There are many student organizations at Grand Rapids Community College available to join. If you are seeking to explore religion and faith or just looking for someone to talk to in a judgment-free zone, then you might want to consider GRCC’s Christian Fellowship group.
The Christian Fellowship group is composed of two primary subgroups. On one side, you have United Campus Christian Fellowship, which is led by Pastor Kate Van Valkenburg and Nancy Janisch. The other component is Jabez Ministries, headed by Reverend Peter J. Gordon.
United Campus Christian Fellowship, a multi-denominational group, places their primary focus on inclusion and providing students with resources to help them define their relationship with God. For Janisch, the social justice element is one of the most important things they seek to educate people on.
“When we can meet more safely, we want to help students put their faith into action, and for us that means a commitment to social justice,” Janisch said. “One thing we are doing now is we have a program where if students ask, we will send you a book about antiracism and how we can be more aware. We will give those books to students with no strings attached, we just want students to have access to things that can help them grow.”
Janisch sees the group as a place that is open to anyone, no matter their religious affiliation or even lack thereof.
“We are multi-denominational and all inclusive,” Janisch said. “We don’t care what kind of faith background students come from. I happen to presbyterian, but honestly in all of my years at GRCC, I have had like two students with that same background. We don’t care where you come from. We just want them to have a place to talk.”
Though many are critical of religion in our modern, post-colonial age, Janisch thinks that there is still great value to be found in finding faith.
“I think religion can still offer a lot of things,” Janisch said. “One of the things I do is to let people know that they are loved and God loves them. We try very intentionally to embody and share that love. I’m not saying people have to think like we do, but we focus on just giving people space to be who they are and think about their relationship with God. We try to give people a way to think about those things, and so we try to be life affirming. And what religion does for people, at its best, it gives the people the sense that they are valued, they are loved, and they have something to contribute to the well-being of the world.”
For students who are just looking for resources on how to better themselves or a place to talk, UCCF might be a good place to turn to. They pride themselves on providing support to anyone who needs it.
“Certainly as one tries to live a faithful life, it’s best you understand that you need to be an ethical person and work for the benefit of others,” Janisch said. “We want to be concerned about climate change and access to clean water, and all of those kinds of things. People’s abilities to live lives with meaning and value and without fear and resources and those sorts of things. There’s value (in religion) for people of no faith who can find common cause with those issues and interface work. Our motivations might be different, I might be doing this because I’m a Christian. Someone might be an atheist and just doing it because it’s a good thing, but we have the same ideas, especially around equity and inclusion. We can find that common ground.”
Jabez Ministries, on the other hand, while very similar in the intent of their goals, focuses on students with specific issues. Rev. Gordon believes that is one of the greatest things about the organization.
“Jabez Ministries is a disability ministry,” Gordon said. “The campus of GRCC has a rather significant population of persons with disabilities. This ministry exists to walk alongside those students. I’m a person with disabilities, I know full well the difficulties and challenges those with disabilities will face.”
Though that is their primary focus, Gordon wants to extend an invite to any and all students curious about their faith.
“Jabez Ministries is a campus ministry to the general student population. Students at GRCC have questions, often tough questions. We offer a space for those tough questions. We also offer Christian fellowship and community on campus. (We want to offer) a place to rest when things get too tough, a place to laugh when you don’t feel like laughing, and a place to share your faith.”
Gordon recognizes that religion can be a hot button issue in our modern times, especially with disease and political unrest running rampant in the country. He wants students to know that religion can have a welcoming and calming effect on many lives.
“As a Christian ministry, we offer two things,” Gordon said. “(We offer) a world and life view and a relationship. In our respective ways of looking at the world, that helps us figure out our place in it. The relationship is in the Body of Christ, as a community. This kind of community has an obligation to set an example to those caught up in the craziness of today’s culture.”
In these bizarre times, many people aren’t sure what they are looking for until they find it. Gordon believes religion can be that answer and encourages students to embrace that.
“Religion benefits everyone,” Gordon said. “As a person who has an interest in world religions, I encourage dialogue. Dialogue benefits everyone.”
Gordon, who originally moved to Grand Rapids in 1979, studied at Calvin College, in the seminary. Though his organization is all inclusive, his primary focus is Christianity.
“I’m ordained in the Christian Reformed Church,” Gordon said. “This ministry is sent here by LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church, a downtown church, a few blocks from GRCC. This ministry is made up of whoever wants to be a part of it. There are no restrictions save open dialogue and coming in and going out as friends.”