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Sunlight and Service: Good for the Spirit

April 13, 2011

This might not be the greyest spring in the history of Oberlin, but then again, it might. Last year, I visited during All Roads and found the campus awash in sunlight. Everything was blooming: the crocuses had hung on gamely and the daffodils were rioting in the square. Even the forsythia had bloomed, and the violets wreathed the gardens around Peters with purple.

This year, All Roads was grey. But the daffodils were bravely showing their faces, and the soggy ground is a promise of summer growth. And on Sunday we saw the sun, three days earlier than the weather gods said we would! It was seventy and sunny almost all day. I went for a bike ride with my friend Charles and rejoiced in the sticky heat.

After the ride, I went to a training for site leaders for the Interfaith Day of Service, including a walking tour of Oberlin. My friend Mia and I walked barefoot in the soft grass and listened to Steve Hammond, co-pastor of Peace Community Church, de facto Protestant Chaplain, and ECO leader extraordinaire, explain Oberlin's religious roots and history of activism.

I was surprised that some of the things he told us aren't more widely known. For example, Oberlin's history of active abolitionism goes back to 1834, when students left Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati after the school prohibited antislavery agitation and were persuaded to come to Oberlin by Arthur Tappan. (Sound familiar?) And Finney, for all the embarrassment some Obies feel about him, was just as radical -- and despised -- as Obies are today. Many mainstream Protestants of the time were horrified by the blasphemy of the idea that just anyone could be saved through Christ. (I'm not going to get into Calvinism here, but if you're interested, I'm sure the Wikipedia page on the subject will tell you more than you'd ever want to know.)

Oberlin is famous as a stop on the Underground Railroad, and was well-known for the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, which you can read all about here. And despite Oberlin's reputation for godless liberalism (joking!), there are several vibrant communities on campus for students of faith. I could easily spend a whole entry on each, but here's a brief rundown of a few that I happen to have heard about. This is not an inclusive list, so please visit the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life's website for more information!

The Ecumenical Christians of Oberlin are a progressive student group that eats and discusses together on Sunday evenings. They also run a Taizé service every Wednesday with prayer, silence and singing. The Oberlin Christian Fellowship is a larger student group that meets on Friday evenings and holds events throughout the week, including small discussion groups, prayer groups and special events. Oberlin Student Hillel runs weekly Shabbat services and hosts a Shabbat dinner in conjunction with Kosher Halal Co-op and the Jewish Chaplain's Office that is open to everyone, while the Jewish Student Union hosts holiday celebrations. There are also vibrant Buddhist, Baha'i, Catholic, Muslim, Pagan and Orthodox Christian student groups, among others. The Oberlin Interfaith Community promotes multifaith dialogue and events at Oberlin. Due to scheduling and the perennial busyness of the typical Obie, multifaith events can be hard to coordinate, but there's one coming up on Sunday that you don't want to miss.

The Interfaith Service Day is coming up this Sunday, the 17th, and it's a quintessentially Obie day, bringing together two disciplines in order to enhance them both. It's open to everyone - students, professors and community members alike - no matter their faith, philosophy or spiritual beliefs. The idea is not just to get people of different faiths working together, but people of all faiths (and none!) to contemplate how their beliefs influence their actions and connections with others leads to a more satisfying life. That sounds a little ... abstract. Really, it's about spending an afternoon doing good and having fun, talking with others about your experience, and celebrating with free pizza at the end of the day.

I was going to blog next week about how awesome it was, but why not this week about how awesome it will be? You can all join me and find out for yourselves. It's taking place this Sunday (the 17th) from 1-6. If you're interested, preregister at bit.ly/obieserve.

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The information about student groups came largely from their websites. Check out OCF's, Hillel's, and the student communities page at the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. Want to tell other readers more about a group, or let them know about one I didn't mention? Leave a comment, including meeting times. I'd love to hear about it!

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Responses to this Entry

It's great to hear your enthusiasm and descriptions of faith and community activism, in Oberlin's past and present. I will be busy with the Dandelion Romp (!) this weekend, but I wish you all the best for an excellent, inspiring and sunny Interfaith Service Day.

Posted by: Nora on April 15, 2011 1:35 PM

SO, how was it? anxiously awaiting an update blog.
love,
mom

Posted by: mom on April 18, 2011 10:53 PM

Last weekend marks the anniversary of your visit and when I first met you! We told stories and talked about co-ops :) And then you came to Oberlin! Happiness all around!

I also highly recommend Carol Lasser's Oberlin History as American History class, which I think she is teaching again this fall, to expand upon Steve Hammond's history lesson. You'll love it!

Posted by: Ma'ayan on April 21, 2011 2:52 PM

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