According to the 2016 State of the Academy, 54 percent of participants responded that religion was among the three least-discussed facets of identity at Andover. We set out to uncover religion at Andover to spark discussion and examine the role faith plays in student life on campus. You can read the first installment in our series, Open to All, on Judaism. If you have any feedback or comments about this series, you can email email@example.com.
For many Andover students, Sunday evening is a time to enjoy a Sunday sundae in Paresky Commons or to finish homework for the week ahead. But amid all the buzz, the Cochran Chapel is always reserved on these evenings for students to attend Christian services.
There is a Protestant mass at 6:00 p.m. and a Catholic mass at 6:45 p.m. Masses often include biblical readings, music, and prayer. They are open to all members of the Andover community, and local families, staff, and alumni often attend as well.
“Every week… you know that Catholic students are going to gather, and whether you show up or not, it's there. And that consistency and knowing that you can always be a part of it makes [the community] strong,” said Dr. Mary Kantor, who works with Andover students as the school’s Catholic Chaplain.
The Reverend Anne Gardner, Director of Spiritual and Religious Life and Protestant Chaplain, said that becoming involved in religious discussions is one way in which students might broaden their horizons and build relationships with students from different grades, countries, and cultures.
“I think [becoming involved in religious services] is an incredibly good way to build your community. Because your classroom experience is for the most part with your peers in your grade, and, [although] you get some variety in the athletic program, this is an entirely different way to get to know people from all different grades and from all different parts of the world, because the world is actually a much more religious place than the United States,” said Gardner.
According to the 2016 State of the Academy, thirty-eight percent of students who responded to the survey identified as Christian, with twenty-two percent of students identifying as Catholic and sixteen percent as Protestant.
There are a variety of ways individual students practice Christianity while at Andover. Clubs such as Andover Christian Fellowship (ACF); Catholic Student Fellowship (CSF); and Culture, Politics, and Religion (CPR), serve not only as places for Christian students to gather and discuss, but also as spaces for students of all faith backgrounds to participate in interfaith dialogue and learn more about Christian sects. Other Christian students practice through private prayer, participation in religious services, or a combination of both, depending on the setting.
“[Practicing] looks a lot of different ways depending where I am on campus. I [do] a lot of private prayer and meditation over the scripture. As far as outwardly practicing my faith, I am involved in fellowships that are like-minded, like Andover Christian Fellowship and singing in gospel choir,” said Daniel James ’18.
ACF meets every Monday evening at 7:00 p.m.. The club is an open forum for discussion on various topics surrounding Christianity.
“When we say Fellowship, we mean a community space where you can work out issues with your faith, read the Bible, talk to other people who are simultaneously Christians and teenagers. Especially as we’re starting to encounter more controversial components of the world, where do you fit in, how do you practice your religion publicly or privately, and where does that fit in with your studies?” said Auguste White ’17, one of the Co-Heads of ACF.
“We have tons of students who aren't Christians that come to ACF. We love when people come to learn and when people come and question our faith — I do believe that our beliefs need to be challenged in order for us to better understand them and emerge with the knowledge of the truth,” said Daniel Yen ’18.
Clubs like ACF offer opportunities to discuss major events in both the Catholic community and the larger Christian world.
“Even though some weeks I might not be able to go to church, every week [CSF] has a meeting and that's a time for me to talk about Christianity and specifically Catholicism,” said Victoria Laurencin ’18, a CSF board member.
Kantor believes that in the context of maintaining whole-body wellness, the benefits of practicing a religion are similar to those of sports.
“To me, [practicing religion] is a logical piece of wellness and wholeness and if you have a religious practice it's like meditating or yoga. A student [once] said to me, ‘Just coming here every night makes my week so much more peaceful,’ ” said Kantor.
Some students feel that practicing their religion grounds them and helps them to maintain an evenness and perspective in their lives.
“[Religion] helps balance me… It keeps me from losing my identity. Sometimes a part of moving away is that you are so far away from the things that are close to you, and you sort of adapt to the culture around you. Keeping [religion] at the forefront of my mind has been really helpful in stabilizing me and [preventing me from] going through an entire identity crisis when I came here,” said James.
Christian students have also found that religion provides relief from a variety of school-related stressors like grades, exams, and college admissions.
“Apart from the spiritual value to me of growing closer to God which is the ultimate goal of my religion, it helps me to take myself out of the business of Andover, to stop worrying for a minute about college, about the stress of campus, about everything that worries me, and just be able to sit for a minute, to be peaceful, to look inside of myself, and to think about how I can be a better person rather than thinking about how I can be more successful,” explained Julian Colvin ’19.
