As a non-denominational Christian group seeking after the hearts of university students, InterVarsity kicked off the school year with a worship night last week at Utah State University.
Sitting in the shadow of Old Main, the amphitheater has been a gathering point for students and community groups since its completion in 1937. Last week was no different as USU InterVarsity students sang worship songs and reconnected after being gone for the summer.
With songs like “Be Thou my Vision” and newer hymn-like songs, nearly 50 people gathered for the student-led evening, filling the venue on Old Main Hill with a “melodious sonnet” of prayer through music.
With origins going back to the 1980s, InterVarsity served the Christian student population at USU and recently merged with Cru to bring back the organization’s influence on campus.
Now in her third year as part of the Utah State campus staff, Erin McConnaha, has seen growth within the student community as the organization has increased its attendance and its reach over the years.
“One thing really great about being in Utah is that everyone is incredibly welcoming, and everyone wants to talk about what they believe in,” McConnaha said. “Starting a conversation about faith and religion is incredibly easy in Utah, but having it be a conversation where we are on the same page about what we believe is very different.”
McConnaha believes many people she encounters will use the same words, but they are interpreted differently across the religious spectrum. Reaching a point of understanding between those she interacts with can take the longest she said.
“We are never here to battle against people on campus. We are here fighting for people to know how loved they are and how free grace is,” McConnah said. “We don’t tolerate anyone talking bad about any demographic on campus.”
As a woman in ministry, McConnaha said initially it was hard for some to accept her on campus and within the community. She said some questioned her ability to lead a ministry on campus.
“I didn’t really fit in when I came here,” McConnaha said. “It was really encouraging to me, though, because I was able show them you don’t have to be married or have children to have worth as a woman or worth in God’s eyes. It was a good message to start off with.”
She said there were a lot of people who didn’t think this was needed at USU, and she has found that those who aren’t of the predominant faith have latched onto the group as many are from out of the area and have strong networks for peers from their home churches.
Sophomore Sarah Behr said being part of InterVaristy has allowed her to connect with her peers, but prior to coming to USU, she wasn’t sure she’d find a group to fit in with.
“I was worried about not being able to find a Christian group in Utah. So, I went on the internet and looked up ‘Christian groups at Utah State’ and InterVarsity popped up, and so I emailed Erin,” Behr said.
McConnaha said there are routinely people who are shocked to learn about InterVarsity after searching online, and that Behr was able to get connected with the group prior to moving from the Simi Valley area two years ago.
This year, Behr has gotten “plugged into” serving as the co-vice president of the USU chapter and also leads a GIG — a “Group Investigating God” — among her peers.
Behr said she believes that there is such a strong group of students due in part to the strong relationships they are seeking with Christ.
“You can really see they love God and want to serve him and that they want to see campus transformed by God,” Behr said. “We know that God wants to have people that have the same heart, desire and mission, and it’s just really cool to be able to serve with them.”
One of the more impactful moments for Behr was a trip last year to “Mark Camp” during spring break when the group went to California and spent time studying the book of Mark from the Bible.
Behr said her faith in seeing who Jesus was “really transformed” because she was in a room with other people who were going through the same experiences.
McConnaha said as a group they talk about the different ways of showing love to all those on campus while developing relationships and praying with students all while serving the campus community “where they live.”
“One of our dreams is to see a Bible study in every corner of campus,” McConnaha said. “That is a vision we hold across InterVarsity nationally, and in our region, in particular, and that I really believe in. We don’t want students to come to something we are doing, but be where they are.”
McConnaha said they currently have four dorm-based studies, a Greek Row study and international and Latino student fellowships that meet weekly at various locations across campus in the evenings.
“We really want students to get connected where they are living and where they fell comfortable. We have dreams for a lot of other Bible studies, but the driving force is the corners of campus that aren’t being reached and what corner can we serve next,” McConnaha said.
McConnaha said her job is to be on campus and “help students pursue God,” in the course of a normal week, she will take one day off and is on campus everyday. She has a goal of being on campus at least one night per week past midnight and be where they are at.
In addition to the weekly Bible studies, McConnaha said a student-led worship night is held on the second Wednesday of every month in the Taggart Student Center. The evening is full of songs allowing students or those in attendance an opportunity to reflect on God’s love, she said.
Although they don’t conduct their own worship services on campus, McConnaha said many of the students attend various churches within Cache Valley with a majority attending New Life Fellowship, Cache Valley Bible Fellowship and Alpine Church regularly.
Within the Utah and Southern Idaho region, InterVarsity is operating at the University of Utah, Weber State, Dixie State, Southern Utah, Utah Valley and USU Eastern, along with a chapter at Boise State in addition to the USU chapter.
For more information about InterVarsity visit, ivUtah.org/utah-state-university.