The church fair is a long-standing tradition of freshman orientation at AU. Churches around the community congregate in the lobby of Reardon Auditorium to offer the support of a church family to incoming students. This year, the church fair was hosted in the Valley.
Andrew Lehr, the director of student success at AU, was one of the staff members in charge of organizing this year’s church fair. He believes it’s important for students to find a place to worship outside of chapel.
“A lot of times students think that chapel equals church,” said Lehr. “That’s just not true. Chapel is a great thing, but it doesn’t replace the church experience.”
Lehr explained that the church fair is a resource for students who want to get plugged into a faith community outside of AU, no matter their denominational background.
“We want students to know that they can go to the Episcopal church, the Methodist church or a large group of different places,” he said. “We send invites out, whether or not they take us up on it, to a large variety of places. We’re not going to invite only Church of God churches, even though that’s where AU’s heritage comes from.”
Lehr wants students to know that reaching out to the larger community outside of the college experience is part of what it means to be a Christian.
“I hope students get an idea that our faith isn’t just limited to what we do on campus,” he said. “Our Christian life extends beyond these walls. Being part of a local congregation isn’t just something nice; it’s an important part of what it means to follow God.”
Eighteen churches were signed up for this year’s church fair. More than 20 churches attended last year, one of which was The Kingdom Church. The Kingdom Church has been attending the church fair since their first Sunday service two years ago.
“We just want to show that we care about the students,” said Chris Cartwright, the lead pastor of The Kingdom Church. “We just want to throw our name into the hat of places students can serve.”
Like Lehr, Cartwright believes that chapel cannot replace the church experience.
“Chapel is not church,” he said. “When I was attending Indiana Wesleyan University, there were times when I would count chapel as church. I missed out on a lot of opportunities, because there isn’t necessarily a place for everybody to serve and have a role in chapel.
“Serving in a church family, you can actually use your gifts and contribute, whether that’s in Sunday service, with the kids or in some other ministry. You can be active in your faith, pour into those around you and be poured into.”
Cartwright said that most churches see the church fair as an opportunity to rally around students, not as a competition.
“Most churches don’t see the church fair as a competition, but as a coming together to say, ‘Here’s who we are. If you mesh with us, that’s great. If you mesh with somebody else, we’re all for that, too,’” he said. “We’d all just love for students to get plugged into a faith community outside of campus.”
The Kingdom Church meets at 11 a.m. on Sundays at Liberty Christian Elementary School on Hillcrest Drive.
Calvary Baptist Church has been attending the church fair for about six years. Senior Pastor James Proctor believes that it’s important for students to be part of a faith community outside of campus.
“Being part of a faith community outside of campus can broaden students’ world view and allow them to interact with people who live in this community and can invest in them,” he said. “As a college student, it’s easy to get isolated into your studies, academic pursuits or friends. You can lose touch with life as it will be experienced after you graduate.”
Proctor sees the church fair as an opportunity for students to find a place where they can grow, no matter their faith background.
“The church fair is a valuable resource where students can see what’s here in the city that they can learn or benefit from, whatever their denomination or faith tradition,” he said. “I appreciate AU doing that.”
Calvary Baptist Church meets for worship service at 10:15 on Sunday mornings at 3030 E. 10th St.
Main Street Church of God has been attending AU’s church fair for about 15 years. The Rev. Don Billey, senior pastor at Main Street Church of God, believes that getting plugged into a faith community outside of AU is important for spiritual development.
“A faith community is different from the dorms and different from life on campus,” said Billey. “It provides pseudo parents, grandparents, siblings, nephews and nieces who will come to know the student and be known by the student, love the student and be loved by the student and celebrate the student and be celebrated by the student.”
Main Street Church of God meets for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:30. Their building is located at 4211 Main Street.