Religious workshop seeks to guide youth through college
Seminar touts importance of religion for young adults
College means young adults can make choices, sometimes for the first time in their lives, on their own. Those choices could include walking away from their religion, something that Kathy Barthelmes says could be detrimental to their college and life experiences.
Barthelmes said that a large number of people step away from their faith during their early 20s, including while at college. While sometimes those people will come back to church later in life, she and others think it’s important to maintain those religious connections during the particularly transformative time of college.
She is hoping to counter that trend by organizing a workshop that focuses on the importance of maintaining one’s spirituality and religion as young adults become more independent at college.
The program, called “College Life 101: An insider’s guide to spiritual success after high school,” will be held at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Lexington Park on Saturday, Feb. 25, and feature speaker Ben Burns of Campus Crusade for Christ.
Drawing from years of experience in conducting seminars and using humor and candid talk, Burns will offer tips and tools to help the students keep in touch with their faith while at college.
This will be the second time the church hosts Burns; the first was about eight years ago and was also spawned by Barthelmes as her oldest child was preparing to enter college.
“College seemed like a pretty scary thing for me as a stay-at-home mom with young adults,” she said. She brought up her concerns with church leaders and they agreed to host the program.
“The event was pivotal in giving [her son] some tools to work with,” she said, adding that later in life he acknowledged just how valuable the workshop was for him.
Before her middle child went off to college, the family timed a trip to Boston to see the program.
This time, it’s her youngest, Kate Barthelmes, 17, who is getting ready to graduate high school.
Kate is a senior at St. Mary’s Ryken High School and said she applied to two Christian colleges and five secular schools, all of which have faith-based student groups.
She said it is important to surround oneself with others who have religious faith “to help keep us accountable.”
The senior has heard some talk about what college can be like from members of the church’s youth group who come back and talk to the teens. She’s particularly concerned about what she calls “the big three” — sex, drugs and partying.
“For me, I really wanted to have a faith-based tool to address these,” issues, Kate Barthelmes said.
Just over half of American adults say they attend religious services regularly — at least once or twice a month, according to a Pew Research Center study from last year. Among those whose attendance has waned, the most commonly offered reasons have to do with practical concerns, including many who say they are too busy to attend or cite other practical difficulties with getting to a church or other house of worship, according to the study.
Esrael Seyum is a coordina- tor for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, a national organi- zation that works on college campuses to coordinate spiritual relationships.
Seyum graduated from St. Mary’s College in 2009, and now works on that campus as well as College of Southern Maryland campuses. He also attends Cornerstone church with his family.
He said it is the daily reality on college campuses that young adults do sometimes step away from their faith, even those coming from strong faith-based backgrounds. There are distractions on campus, and sometimes people will develop friendships with others who are not as religious oriented, he said.
People who walk away from their faith often are trying new things, he said, whether it is sports, academic studies or personal relationships.
But, being somewhat independent for the first time on a college campus can also give a student a chance to “start to own it,” and develop their faith without being shepherded by their parents.
“You’re able to really hone in deeper to what you believe,” Seyum said.
Developing religious fellow- ship on campus also can give students a sense of place in their community.
“I think it helps a lot in decision making,” as well, he said. Having others to bounce ideas off of can help students decide both minor dilemmas and larger ones, like what subjects to study.
However, there can be risks with being involved in religious groups, he said. A student could feel isolated from the majority of other students at some campuses.
Also, students need to learn how to hold on to their faith while at the same time listen and learn from others without that same faith, Seyum said. Otherwise, they may feel threatened by people who don’t think the same way.
Luke Hoffman, 17, a senior at Great Mills High School, this fall is planning to attend Juniata College, a small liberal arts institution in Pennsylvania.
“With all the decision in front of you, I think it’s easy to get in the wrong group of people … and fall away from your faith,” Hoffman said.
Both students said they have been inviting friends from their schools to attend, hoping to broaden attendance.
“It’ll be cool to have kids from different churches here,” Hoffman said.
Kate Barthelmes said that she has had conversations with classmates about the workshop, and for the first time really talked with them one-on-one about religious beliefs.
“The people I’ve talked to have actually been pretty receptive to it,” the student said.
And, beyond enabling young adults who are already Christian, the workshop on Saturday can also offer practi- cal knowledge for anyone going off to college, she said.
“He doesn’t make the assumption that anyone is Christian at the conference,” Kathy Barthelmes said, adding that Burns wants all young adults “to strive and succeed no matter where they are in their faith.”
“I’m praying for 150 students to come out,” from around the region, she said, adding that she intentionally scheduled the talk on a weekend between the winter and spring high school sport schedules.
Cornerstone is partnering with Leonardtown Baptist Church, Redeeming Grace Baptist Church and First Saints Community Church to help with logistics and other aspects of the program. Members of the CSM Intervarsity Christian Fellowship have volunteered to help set up the sanctuary at the church for the Saturday workshop.
Although the workshop is six hours long, there will be breaks built in to give the kids time to stretch and get snacks and lunch, which will be donated by Chick-fil-A, Kathy Barthelmes said.
There will also be a free parent seminar on Friday, Feb. 24, the night before the workshop, from 7 to 9 p.m. Parents will be able to learn how to “walk alongside their youths” and support them in the major life transition as they enter college, she said.
There is a $15 registration fee for the Saturday workshop, which will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.cornerstonepca.org/#/bigevents.
Luke Hoffman, 17, left, and Kate Barthelmes, 17, plan to attend a seminar on Feb. 25 at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Town Creek for high school students about the importance of maintaining religious faith in college.
Kate Barthelmes, 17, left, and Luke Hoffman, 17, plan to attend a seminar on Feb. 25 for high school students about the importance of maintaining religious faith in college.