Over the course of the fall semester, Goshen College has seen an increase in student Bible study groups. Jen Shenk, recently hired campus pastor, has been instrumental in starting them up again.The campus ministries team has set their focus on building community through Bible groups to inspire conversation around faith and provide a safe and open space for GC students to foster connections.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic placed Bible study groups on the back burner, and have struggled since then.
Shenk said that years ago, Bible studies were possible when “they had more staff in this position, and just the culture was a little bit different. … With Covid things kind of fell apart obviously. Even after Covid, I think that there … wasn’t a structure in place for Bible studies to happen.”
Shenk and Kate Bodiker, a sophomore writing and communication major and member of campus ministry, reached out to faculty and staff to lead groups after persistent student interest and decided to send out a survey to gauge it.
“We got 66 responses,” Shenk said. “It’s just sort of illustrated or reflected the desire for students to connect with others … and also this spiritual hunger.”
According to Bodiker, the campus ministries team sent a separate Google Form asking for recommendations on what Bible studies students would be most interested in.
Originally starting with six groups, four remain active — two disbanded after no one attended. From the 66 original responses, 22 students are actively participating.
The four groups are led by Julie Reese, professor of psychology; Andrew Hartzler, professor of accounting; Eric Bradley, librarian; and Jaelyn Rufenacht, athletic trainer, and Brooke Lemmon, professor of education paired together. Themes include Intro to Faith, Fruits of Justice and Live FULL.
Rufenacht, who leads the group themed Live FULL, looks to connect faith with athletics. It consists of all female student-athletes meeting every Tuesday night. They are going over the fruits of the spirit, one by one.
Sadie Brenneman, a junior journalism major and volleyball player participating in the group with Rufenacht, said “It’s been really good. I think a lot of female athletes are looking for things outside of just their sport, and so it’s nice to find a community outside of … your team.”
Hartzler meets with his group at 4 p.m. every Tuesday, and they study James and Galatians, two books of the Bible. “The broader theme,” he said, “was recognizing the presence of, or evidence of, the Holy Spirit in the world — actually seeing God’s presence, rather than just being a distant concept.”
“I’m really impressed with the students and their maturity,” Hartzler said. “Their desire to wrestle with [faith] and try to think through … ‘What do I believe?’ and ‘How do I incorporate it and how do I live my life?’”
With newfound momentum, Shenk and campus ministries hope to continue building on the foundation of faith and community in the spring semester.
“I anticipate that the more we have these groups in place and the more the structure is there, it will be easier to plug in,” Shenk said. “It’s not like we have to create this brand new program.”
It’s important for Shenk to offer Bible studies on campus: “The community piece is so huge, … just to have the smaller group of people who can support you, hold you accountable, encourage you, reflect with you. … I just think that’s pretty powerful.”