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An Abundance of Spirit

Seaver students are sprinting on their spiritual paths with unbounded energy

“Will anybody volunteer to help out at our gatherings?” wondered Ko Ku in September, as he began his first year as a worship chaplain with Pepperdine’s Hub for Spiritual Life. Ku has not been disappointed. Seaver undergraduates are displaying an enthusiasm for service, worship, and spiritual fellowship that is positively palpable.

Ko Ku

Ko Ku

To be clear, an eagerness to work and worship together is not a new phenomenon among Pepperdine students. “Pepperdine is a very community-oriented school,” says assistant chaplain Shaya Aguilar (’20). “The hunger to be with others who are seeking to grow in their faith is consistent with the experience I had as a student. But I think the way that current students are expressing it is different.” 

Certainly, undergrads are ready to get together and celebrate. The circumstances surrounding the pandemic hit college students particularly hard. According to a bestcolleges.com survey, 46 percent of college student-respondents reported feeling more isolated and lonelier than they did pre-pandemic and close to one-third experienced feelings of hopelessness. 

While today’s first-year students were finishing high school remotely and sophomores were experiencing their introduction to college from their old bedrooms, the staff at the Hub for Spiritual Life was devising a new program to support and engage them. The outcome was Seaver 200, a new, required course for first- and second-year residential students. 

Seaver 200 opens with the Resilience-Informed Skills Education (RISE) team's spiritually informed programming, which focuses on tools and breakout group conversations on how to be a successful, resilient college student. Also designed to serve as an on-ramp to the school’s variety of spiritual growth offerings, the results have been heartening, according to associate chaplain Rachel Collins. “Many students reported that they could see a clear relationship between what they were experiencing in RISE programming and their spiritual life,” she says. 

With the spring semester came a bevy of small breakout groups, a feature of Seaver 200, demonstrating the spiritual life team’s devotion to engaging deeply with the student body. “The small groups were created for students to experience their spiritual lives in a way that makes sense to where they are on their spiritual journey,” says Aguilar. An Introduction to the Christian Faith speaks to students from non-Christian backgrounds. Spanish Chapel, Chinese Chapel, and a first-time Korean Chapel offer students the chance to meet and grow with those who share a language and culture. 

“Students want to know ‘How do I find God in nature?’” relates Collins, and Faith and Hiking, which filled up quickly, gives them a chance to enjoy the beauty of Malibu while exploring their faith. The message, conversation, and time in the waves of associate professor Rob Shearer’s recurring Surf Chapel are now a Seaver 200 breakout group. Reaching out to faculty, staff, and student-led ministry leaders to serve as group leaders helped multiply the choices. For example, Regan Schaffer (MA ’93, EdD ’02), divisional dean of Seaver’s Business Administration Division, organized a Faith and Business breakout group that attracted about 50 students. Each week, a different member of the division’s faculty shares their experience of faith and vocation, followed by smaller group discussions of the speaker’s insights. 

Regan SchafferRachel Collins

Collins notes that students are making intentional decisions about which group to join. “They’re not just going where their friends are going,” she says. In fact, groups asking students to dig deep within themselves, such as Life Without Lack and the Secret of Joy quickly reached registration capacity. “Students have had real experiences of grief and challenge throughout the pandemic, and they’re asking these big questions about life,” she says. “It’s up to our team to meet them with the Christian faith as a response and help them wrestle with and engage with these questions in a thoughtful way.” One-on-one spiritual mentorship has also proven to be popular with students. The opportunity to share their personal experiences and to discuss the questions most important to them with a volunteer staff or faculty member is a testament to undergrads’ appetite for both introspection and intimacy. 

Perhaps on the other end of the spectrum, but just as telling about today’s students, is the aforementioned passion for worship and fellowship. As the supervisor of the school’s student-led ministries, Aguilar has observed a surge in enthusiasm for being together and worshipping with their peers. “We're seeing a great response from students to our student leaders’ creation of places for them to authentically participate in worship and engage their faith in community,” she says. 

The team at the Hub for Spiritual Life could not be more grateful for the devotion and energy that they are witnessing. “I’m so impressed by some of the seniors and their genuine desire to be leaders who live by integrity,” says Aguilar. “It’s encouraging to stand by them as they seek out their own relationship with Christ and as they actively look for ways they can serve other students and meet them where they are.”

Shaya Aguilar (’20)Shaya Aguilar (’20)

Delighted with the ways in which this academic year has unfolded, the spiritual life team is preparing for next year by reviewing the breakout group requests it has received and organizing the launch of a new student cohort series. The latter will provide it with a group of spiritual life student leaders to engage the students and guide the team members in how to best serve them. There is much planning to do, but Ku is undaunted. “God is going to show up anyway,” he says. “And when he does, it’s always something sweeter than what we anticipate.”
 Ku agrees. “We now have more than 75 students that have expressed an interest in serving, whether it’s as a vocalist, a musician, a greeter, a welcome team member, or a set-up team member,” he says. He indicates that the energy of the worship services and the feeling of God’s presence seem to be overflowing into students’ personal lives and actions. The relationship that they are building with Jesus and their time in the worship gatherings are becoming increasingly less distinct.