Last year, eight Castleton students attended the annual InterVarsity of Northern New England Fall Conference. This year, that number more than doubled as 18 students and an advisor travelled to New Hampshire for a weekend of fellowship.
Before you ask, no it’s not a sports club.
While the name can be confusing, “The Purpose of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA is to establish and advance, at colleges and universities, witnessing communities of students and faculty who follow Jesus as Savior and Lord,” according to the national website.
The growing Castleton group meets on Thursday evenings at six in the Campus Center’s Formal Lounge. The group enjoys a time of Bible study and prayer, usually led by the student officers, before discussing any business. As the name implies, the group is very much about fellowship.
“It’s a place we can go to learn more about God without being persecuted,” said freshman Matthew Gay. “We’re not going to be thought of as different or weird because everyone’s there for the same reason.”
This year’s regional conference took place at the Toah Nipi Retreat Center in Rindge, New Hampshire and is one of many InterVarsity events occurring around the country. The Northern New England conference this year was the largest yet with around 150 students attending from more than 10 colleges.
“Conference was amazing. When we got back I had this incredible spiritual high,” Gay said. “I definitely didn’t get let down.”
Last year, the group started the idea of “church mobbing.” Although the name is intimidating, it’s a simple concept. Each Sunday, a few members would visit a local church rather than the local church they normally attend. This “church mob” is a way to show the community that there is a young and growing Christian presence and also for students to be encouraged and their horizons expanded.
As mentioned, the group’s size is increasing. And of the group’s more than 30 members, many of those are freshmen.
Past members are excited about the growth of the group.
“I think it’s really encouraging to see so many of the same belief at a liberal college,” said longtime member Timothy Mackintosh.
Mackintosh added that it’s incredible that InterVarsity is one of the largest clubs on campus at a secular school in the least religious state.
While the Christian presence grows on campus, it is also growing within the village of Castleton.
On Oct. 5, “Faith4Life Church” opened behind Birdseye Diner. The church has already held events for students such as a beginning of school year barbeque and a harvest festival.
Rhiannon Barnett, the Southern Vermont Campus Coordinator for the Baptist Convention of New England, is working closely with the pastor of Faith4Life, Brandon Rogers, and his wife Hannah on how to “engage the campus and work as a partner and not as a separate unit.”
Barnett has frequented the InterVarsity meetings for three years now.
“I think it’s phenomenal how it’s grown from four or five to twenty regular members,” Barnett said.
As the Christian presence grows on campus and in town, the Rogers and Barnett hope to have more activities geared toward college students. There are more than 40 regular attendees of Faith4Life, but the goal is to increase the college population, according to Barnett.
Her hope is that “students will come to know God on a personal level” through InterVarsity, local churches, and other fellowship opportunities like small Bible studies and the Fellowship of Christian Athlete’s club.
Regardless of their faith, anyone interested is more than welcome to attend the weekly InterVarsity meetings.
“We want everyone on campus to feel welcome and that they know they can come and talk to us,” said freshman Matthew Eaton. “We’re not trying to cut off anyone. We want them all to come and see.”