Kissing in the Chapel, Praying in the Frat House: Wrestling with Faith and College

Kissing in the Chapel, Praying in the Frat House- Wrestling with Faith and Collegeby Adam J. Copeland (editor)
Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md. 216 pages

As a campus minister, I’m frequently asked for book recommendations. Sometimes the inquiry comes from a college student looking for a book for devotional purposes or something to “make them think” – or better yet, something that will challenge their faith. Occasionally the inquiry comes from local church members and fellow pastors looking for a book to understand what makes college students tick. Other times parents seek a book they can give their college-aged child to keep them engaged in their faith.

I have a set of books that I keep on my shelf for just such requests: Celtic and Iona prayer resources, Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together,” Barbara Brown Taylor’s “An Altar in the World,” Anne Lamott’s “Traveling Mercies” and Shane Claiborne’s “Irresistible Revolution.” It has been helpful to have resources that span a theological spectrum and genre. The challenge is always figuring out what book will fit the various needs of the curious person in front of me. It is rare to find a book that I believe satisfies the criteria for a broad range of audiences and purposes, but Copeland’s “Kissing in the Chapel, Praying in the Frat House” is just such a book.

The beauty of Copeland’s compilation of essays resides in his willingness to set up the book and then get out of the way and let the voices of millennial Christians speak for themselves. He wisely steps beyond another book about millennials and recognizes that a defining feature of the millennial generation is the emphasis on a diversity of voices and experiences. To claim that all students think, act, feel, experience God and survive/thrive in college because of the same things would diminish the unique gifts of each beloved child of God. Copeland’s book is careful not only to allow the voices of 21 capable young adults to speak for themselves, but also to select contributors across geographic, political, academic and theological spectrums. This multiplicity of voices reflects the diversity of college campuses today, replete with theological questions, social angst, dating, vocational questions, alcohol, sex and friendships lost and found.

The contributors’ animated stories put flesh on the dry bones of cultural assumptions about faith in college by reflecting on their own lives in ways that are vulnerable, honest, provocative and compelling. Not every writer actively attends church on Sunday. Conversely, not every contributor’s faith is transformed by contemporary music and a large, evangelical campus ministry. One writer’s life was profoundly changed by rediscovering his love of ancient hymns! In their own words they dispel the myths of what “faith in college” should look like and instead speak with their own voices about faith and college.

One of the assets of Copeland’s editorial work is to provide questions for discussion at the end of each essay. The book’s organization into five sections — tradition, vocation, sexuality, discernment and cultural contexts — provides a structure to engage the book as a whole or a sub-section for a brief study. For this book to really come alive, it should be read in a small group where readers’ own voices and stories can intermingle with the essays adding layers of meaning and diversity of perspective.

Owen outlook portraits - katie-9Katie Owen Aumann serves as Presbyterian campus minister at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. She is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary.