Embrace SFOs for contributions to overall development, not individual programs
I cannot identify a single spiritual formation opportunity that changed the course of my faith irrevocably. I cannot recall a quippy catchphrase from community worship. I cannot name a song that brought me into intimate worship of my creator.
What stands out when I think about spiritual formation during my time at Malone?
The countless conversations stemmed from regularly attending SFOs with my friends. The constant reminder to consider holistic development. The pervasive truth spoken by spiritual formation staff and outside guests. These smaller, repeated moments challenged and bolstered my faith through college.
Faithfulness in each of these ordinary moments produced transformation more than any single, massive program.
With the start of every semester, I am surrounded by students starting their annual protest against mandatory SFOs. Every year, it is the same argument.
“I don’t have time.”
“It conflicts with my internship.”
“20 is too many.”
“Requiring SFOs won’t make me become a Christian.”
“If I have to go, I’ll just sit in the back of community worship and do homework, so what’s the point.”
I hear all of you. I consider your arguments every semester, and, full disclosure, I see grains of truth in each reason. Total honesty: I have even entertained most of these ideas during my four years, especially when Ohio has been cold for 4 straight months and the JC feels as far away as graduation.
Something has always pulled me back, though, and I usually hear it at a SFO I begrudgingly attend. Each of these lessons reminds me of the transformative nature of Christianity. Our community seeks to serve a God who wants a personal relationship with each person on campus.
Relationships are not meant to be stagnant. They are a constant give and take. They are full of new revelations and heartbreak. The sign of a genuine relationship is the ability to remain faithful in each of these seasons.
That call to faithfulness represents my appreciation for the office of spiritual formation. The entire staff consistently plans and executes a variety of opportunities for students to deepen their relationship with Christ. They listen to feedback and change the program in order to best meet student needs.
Most importantly, they create a space for students and faculty to question, discuss and create shared experiences. Processing these moments has been instrumental in my journey. These shared opportunities are why I will always advocate for required spiritual formation opportunities.
Recently I attended Be Justice, one of the Friday Four, with a dear friend. That week’s guest speaker talked about abortion, and I had prepared myself to hear the same pro-life arguments my evangelical experience had promoted. For the most part, I heard the same reasons to choose life. New, compelling information was shared, but none of this changed my perspective.
The ensuing conversation with my friend, however, kept the SFO in my head all day. Because of our shared experience at the SFO, we were able to discuss the messages we heard growing up surrounding life. We processed our thoughts on the matter and accepted uncertainty. We even integrated an essay I had read in a communication theory course about why the argument we just heard does not often work.
This conversation that enhanced our ability to critically engage an abrasive topic only happened because of an SFO.
Experiences like mine happen all the time on this campus. I hear about them when I am on rounds in a residence hall. I join in discussions around lunch tables, wrestling with something said at community worship. I see them occur when the entire campus community is walking up the hill.
These experiences develop us into a deeper relationship with God. These hard conversations teach us how to better engage different opinions after Malone. SFOs reach into our entire being, not just our spiritual selves.
Next week, when it is probably cold or raining or windy just before chapel, pause for a moment before grumbling about the long walk down the hill. Attend an SFO without complaint, and instigate a conversation about it afterwards. Be intentional about attending, because it is not often that we have the privilege to live in a community so committed to holistic development.
Alicia Meyer is the editor-in-chief of The Aviso