Now in its 20th year as a campus organization, the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship (BCF) continues to serve as a support network and active community group for Christian students on campus. With more than 100 contacts on the e-mail list and a consistent group of 30 to 40 students attending weekly meetings, the BCF endeavors to nurture and develop spirituality on the campus.
Students' continued interest in the BCF supports a recent study conducted in early 2008 by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles that revealed that students tend to become increasingly spiritual during their college years. Findings from the six-year study showed that although church attendance in college students declined, what was characterized as "measures of spirituality" increased by an average of 10 percent from first to junior year.
Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), the larger umbrella organization of BCF, is an interdenominational campus ministry group working to continue the growth of spirituality on over 550 college campuses across the nation. The Bowdoin group is one of six IVCF chapters in the state of Maine. Peers Colby and Bates, as well as several University of Maine campuses, sponsor IVCF chapters as well.
The purpose statement of the IVCF, according to its organizational Web site, is to "establish and advance at colleges and universities witnessing communities of students and faculty who follow Jesus as Savior and Lord: growing in love for God, God's Word, God's people of every ethnicity and culture and God's purposes in the world." The Bowdoin chapter follows a similar mission statement, which is "to see student and faculty transformed, campuses renewed, and world changers developed."
The Bowdoin Christian Fellowship's programming spans a broad reach that includes planning for singular campus-wide events, such as the annual springtime Gospelfest, as well as smaller and more continuous community projects. The group regularly invites guest speakers, including Christian musician Grant Norsworthy and Director of Black Campus Ministries Virginia Ward, to lead campus-wide events and discussion forums.
One of the cornerstones of club programming are Thursday Night Gatherings, where members convene once a week at 30 College Street for prayer, activities, and discussion.
"A typical [Thursday Night Gathering] will generally include some prayer and singing, as well as a student or guest-led discussion," explained Tana Scott '10. According to Scott, these discussions are led and moderated by a range of people, including adult community members, guest speakers, and student leaders.
"Some might refer to these gatherings as spiritual sustenance," said Scott. "They really bring forth a sense of fellowship and community, which is something we value."
In addition to Thursday Night Gatherings, members also meet for Sunday evening Chapel services as well as a variety of student-run small clusters that take the form of Bible study, worship time, or prayer group.
Unlike many other campus organizations, the BCF has no singular leadership figure. Instead, various club members take on a range of different responsibilities in all aspects of the Fellowship's affairs.
"The group really consists of a team of people that all come together and lead," said Joelinda Coichy '11. "Community is a very big theme here."
The BCF does enlist the help and support of IVCF staff representatives who act as advisors and mentors to student members. These staff members are both appointed employees and volunteers through the IVCF and function as spiritual leaders as well as community liaisons.
Sim Gregory, a Damariscotta resident and Colby graduate, is the current IVCF staff representative at Bowdoin. After volunteering with BCF for four years, Gregory replaced Lance Seelbach, a longtime IVCF liaison, as a staff worker at the end of the 2007-08 academic year.
"This has been kind of a transition year in terms of leadership for BCF, but it has all gone smoothly," said Coichy.
A number of volunteers from area churches and local pastors work with BCF in its programming, chapel services, and meetings. According to Scott and Coichy, the staff members serve as invaluable spiritual leaders for student members.
"The adult mentors are like our parents here at Bowdoin," said Coichy. "They are a real support system?not only do they help us plan, but they take care of the students and have a special and abiding interest in the group."
"Mentors are also crucial for first-year students," added Alex Haskins '11. "We actively help new members find mentors that can answer some of their questions and be a source of accountability and support as they transition to Bowdoin life as well as throughout their years at Bowdoin and beyond."
Gregory, as well as additional adult volunteers, also act as integral community links for BCF members, providing countless contacts and prospects for neighborhood outreach.
"Many of the students, on an ad hoc basis, have been involved in a number of community youth groups and assisted the needy in the Midcoast area," added Gregory. "There are also opportunities to participate in service trips to Uganda or Latin America."
Navigators, a national organization similar in scope and mission to IVCF, also provides mentoring opportunities for BCF members. Through Navigators, Coichy found an opportunity to start volunteering with the youth ministry at the Vineyard Church in Lewiston.
Several BCF members agreed that opportunities offered through campus Christian organizations such as Navigators and IVCF create a sort of "snowball effect" in terms of volunteering and mentoring within the community. It is this sense of community created through spiritual work and connections that many BCF members agree to be one of the most rewarding aspects of the organization.
"Christianity on a college campus is hard sometimes," admitted Coichy. "The community and support that [being in the BCF] has created for me has made being a Christian at Bowdoin so much easier than if I had to do this on my own. My faith has definitely grown here."