New Bible studies are appearing right and left on campus. The trend may reflect what the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship (BCF) identifies as a rise in the Christian presence on campus. The group itself is experiencing a marked growth in membership, but many of the new studies are being sponsored and attended by non-BCF student athletes and LGBTIQ students.
First year Andrew Hilboldt started an athlete's Bible study this month after having attended a few BCF meetings earlier in the year.
"I felt like there was a need to reach a different group of people at Bowdoin," said Hilboldt, who got the idea to start the group from the organization Athletes in Action, as well as from similar groups at other colleges. "More people were interested than I thought would be," he added.
For Hilboldt, Christianity offered a way of building a supportive community of Christian athletes on campus.
"It's definitely tough at times," Hillboldt said of the Christian experience on campus. "[The athlete's Bible study] helps me and others put themselves out there more, to know that they have a group who know what it's like."
"There's something about how crazy an athlete's life can get that makes sharing the Bible with people who have a similar lifestyle very helpful," said Hilboldt.
Russ Halliday '11, who has participated in both BCF and athlete-specific Bible studies, encouraged students who are curious about their faith to try out the options that are available.
"If any bit of you is telling you to explore this than you should absolutely explore because it can open up a whole new world—just ask questions and don't feel like you'll be judged or criticized," he said.
Representatives of the LGBTIQ Bible study were unable to comment for this article.
Sim Gregory, co-staff leader of BCF, reported that recently, curious students with little background in religion requested a Bible study so that they could learn about Christianity.
In response, BCF started "Come and See" a Bible study that SimGregory said allows believers and their friends to ask questions about the Christian faith. "Come and See" will be held for five consecutive weeks so that participants can get a good sense of what BCF is about.
"Everything is open," said Sim Gregory.
On the increase in BCF activity this year, BCF member Joelinda Coichy '11 said, "lots of freshmen have stepped in this year...we believe that God can bring people hope, and we are always looking for more people."
Coichy, who is on the leadership team of BCF, said that the efforts of BCF result from a collaboration of different class years and that "this year we've really pushed for people to know that we are here for them."
BCF is a chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, which is an evangelical campus mission involved in Christian life on college campuses nationwide. Rob Gregory, the staff leader of BCF and Sim Gregory's husband, said that the reason more Bowdoin students are participating in spiritual life on campus is due to the College's history as an institution that supported the spiritual development of young male leaders.
"God planted seeds on this campus that are sprouting today—courageous men, spiritually trained and insightful men, planted seeds—Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Joseph McKeen both," Rob Gregory said.
Rob Gregory also added that the rise in activity is in part due to student leadership.
"Students are leading students to discover God. The initiative is God's. The response to God's initiative is faith. That is what we are seeing, faith being born in the hearts of Bowdoin students," he said.
Halliday, a member of Hilboldt's Bible study, said, "there has been an increase in Christianity on campus...for a few years now Rob's been working really hard and it's sprouting now...the nature of Christianity is that it spreads, especially in an academic environment in which people are searching for meaning."
According to the Gregorys, the College has always been helpful in facilitating BCF activities.
"Bowdoin has been very, very generous...we meet with the deans four times a year and they make spaces available for us," said Rob Gregory. Sim Gregory emphasized that BCF has a "tremendous role in meeting the needs of students who want to know God," and is a resource for questioning students.
"There are more Christians than people might think—having activities like Bible studies and the chapel service makes people come forward," said Hilboldt. For him, athletics serve as a platform for Christianity.
"Having a Christian background puts everything in perspective—you do things to your best ability for God—you're not doing it for you, but for God and your teammates," he said.
On religion and athletics, Halliday said, "a lot of times people see them as mutually exclusive but I think they go hand in hand—it makes you play for something greater."
According to Coichy, spiritual life on campus extends to all demographics of students beyond just athletes, as many BCF members have diverse extracurricular activities and represent a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds.
"We are in every sector of Bowdoin's life, with very different members," she said.
Coichy described her role in BCF as "more than something I do on Thursday nights...it's how I'm able to be who I am on campus."
Indeed, BCF provides a vast array of Bible studies that cater to different types of students, and provides weekend transportation to eight different community churches of various denominations. For Coichy and many other students in BCF, the organization is "an umbrella through which to connect with the greater community."
Yesterday, BCF sponsored a lecture from Bowdoin Alum Edward Keazirian, Th.D. The lecture, entitled "The Authority of the Bible," is part of BCF's campus-wide efforts to increase the presence and visibility of spiritual life on campus.