How do perceptions of the spiritual life of APU differ between seniors and students in lower grades?
The spiritual life of APU has been an integral part of its community since its founding in 1899. Many students have been captivated by APU’s spiritual atmosphere and have chosen to attend with excitement. APU’s history has consisted of revival and a pervasive spiritual atmosphere on campus. But arguably only a fourth of our student body has been able to fully experience that atmosphere, due to pandemic. The majority of our student body, juniors and below, have experienced a much different spiritual life on campus.
This change in spiritual life is not negative, but it does host a lot of differences. However, it would be ignorant to overlook the main reason for this change. The effects from the COVID-19 pandemic have changed APU — and every college across the nation as well. Since the pandemic, our student body population has decreased by about 40%, according to Data USA, and we have experienced staff cuts and budget cuts. With this transition, spiritual life on this campus has had to adjust in many ways.
For example, in 2019, APU offered six chapels a week, with morning chapels on both campuses. This year, we have four chapels offered, with two on West Campus, and two on East Campus. Additionally, with the decrease in numbers, chapel attendance has decreased, changing the dynamic drastically at times.
Although there is much change, most of our students haven’t noticed as their first years on campus have been post-lockdown. Thus, as seniors, it would be a waste of time to only look back and long for the APU of old. Instead, how can we look at spiritual life on campus today and start to understand the current atmosphere on campus?
To do so, I asked various students of different grades what they thought about the spiritual atmosphere on campus to understand what our spiritual life consists of today. With this comes various opinions, problems, affirmations and comments. It is important to try to become aware of our spiritual atmosphere here on campus, and it is especially important to turn to our younger students who are the future of Azusa Pacific.
Before I began interviewing peers, I had an assumption that, when talking about APU’s spiritual life, most seniors would reflect on their freshman years, but I was quickly proven wrong.
Senior, Darcy Taylor, who works in the Office of Service and Discipleship, shared her thoughts on what the spiritual atmosphere is on campus.
“I know that OSD is a part of spiritual life! I often see leaders in the OSD office meeting and connecting with students inside and outside of the office. There are a lot of intentionalities that I appreciate as a student,” said Taylor. “I also think it’s cool to see accommodations for students with disabilities. I love seeing the use of sign language in chapel because it has taught me so much about how the Lord speaks. He moves in through language, and that’s so beautiful.”
This insight was cool to see since the Office of Service and Development (OSD), has been doing an extraordinary job in the way they do ministry on campus in my opinion. It seems that involvement with OSD has been increasing as many students are becoming involved with global engagement, discipleship and much more the office has to offer. Furthermore, the way Jesus has been moving through various languages, specifically ASL, has been a joy to see.
I had the ability to ask Kaleigh Ammon, a sophomore honors student, about her experience and interpretation of spiritual life.
“[Spiritual Life] seems to be starting small and gradually spilling out. I’ve been observing this kind of power and presence of Christ not only in chapels, but in conversations with my friends and roommates, in things I overhear on cougar walk, in classes and so on. It’s like all the students are realizing and truly understanding that we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves here.”
It was encouraging to hear from a sophomore who sees APU growing in its spirituality. Many times, students find themselves stuck in their circles where they feel spiritual formation. But it is important to understand and hear from those around us and to see where else the Lord is moving.
Following a similar theme, Sarah Cloke, a senior film major, commented on how spiritual life has changed yet been revived in recent years.
“I have experienced a lot of growth in my faith and spiritual life through night chapels. Being able to be in a space outside of my daily routine that’s focused on worshiping God alongside my peers is special, and I can think of many moments where I felt drawn closer to Christ and those around me. I think seeing people intentionally choose to get involved in their school is a sign of community being restored. This year, I think people are hungry for more spiritual life.”
The notion that some years have been hard and some more fulfilling has been the story of many students’ APU careers. Last year, personally, spiritual life felt stagnant and awkward, and now, from many staff and student prayers, petitions and desires, we see revival beginning to come. I thought that asking seniors and younger classmen about their perception of spirituality at APU would show a divide in thinking, but instead it showed some unity. APU is headed in the right direction, and if the student body is for the Lord in this place, He will move in a mighty way.