Campus offers variety of faith opportunities
Baker University's religious roots run deep.
"The university was founded by a church, so it's been important to the institution since the beginning," said the Rev. Ira DeSpain, Baker's campus minister.
Founded in 1858 by Methodist ministers, Baker is a religiously diverse campus and embraces students of all faith.
"The last time I checked, there were 29 religious traditions represented in the student body," said DeSpain
According to a 2004 survey in which 619 students responded, 142 students were affiliated with United Methodist, followed by nondenominational (114) and Catholic (111).
The faith focal point on the Baker campus is the Clarice L. Osborne Chapel, where a university worship service is offered at 11 a.m. Thursday throughout the school year. No classes are scheduled at that time, and approximately 100 students attend the service, DeSpain said.
"We focus more on exploration of faith and values and how that relates to your career choice and job selection," said DeSpain, a Baker graduate who has been involved in campus ministry for 13 1/2 years at BU.
DeSpain works closely with the Baker Ambassadors, an organized group of students who travel to United Methodist churches in the Kansas East Conference to participate in worship services and talk with youths.
"They are not the only Christians on campus," DeSpain said. "They in many ways represent the Christian community on campus. They provide alcohol-free recreational activities, provide leadership at the chapel and serve as advisers on matters of religious life on campus. They go with me to represent the school Sunday mornings at churches we are invited to. They go to Methodist churches and help worship, talk to kids about college life and Baker, and matters of faith they struggle with."
College years are a transitional period in which students often explore other people's faiths and many times question their own beliefs, the campus minister said.
"They've been pretty insulated from the larger world," DeSpain said. "It's also the time to see if the faith that has been passed on to you is the faith you can grasp for yourself. People generally come to a place where they change from 'I believe because my parents told me to' to 'I believe because I believe.' That is a crucial part of what happens in college."
Generally, people don't choose a college because of its faith base, DeSpain said.
"They choose a college generally because of academics," he said. "On our campus, the faith dimension is a kind of a value added thing. I'm kind of a 24/7 character. This is a time in life when students have access to someone from a religious background at their disposal. My job is to be familiar to students and have students be comfortable with me, so when questions of faith come up, they know who to talk to."
During the school year, DeSpain tries to connect to students and faculty with campus-wide e-mails.
"Sometimes they're overtly religious in nature," he said. "Sometimes they have deeper meanings. I've gotten a lot of really good feedback."
One of DeSpain's favorite messages was sent just before spring break.
The message: "A reporter asked Mahatma Gandhi, 'What do you think of Western Civilization.' Gandhi replied, 'I think it would a very good idea.'"
The Rev. Ira DeSpain, campus minister, has an office at the Clarice L. Osborne Chapel. His office number is 594-8553. He can also be reached at (785) 423-0628 and 594-3914. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
Top 10 faiths on Baker campus
According to 2004 religious survey
United Methodist 142
Assembly of God 8
Disciples of Christ 8