For the first part of the school year, freshman nursing major Ashley Stirewalt did what many Southern students do on Sabbath morning: she went church hopping.
Stirewalt attended different services each week, looking for a community. When she discovered the Merge worship service, she finally felt like she had a place to call home. “When I’m with Merge, I feel like I do have a church family, a church community.” Stirewalt said.
The first part of Stirewalt’s story is relatable to many Southern students: trying different churches, looking for a place to fit in, maybe never finding it.
“It’s visitorship,” said Dave Ferguson, senior pastor of the Collegedale Seventh-day Adventist Church, when asked about Southern students’ tendency to attend different churches each week.
Ferguson sees this trend as something to be actively opposed. “I want students to know what it’s like to have a family,” said Ferguson, and he offered suggestions for students as well as for the university and the Collegedale Church.
“Pick a church, transfer your membership to the church, and get involved,” said Ferguson, specifically to students. “If it’s not the university church, that’s OK.”
Ferguson encourages students to seek out a community that fits their needs and to start going regularly.
For some students, that might be difficult because of university sponsored events scheduled for Sabbath morning. According to Southern’s calendar, in the fall 2018 semester, there were nine Sabbaths with one or more university-sponsored events scheduled during the time when church would normally happen. Ferguson called for the university’s cooperation in leaving Sabbath mornings free of other activities.
The Collegedale Church itself contributes to conflicts over Sabbath morning time. “I rarely have a Sabbath off where I’m able to go to a church I want to,” said Alexandra Leonor, freshman general studies major. Leonor is a worship leader at the Collegedale church and is often sent out to other churches on Sabbath mornings.
Ferguson believes regular church attendance is a keystone habit that tends to promote other healthy habits. In this case, he believes that consistent church attendance promotes a personal devotional life, giving and volunteerism and a more active prayer life.
Along with choosing a church and attending regularly, Ferguson believes students need to stake a claim in their chosen church by transferring their membership. The Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual supports this. It says, “Members who move to another locality for longer than six months should make immediate applications for letters of transfer.”
Ferguson encourages students to become involved at their chosen churches, and he encourages the leadership at those churches to let students be active.
“Because some students are only here for one year,” Ferguson said, “we have to take faster risks [in letting students be involved].”