Students search for welcoming communities at annual church fair


Adelaide Mei

About 40 churches were represented at the church fair on Commons Lawn.

The approximately 40 churches at Calvin’s annual church fair represent a wide variety of denominations and congregations in the Grand Rapids area. John Britton, director of Campus Involvement and Leadership, said that “one of the joys of Calvin … is there are just so many denominations represented.” Since the church fair started about a decade ago, it has combined with the annual student organization kickoff event Cokes and Clubs. Britton said the event has been well attended by students.

One of the joys of Calvin … is there are just so many denominations represented.

— John Britton

According to Britton, Campus Ministries and a committee from Student Senate curated an extensive list of local churches several years ago to help increase Calvin students’ familiarity with local options. Susan Burner, department assistant for Campus Ministries, said she hopes to update the list and add new churches to it.

Concerning criteria to be invited to the church fair, Burner said, “Campus Ministries maintains an ecumenical list of Christian churches, each of which affirms the truths contained in the ecumenical creeds.” In early July, Campus Ministries invites about 100 churches to attend the church fair in September; the first 40 to register “are invited to come to campus. Calvin faculty, staff and students can request a church to be added to this list by contacting Campus Ministries.”

Britton’s hope for students at Cokes and Clubs and the church fair is that they are able to “find a small town” within the larger Calvin community, thrive as students and develop leadership experience. 

Students at the church fair told Chimes they are looking for churches that are inclusive and welcoming, places where they can build community. 

Though she grew up non-denominational, senior Ashlyn Franklin is established at Cascade Fellowship CRC. In addition to good community and teaching, Franklin said that she looked for a church that was “accepting, loving and not excluding any … group of people.” Though Synod 2022 “might eventually” factor into whether she stays at Cascade, Franklin said that “seeing a lot of the churches here today that are affirming has been really positive.”

First-year student Brady Gilmore said that “a church body that is alive with good worship and good community” is important to him. He said he’s open to any denomination but is looking for a church that is “accepting of all cultures … and not just a specific group.”

First-year students Seth Buit, Patrick Lynema and Marcus Breuker grew up in the CRC and will likely remain in the denomination while at Calvin. Buit said that Synod 2022 has not deterred his commitment to the CRC. Breuker said that a church which “believes that the Bible is the word [and] a place where I can just feel comfortable worshiping” is important to him. 

Having lived overseas, first-year student Meleyna Winterstein said the church “should be welcoming and just understanding of everyone [with] different experiences and be willing to have conversations, especially for kids coming here after not living here and never living here.”

First-year student Peace Olatunde said she is looking for a church with diversity and “a very loving community; one that is ready to stretch their hands out to students that are away from home, and a church that’s very open and expressive when worshiping.” 

Britton said Cokes and Clubs and the church fair get him excited for “the 700 new students here … [because of the] ways that they can build community and connect with student orgs and churches.”