist. There is also worship music and snacks.

McTaggart says the small group discussions are “a good way for people to actually meet somebody, rather than sliding in the back, 10 minutes late, and then just leaving at the end.”

“One of our goals at the beginning of the year was to have a high percentage of people who are not Christian,” says McTaggart.

 While making announcements about events can be good for spreading news, a “face-to-face encounter” helps to build the community within campus church, and encourage those invited to attend, McTaggart says.

“A huge part of why I started was because the president at the time… remembered who I was,” Bell says. “That meant so much, and that’s one of goals that campus church has is to make people feel like ‘hey, you matter,’ because everyone does matter.”

“There was one specific topic,” Bell says, recalling a small group discussion about whether the Bible is sexist, “where the girls I was sitting at the table with, we all had different, like, perspectives on the topic, but we were still able to talk about it.”

She says the conversation would have been “harder” in a different context, but structure given by campus church allowed the group to learn from each other.

“If we want to be able to live in community with people we have to be able to relate to them,” McTaggart says. “I’ve had good opportunities to meet with people who are atheists, and Muslims, people of all different beliefs.”

“We want to be able to make campus church a place where everyone feels welcome, and have good discussions about our beliefs, but in love,” he says.

She believes newcomers to college and university are still finding out who they are and what they believe in. In some conversations she’s had, it is “the first time” the person thought about their beliefs.

“We have a beautifully diverse campus,” she says. “We all believe that Jesus loves them, and we want them to know that,” but not in a pushy way. Campus church tries to give visitors “something to think about” and to figure out what they believe for themselves.

 Bell says any challenges around differences in religions would be addressed through love.

Campus church has both outreach events and orientation week events, as well as a conference from Dec. 28 to Jan.1 in Richmond Hill.

Next semester the church is hosting a “scientifically-based” event in the gym on Feb. 12 about the effects of pornography with Fight the New Drug, a group from the United States whose goal is to spread awareness about the ramifications of porn.

“Every year changes,” Bell says, “but the one thing that stays the same is, you know, the fact that we want to be a community and that we want to be a community that cares and that cares about each other’s well-being and growth.”