By Jensen Miller
Spiritual formation opportunities are one of the things that set Malone apart from other universities. The purpose of having these opportunities available to students is to create spaces of worship and learning and to encourage growth in their relationship with God and with others.
Rev. Dr. Linda Leon, director of spiritual formation, works with her colleagues to create the best possible experience for the students’ spiritual development.
“Malone cares about [each student] as a whole person,” Leon said. “Students come to college to learn … to get a degree, to aim for a job. However, Malone doesn’t just focus on your brain, but [also seeks] social, spiritual, physical and emotional development. As a part of that [we create] a space to help students to grow spiritually…[with] spiritual formation opportunities.”
Each spiritual formation opportunity benefits students by helping them connect aspects of their life with the Christian faith. Although faith is integrated into education at Malone through the faculty and classes, as believers there is a call for something deeper. Spiritual formation opportunities allow for a consistent fueling of the Spirit.
“Every aspect of your life is part of a faith journey, and so we help students understand the Bible,” Leon said. “Also, [we explore] what kind of spiritual practices we can start incorporating into our lives to grow us not just spiritually, but emotionally for our relationship with God and with others.”
Due to the pandemic, Malone has put the safety of students as a top priority. Typically, each student will be required to attend 15 spiritual formation opportunities per semester. However, in order to follow new safety protocols, the administration has made it optional to attend spiritual formation opportunities.
Because of this many have resorted to other outlets for emotional and spiritual guidance, including other offerings of the Office of Spiritual Formation. In addition to facilitating spiritual formation opportunities, this office also focuses on pastoral ministry. This outreach walks alongside students to help them understand the next step in their life and their faith.
“This year the pastoral ministry [aspect] has been front and center. Many students have been flocking to us because they just need people to talk to,” Leon said.
This route has been helpful to many, but so have the many spiritual formation opportunities still available. Although spiritual formation looks much different this year than it has in previous years, there are still events being held weekly that students are encouraged to attend.
Community worship, which is now held in the barn, has adapted to be more of a conversation-based gathering. Topics at community worship meetings have been focusing on examining different aspects of life through a lens of faith.
Celebration, which is a student-led gathering, allows for an intimate environment for worship. James Gray, a sophomore middle childhood education major, is one of the leaders of celebration. God called him to lead so he can share the Holy Spirit with those around him.
“Spiritual formation opportunities are important to me because they are a great [chance] to gather in community,” Gray said. “We get to grow spiritually together and come closer to God. I decided to lead a spiritual formation opportunity so that I would be able to give away what God has given me.”
Spiritual formation opportunities are still thriving, despite being structured much differently this year. The shift has been felt by students though, especially those who have experienced them in previous years.
Myriah Smith, sophomore communication arts major, and Elizabeth Dyke, sophomore middle childhood education major, are both fond of the unrestricted worship gatherings that used to take place.
“I miss consistently going to spiritual formation opportunities with my friends and worshipping with the Malone community in large gatherings,” Smith said. “I’m hoping that’s something I’ll get to experience again.”
“I have loved spiritual formation opportunities in the past, and I’m hoping that we can return to the large community that they offer,” said Dyke.
In the meantime, the breaking down of gatherings into smaller groups has opened the door for life groups all over campus. These provide additional chances for students to lead.
The nursing Christian fellowship life group offers fellowship to nursing majors, while some life groups are sports-affiliated Bible studies. Gwen Gelofsack, a senior member of the swim team, leads a life group for her team that meets once a week.
“My first year at Malone I felt there was a very big lack of prayer on campus, and that carried over into sophomore year,” Gelofsack said. “The girls needed something to occupy their time during the waiting season. I read a book that was a perfect fit [to what my team was experiencing], I felt led to [lead a life group based on it, so] I leaped in.”
This time period has led to the creation of different ways to gather and foster community. Students need emotional outlets and avenues to grow in their faith now more than ever. With the tireless work of the Office of Spiritual Formation and a rallying of the Malone community to make gatherings safe and nourishing despite COVID-19, spiritual formation opportunities are still a major part of the Malone community.