The head of campus ministry at Illinois State University said he's seen the national trend of declining religious affiliation at ISU.
Phil Grizzard, pastor of the ISU Campus Religious Center, said the multidenominational center has experienced a gradual decline in participation over the years.
“When I was a student here, our campus ministry was the social setting for all of us, it was the go-to group,” Grizzard recalled. “We hung out together, we did everything together. We had our events and even when we weren’t doing campus ministry events, we were hanging out together. It’s very different now.”
Grizzard said even the students who do participate in religious services are not as involved in the programs as they've been in the past, though he noted during the time of the center’s opening in 1969 was a time when many young people felt compelled to explore their faith.
“There’s definitely not quite the interest there was in the heyday in the late '60s,” Grizzard said, referencing the Vietnam War and the height of the civil rights movement. “In that war, you had students who their friends and their classmates were coming home in body bags. There’s obviously a lot more intense desire to express their frustrations with that and to have spiritual connection with that.”
Grizzard said the ministry is actively reaching out to the LGBTQ and other communities who he said have felt turned away from the church.
“We have started to more and more explicitly talk about our inclusion, particularly in the LGBTQ community,” he said. “That’s a community that has often been excluded from faiths and it’s really tragic how some students have been excluded from that.”
The religious center is hosting an open house on Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m. followed by a dinner and celebration at 6 p.m. to mark 50 years since its founding.
The center offers a faith community for Baptists, Lutherans, Jews, Disciples of Christ and Seventh Day Adventists. There are also other religious groups on the ISU campus, including the Newman Catholic Center, Wittenburg Lutheran Center and United Methodists’ Merge.
The religious center is funded by private donations and rent which several ministries and Illinois State University pay. ISU houses its Center for Mathematics, Science and Technology in the same building at 211 W. Locust St. in Normal.
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