Dear Freshman Me: Don’t Stop Going to Church
Written by Callahan Stoub
Dear Freshman Me,
Have you gotten to the “gotcha” moment yet in the dorm Bible study? Or the one from a church podcast while sitting in bed on a Sunday morning? You know what I’m talking about—the conviction that going to church online isn’t really going to church. I remember a couple of different moments from second semester when I felt the emptiness and lack of connection from not being part of a local church. Maybe it’s a bit embarrassing to admit you haven’t clicked yet, and I hate to break it to you: it will be a couple more years until you do connect with a Hillsdale church, and it’s not the one you’re at now.
I knew when I accepted the offer to attend Hillsdale that I would be stepping into a community that valued tradition and deep, meaningful conversations about virtue and character. I also knew the chances of finding a modern megachurch like the one I grew up in were slim. Nevertheless, I thought I could gain an appreciation for the formality of liturgy and hymns while also appreciating my traditional liberal arts education. I found the church you’re at now in the first few weeks: a modest Bible church that occasionally featured an upbeat student worship team. It seemed like a place I could compromise between the old and new. By now, you’re familiar with their belief statements and have even gotten to know a few upperclassmen who attend regularly.
But I know it’s still awkward for you. Even after (mostly) attending weekly over the last five months, you still don’t really feel a sense of belonging. And that’s hard. So let me give you a sneak peek at how the next few years unfold.
The summer before your junior year, you’ll spend an exciting summer in Washington, D.C. Outside the typical intern experience, you’ll jump into community networks like a tennis league and finding a church. Even though Hillsdale has an unusually high number of churches in town, it’s still hard to compete with the variety of a city, and after visiting a few churches here and there, you’ll find a young church nestled in a borrowed sanctuary on Sunday afternoons. It will finally click, and you’ll feel the incredible experience of restfulness from connecting with God in a community. By the end of the summer, you’ll have joined a neighborhood Bible study and invited two friends to join you on Sundays. Two years later, you’ll reconnect with them when you’re in the area again.
But you’ll also feel discouraged—you’ve spent two years trying to connect with a church in Hillsdale, but it only took two weeks to connect in D.C. I remember feeling the dread, sadness, and exhaustion of returning to Michigan. You’ll be faced with a choice: restart the church search, keep going through the motions, or give up completely. Do the first.
Sometimes I wish you had found my current church sooner because I know how much my relationships there have grown in one year, and I’d love to imagine them two years longer and deeper. But there’s value in the “grind,” in making a habit of going to church even if you don’t look forward to it each week. There’s value in feeling what it’s like to not fit in so that you have a greater appreciation for when you do find a home. There’s value in putting your faith in God that it will work out, even if you don’t see a promising future. There’s value in the awkward, apathetic, and sometimes hopeless effort to break into a church community. We all experience challenges to our faith in life that invite us to give up on making it work, but that’s where God works out miracles.
College is a time of life transformation, academically, socially, and also spiritually. It’s a time where you can break away from the rules your parents set, or you can gain an appreciation for why they existed. We’ve all had times growing up when our parents literally dragged us to church, but I’ve realized how essential this discipline is for giving me perspective on life and keeping my life on track. If I hadn’t struggled to find a church, I’m not sure I would have understood its importance in my life.
Sure, the church you’ll eventually settle into is a long (sometimes treacherous) drive through dirt roads and a full-day commitment that means getting back to Hillsdale late on Sunday afternoons. It may be a stark modern contrast to the traditional pews and organ-led hymns you’ll find most students drawn to on Sunday mornings, but it’s a place that will draw you closer to God and refresh your soul to begin a new week. It’s a place where you’ll hang out with middle-schoolers to talk about Jesus and have a stake in a community outside the College. It’s a place removed from the books and abstract world of academia where you’ll interact with elementary school teachers, factory workers, and church leaders who remind you about the world outside your campus bubble. I love the church I go to now, and it wasn’t an easy journey to find it, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for any other.
Callie Stoub, ’21, hails from the Southwestern corner of Michigan, best known for its beaches along Lake Michigan, and studies history. When she’s not reminiscing on her time at Hillsdale, you may find her diagramming sentences for fun or experimenting with creative omelet recipes.
Published in March 2021