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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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Students participate in club to explore faith on campus

Members of the Agape Christian Fellowship sing comtemporary Christian music during their weekly meeting in the President’s Lounge in the Campion Student Center. PHOTOS: MITCHELL SHIELDS ’22/THE HAWK

Every Thursday night at 8 p.m., students of various Christian faiths gather together in the President’s Lounge of the Campion Student Center for Agape Christian Fellowship.

No one’s really in a rush to start the meeting because they are all busy catching up. When the meeting finally does begin, a local church band begins to play contemporary Christian worship music and the students sing along. When a pastor starts to speak, everyone’s attention is on him, taking in his words.

For many students, these Agape Christian Fellowship meetings are a place where they can freely dive into and explore their faith, regardless of what that may mean for them.

“People have faith in different things,” said Julianne DeCarlo ’20, a current leader of Agape. “Whether it’s God or not, everybody has faith in something, and I think [Agape] is an opportunity for people to explore who they are and what they truly believe in.”

DeCarlo regularly plans meetings, discusses important aspects of the club with the church partner and builds relationships with club members.

Originally known as Down to Pray (DTP), Agape is an independent, student-run, faith-based club. Current members include Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists and non-denominational Christians. In 2017, with the change of leadership, the group decided to change its name from DTP to Agape. They chose the name Agape because it means the highest form of love.

“Everything is rooted in love and the love that God shows us,” DeCarlo said. “Love is just such a powerful thing, it really unites people. No matter where you’re at, there’s a commonality.”

According to Thomas Sheibley, director of Campus Ministry, Agape offers an opportunity for all Christian students, especially those who are not accustomed to Catholic traditions, to practice religion in a less structured way.

“Some of us who have just been born and raised in a Catholic faith maybe wouldn’t articulate or say or lead things in exactly the same way [as other Christian denominations],” Sheibley said.

Since becoming Agape, DeCarlo said what has especially changed for the group is the depth of its community.

“We have a core group of people,” DeCarlo said. “You know each other. You know what’s going on in their life. You’re able to challenge each other and help each other grow in your faith and grow closer to God.”

According to DeCarlo, recent outside support has helped the club get to this point of success.

Last year, Mark Turner, the pastor of Redemption Heights Church in Philadelphia, reached out to Campus Ministry asking about opportunities to serve St. Joe’s students. Originally from Virginia, Turner is starting a church here in West Philadelphia. Sheibley agreed to meet Turner.

“We met up, and I really liked [Turner],” Sheibley said. “He seemed like he had a really solid background, and that he was coming from a really good place.”

Mark Turner, the pastor of Redemption Heights Church, addresses members of the Christian Agape Fellowship.

After getting to know Turner, and knowing that Agape did not have outside support at the time, Sheibley decided that the church and Agape were compatible.

“I introduced [Turner] to the student leadership team of Agape,” Sheibley said. “They had a meeting in our Guadalupe room, and everybody just thought that they hit it off really well.”

The pastors and church community are now involved with Agape every week. At the Thursday meetings, their band plays worship music, the pastors preach, and they help facilitate small groups. Outside of the weekly meetings, the pastors meet with the Agape leaders, as well as Agape community members.

“We just consider ourselves as a kind of support to students as they try to follow Jesus,” Turner said.

Rylan Domingues ’22, another leader of Agape, said he believes the support of Redemption Heights Church has been vital to their progress of creating connections and establishing their church.

“The Redemption Heights Church community has really blessed us and helped us with running our events,” Domingues said. “Because of them and so many other things, our communities really transformed and became a lot closer. And it’s been really awesome to see.”

According to DeCarlo, involvement with Agape has helped reshape her view of what religion and faith means.

“Now it’s the purpose of why I do things,” DeCarlo said. “I’ve really been able to feel like faith, it’s not an obligation. Its not like you do it because you’re told to, but there’s an actual relationship.”

Ruth Zeigler ’20, who has been attending Agape since her first year when it was still DTP, said her time at St. Joe’s has been shaped by Agape.

“For me, Agape is my community on campus,” Zeigler said. “I feel like I can be me here. I can come in, no matter what kind of day I’ve had, and these are the type of people who are going to love me no matter what.”

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