For the past 20 years, five Utah County churches have joined together to ensure that young people other than members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have opportunities to participate in spiritual and social activities.
The program, Ecumenical College Fellowship, is sponsored by St. Francis Roman Catholic Church in Provo; Orem Community Church; Provo Community Church; St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Provo; and, Springville Community Presbyterian Church.It provides opportunities for college students and young adults in the community to meet other people of similar religious backgrounds, said The Rev. George Lower, pastor of the Springville Presbyterian Church.
"Brigham Young University has about 400 to 500 Protestant and Roman Catholic students," Lower said. "The school is still a good deal financially for non-LDS students, but when you're a real minority on a religious campus, you feel like you don't have anyone to talk over religious things with."
Lower, who is the state director for Ecumenical College Fellowship programs, holds weekly meetings on Tuesdays at BYU from 11 a.m. to noon - the time set aside by the administration for religious forums and devotional speakers - as part of the fellowship program. The Tuesday meetings, held in the Wilkinson Center cafeteria, are informal opportunities for students to "talk about what's going on," Lower said.
Also, the program sponsors evening and weekend activities for young adults during the school year. In 1988, 282 people participated in fellowship activities such as an ice skating party at Utah State Park, a hike to Stewart Falls and panel discussions on topics such as Nicaragua and the 1988 elections. Interestingly, the best attended program each year, according to one student, is an informal dinner and meeting with BYU President Jeffrey Holland.
Wilson Raj, 29, a member of the Anglican faith, has attended BYU for three years and will graduate in the spring. He has been an active member of the Ecumenical College Fellowship program and of the Springville Presbyterian Church during his stay in Provo. Raj has found it possible and enjoyable to also participate in activities sponsored by the Mormon Church, particularly through a student ward.
"It (the college fellowship program) is good because you tend to broaden your horizons," Raj said. "Generally most of (those participating) are international students. For me, it's more of an extension because I do take part in ward activities." Raj said he once served as the activities chairman in his LDS student ward at the same time he served as the youth group adviser in the Community Church.
Being able to blend equally into both religion's activities is a matter of attitude and how you deal with a cultural setting such as the one in Utah, Raj said.
Ecumenical College Fellowship programs are sponsored at eight schools in Utah, Lower said. Utah State University and the University of Utah have the largest programs; the College of Eastern Utah, Southern Utah State College, Snow College, Dixie College and Weber State also have fellowship programs.
"A lot of the students have come out of a church before coming to college and their parents want them to maintain some contact with the church," Lower said.
"This is a way of providing some kind of nurturing for them. Maybe they've never had fun in the church - it's been boresville. What we are doing is minimal, but it's solid."