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Program offers spiritual guidance at Southeast
The way Hollywood sometimes portrays it, college is about drunken parties at fraternity houses and sex-crazed students looking to hook up any way possible.
Take the box-office hit "American Pie 2," which updates the adventures of students who in high school raced to lose their virginity by prom night. They're in college now, and their personal goals haven't changed much.
The same theme runs throughout the genre in movies like "Animal House," "Back to School," "Dead Man on Campus" and countless others.
But don't be fooled, say the people in charge of the spiritual side of life for Southeast Missouri State University students. Activities and events abound for students who want to avoid alcohol and premarital sex.
"Some of that stuff that goes on in 'American Pie' happens, but it's not the prominent portrayal of college students," said the Rev. Denny Lumos, campus minister at the Wesley Foundation. "That's Hollywood's depiction and what catches people's attention."
The students Lumos sees probably wouldn't get roles in the next big college-life film.
Take Andi Malick.
A freshman at Southeast, Malick has found a different social crowd during her first few weeks on campus. Thursday night, she gathered with 30 other students at a house on the edge of campus for an informal worship.
Guitars strummed and music leaders started a selection of choruses to begin the evening. Students were seated on pillows and cushions spread around the floor. The only furniture was a couch, desk and two small tables.
One student -- a different one is chosen each week -- led the service and then opened it up to others for discussion. Thursday's topic was peace.
Coming to the informal worship helps Malick avoid the parties and hang onto her morals, and there are plenty of opportunities to push them aside while in college.
"I never expected this: To see everyone come together and care about what you say," Malick said after the hourlong service.
College parties and skipping classes are "like the typical thing," but not everyone has to drink to have a good time, she said. "Just as long as you can have fun."
Pam Acker, a sophomore, agreed. She has attended TNT, Thursday Night Togetherness, nearly every week since she arrived at Southeast last year. The service, which is informal enough for students to shed shoes and sit on the floor and spread out, lets Acker regain her focus.
"It helps in the areas of my faith where I'm weak," she said. "I can come worship God and not worry that when I say God somebody doesn't think I'm pushing religion."
The goal isn't to "push religion" but to develop an awareness, campus ministers say.
Students sometimes attend activities out of curiosity or because they were raised in a church while living with parents. But now they are striving for independence.
"It's part of their growth and development," said Bob Houchins, program director at the Baptist Student Center.
Some come back
Forsaking worship and spirituality is unfortunate, Houchins said, but it is part of the process, and older students often come back. He's already talked to several who visited the center for the first time this year.
He said students have to make choices about "what they will own for themselves and embrace, and say this is mine rather than that's what somebody expects me to do."
Within four to six weeks on campus, students usually are settled into the routine. "They've found that social group they will begin to relate to extensively," Houchins said, adding that campus ministry tries to make introductions early and get students involved.
Baptist Student Center offers small group studies, a weeknight worship service and intramural sports teams as a means for fellowship.
At the nearby Wesley House Student Center, a ministry of the United Methodist Church, volleyball games on Thursday nights tend to gather a crowd. "The small group is a lot of what we do," Lumos said. "But my whole ministry is based on what some would call friendship evangelism. I want to get to know somebody and let them know me to see that I'm not talking the faith but living it."
And in that process, Lumos is trying to help students find their place.
Students new to campus have a lot of choices to make about life.
Said Lumos: "Sometimes they make bad choices, there's no doubt. But we've served a purpose here if, when they come to the realization they've made a bad choice, they know there is someplace to come."
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