“Religion helps balance me”Daniel James ’18
Some students like James find it is often difficult to practice their religion while at Andover because of the social stigma that is attached to prayer, or they fear judgement from their peers. Oftentimes, Christian students come from communities in which they were surrounded by others who are mostly Christian, so adjusting to Andover’s diverse, and mostly secular, community can pose a challenge for them.
“It was weird coming to a place where being a person of faith wasn’t normative and you were put on the defensive — and you don’t want to have to defend it all the time. I think I struggled with that for a while… I think there’s a feeling like you have to be a closet Christian or a closet person of faith,” said James.
Sometimes Christians even feel pressure to suppress outward showings of their beliefs to conform with those of the larger Andover community, to assimilate in order to avoid being the outlier.
“I try to monitor myself so that I don't appear… 'too religious.' I've never considered changing my belief to fit in, but I have considered making my belief less apparent and less obvious,” said Colvin.
Still, Yen feels that the Andover community is generally respectful and accepting of his beliefs, in spite of finding that peers often avoid discussions pertaining to religion and religious identity.
“I would characterize students’ attitude towards religions as respectfully distant. If you are a practicing Christian or Muslim, [people] are not [going to] go out of their way and say ‘you're so wrong.’ But they won't try to engage with the religious part of your identity,” said Yen.
Even with Andover’s generally diverse community, adjusting to life away from home either in a single or with a roommate can pose a new challenge for those used to practicing Christianity around close friends or family.
“I had a roommate when I first moved here. And I needed to learn to be comfortable with having to crack open my bible. That was really hard about having a roommate — you don’t want to weird people out… But at the same time you can’t be negligent if it’s something that is important to you. I think I struggled with that for a while,” said James.
Outside of dormitories, student prayer and worship must compete with other facets of the Andover experience such as clubs, sports, or performances in addition to a busy academic curriculum.
“You're working late nights and you're writing your paper and you finally get it done at midnight and you're like, ‘gotta get up tomorrow morning.’ You just want to go to bed and forget about praying at night,” said Yen
“[My religion] is my priority, so I will put away my homework if it means I need to take time to pray or I need to go to mass. So essentially everything goes on hold at 6:45 when I go to mass and everything goes on hold at 11:00 when I sit down to pray,” Colvin said.
More complex is the issue of integrating spirituality and religious practice with Andover’s overwhelmingly secular mindset. Some students like White have found that they face dismissal or disdain because of their beliefs.
“I think some people think it’s foolish to still practice religion, like it’s an archaic idea. Especially in the advent of science. But there are other people, for example, I am of the persuasion that science actually enhances religion. I think you can partake in both being a scientific realist and a Christian at the same time,” said White.
Although studying religion can be educational in a purely academic sense, Colvin also explained that it’s necessary to study the importance of Christianity or other world religions in everyday life. He believes that the spiritual experience that religion can offer should not be overlooked.
Colvin said, “[Religion] is not just something institutional that's happened throughout the ages, it's something that is deeply, deeply rooted in the everyday lives of so many different people.”
Moving forward, the chance to improve the conversation on campus about religion will rely on the kinds of discussions fostered by teachers, clubs, and participants in Andover’s Endeavor and Foundation Programs.
“Religion was never a part of PACE… In the same way that we talk about identifiers like gender or sexual orientation or race or class, religion was never a part of that. And so I wrote a curriculum for Aya [Murata] and her collection of teachers to debut [in Foundations] for the ninth grade this year. I'll do the same thing for Ms. Strong next year and so on. [It’s important] to have people just think about that as one of the facets by which people identify themselves or think about their lives, including from a secular perspective, because it's my belief that everyone has a belief system,” said Gardner.
Although students are required to take at least one religion or philosophy course before graduating, intersectional discussions that incorporate religion are not generally a regular part of other classrooms discussions, CPR, though it is a club with no religious affiliation, does incorporate religion into discussions about other facets of identity.
Madison Pettaway ’17, a board member of CPR, said, “[In CPR], we have interdisciplinary conversations about so many different topics that I never would have thought to see three themes of culture, politics, and religion in… It was really interesting to just see others’ perspectives on matters that I never would have thought to include religion in,”
Ultimately, Gardner believes that better religious education will help eliminate disconnects between students of different religions.
“I'm… probably most interested in just having students learning, gaining more understanding about all of the different ways that people view the world and our life journey… Truthfully, I think the more you understand, the more respectful you become,” said Gardner.
Eliza Bienstock contributed reporting.