Life of the Spirit

Sarah Dufficy '14 gathers with members of the Pacific Christian Fellowship.

At Pacific University, students are looking for — or finding — ways to bring their spiritual practices to life on campus.

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Eyes close.

Hands rise.

Bodies sway, as voices lift in song.

At the front of the small auditorium, two young women lead the informal chorus, accompanied by young men on acoustic guitars.

The 20-some members of the Pacific Christian Fellowship will spend this Wednesday evening as they spend most: singing songs of praise, praying together and discussing the Bible.

They’ll get together at other times of the week, too, in men’s and women’s small group meetings, for service projects, and in casual weekend activities. On Sunday, many will attend the neighborhood house church known as Refuge of Christ, which grew out of the student club.

In between, they’ll go to class, eat and gossip about the latest episode of Downton Abbey, like the rest of their peers.

There’s a common perception that faith takes a backseat in the years of late adolescent, particularly for students on college campuses. But that’s not really true, according to research. One seven-year study by UCLA, for example, found that while participation in religious ritual may decline in college, spirituality increases as students look for their place in a larger community.

This past summer, Pacific University opened its Center for Peace & Spirituality, in part to support students in that search.

The role of religion on campus has been a source of debate throughout Pacific’s history. Founded by Congregationalist missionaries, in the tradition of several of the early East Coast universities, Pacific has Christian ties.

But for nearly 100 years, there was debate as to whether the university should be run by the church or independently.

Today, Pacific remains a member of the UCC Higher Education Council but is, for all practical purposes, a secular school — though the UCC’s progressive bent on inclusion and diversity are deeply engrained in Pacific’s mission and values.

Philosophy Professor Dave Boersema, who directs the new Center for Peace & Spirituality, said Pacific is a welcoming place for people of all faiths — but not always an easy place to practice those faiths.

Part of his mission is to work with students and employees to support their efforts to maintain their spiritual lives at Pacific.

Sarah Dufficy ’14, one of the young women who lead singing at the Pacific Christian Fellowship’s Wednesday Night Live meetings, finds an outlet for her faith in that club.

Dufficy grew up in a Christian household and was always involved in youth groups, but, she said, it was mostly a matter of habit and expectation. She came to Pacific intending to “do my own thing,” she said.

A beginning-of-the-year barbecue sponsored by PFC, though, created a bridge from her childhood faith life to her adult practice.

“I felt connected right away,” she said.

“Just having a community like a family here is a big part, because I am so far away from what I grew up with,” she said.