Community Denied: The Church of George Fox

Reported by Aurora Biggers (Guest Submission)

As high schoolers prepare for university, they have to choose what school to go to, what to major in, and possible career options, among a variety of other decisions. However, students at George Fox University (GFU) typically have one more decision to make: where to go to church.

One student at GFU, Katie Wells, made her decision for several reasons, particularly for its integration of faith and education.

“That was on the top of my list; I really wanted a school that was Christian,” she said. Wells recounted her university search and how finding a campus with a faith-focused culture was important to her.

This is the sentiment of many students at GFU and at Christian universities across the nation. They want a school that will help cultivate their faith. But in pursuit of this very thing, GFU could actually be harming its students.

Wells was lucky; her parents are pastors of Rock Point, a local church just north of Newberg city limits, so it was natural and easy for her to continue attending there. Yet, she still feels an unwelcome pressure from GFU.

She recounts a time, not long after she started attending GFU, when she requested a chapel credit waiver. She was a full-time student and serving as a youth leader in her church, and couldn’t attend chapel because of her duties.

When Wells requested the waiver, she was denied.

She appealed the process and provided testimony from the youth and senior pastors at Rock Point, who showed that she was an important part of the church’s community. GFU did not relent and she had to quit serving in youth group.

Wells says that by forcing her to attend weekly chapel rather than serving at her church, GFU’s Office for Spiritual Life was harming herself and the local community.

A GFU senior recounted a similar experience. Though she enjoys chapel and thinks it has encouraged her faith development —she even served on the worship band for a year and a half—the credit requirements interfered with her attendance of a women’s life group at her church.

“Fox’s chapel requirements never impeded me attending on Sunday, but just attending on a Sunday isn’t really being a part of the church body,” she said. For her, spiritual growth is about getting into the community and meeting with people of different ages.

But in her words, “Sometimes the culture of our school seems to say that there is something wrong or different about not having as many deep relationships on campus as out in the community.”

Universities like GFU often strive for vibrant campus life and offer a plethora of faith-centered activities. These activities, like weekly chapels, life groups, dorm bible studies and even baptisms are major bolsters for why GFU ranks so high in the Christian sphere. Parents can feel safe sending their kids there, and students can feel confident they will “Be Known.”

However, with so many church-like activities drawing on students’ attention, GFU has become their own self-sustaining church.

The enclosed culture deters students from venturing too far off campus and into the community.

This story occurs over and over. Fox places pressure on students, whether intentionally or not, to involve themselves in their pseudo-church, rather than becoming faithful members of (ordained and legal) churches in the community.

This creates a phenomenon I call the nomad effect. Students who regularly attended church back home, and even volunteered in multiple capacities, become nomads. They spend four years “trying out” churches hoping to find the right one.                                             

Erick Torres, a sophomore at GFU, agrees that GFU has taken over the role of local churches. He expressed a belief that GFU doesn’t emphasize the transportation list to local churches enough. Torres sees chapel as a possible issue to church attendance on Sundays and suggests GFU could encourage local church attendance more by offering chapel credit to students who attend a church on Sundays.

By trying to emulate a church atmosphere, GFU is actually restricting their students to only experiencing one type of church, their narrow view of what a church should be.

Jessica DaughertyComment