Unlike many Christian schools, Eastern University does not require its students to profess belief or devotion to the Christian faith. With this sort of policy, Eastern welcomes students of any and all denominations, and even leaves the door open for those of doubt and non-belief. Even without any restrictions placed on students in terms of their individual faiths, Eastern is still very much able to uphold its commitment to faith in a very personal and compassionate way.
Led by Dr. Joseph Modica, University Chaplain, the Student Chaplain Program ministers to Eastern residents to promote fellowship and guide students in spiritual growth. Each residence hall on campus has a team of student chaplains who work closely with residence staff to create a safe and healthy living space for Eastern students. Once a week, typically on Wednesday nights, student chaplains host Grow Group for the residents living on their halls. Grow Groups take place anywhere from dorm rooms and hallways to lounges and outdoors. Student chaplains may teach a lesson, lead a Bible study, or simply be available to guide their group in discussions.
Before the fall semester, students who are accepted to serve as Student Chaplains move into their dorms about a week before the campus-wide move-in day. During that week-long training, chaplains engage in teambuilding activities, participate in workshops with EU faculty, spend time with President Duffett one on one, and go on an overnight retreat to worship and grow together. Throughout the semester, chaplains meet once a month as an entire group, during which time they typically listen to a guest speaker. This time together allows chaplains to pour into one another and to maintain unity within the Student Chaplain Program. In addition to these monthly meetings, chaplains also meet biweekly with their Iron Groups- small, accountability groups among student chaplains.
Melissa Irick is a first-year Early Childhood and Special Ed. major who began serving as a chaplain in January 2016. Without a chaplain on the third floor of Sparrowk, Irick stepped up as a freshman to fill the role by the spring semester. Irick says that she loves getting to watch her “Grow Group grow, whether it be individually or as sisters.” She remarks, “It’s been amazing to watch as the girls grew closer and went from barely interacting to getting together outside of Grow Group to pray for and lift each other up.” For many residents, Grow Group is an opportunity to meet hallmates and to foster relationships that are uplifting and Christ-centered.
In practice, however, being a chaplain can be a very difficult and taxing job. As one chaplain put it, “With honest people that are devoted to getting to know their God, this program is a powerful one. With students simply seeking some kind of acknowledgement or recognition, this program is a wasted opportunity.” The role of a chaplain requires self-motivation, creativity, planning, and the ability to meet people exactly where they are. It means sacrificing time and mental energy, while still acting as a fully-functional student. With the dedication of student chaplains, Eastern is able to better stand by its commitment to the Christian faith.