Learn about west Michigan religions at Campus Interfaith sacred sites tours

GVSU students learn more about Hinduism at a Sacred Sites Tour.  Courtesy / Campus Interfaith Resources

GVSU students learn more about Hinduism at a Sacred Sites Tour. Courtesy / Campus Interfaith Resources

McKenna Peariso

Grand Valley State University’s Campus Interfaith offers a variety of diverse events and programs for students seeking a place to develop their religious and spiritual understandings. Campus Interfaith Resources (CIR) hosts events from lived experience dialogues to sacred sites tours and more. Several sacred site tours will be held from the end of September to the middle of October with more tours being planned in the upcoming months. 

The first of these tours is a visit to the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints at 12 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 21. This tour will give students a first-hand experience with a west Michigan Mormon church. Kevin McIntosh, coordinator of Campus Interfaith Resource Center, said these events help connect students to the many religious groups and faiths practiced in the west Michigan area.

“Many folks don’t know the religious diversity that west Michigan holds, so this tour allows students to see how pluralistic our community is,” McIntosh said.

Campus Interfaith works to diversify its sacred sites by incorporating a wide variety of religions and even non-religions into the tours. Last year, students visited an Orthodox Church, Bahá’í spac, a Muslim Masjid, a Hindu Temple and a Jewish Temple. Following the visit to the Latter-Day Saints, there are sacred sites scheduled for the Saint Joseph the Worker Catholic Church as well as the Sikh Society both scheduled on Oct. 12. 

During these tours, students will often be able to see the facilities and ritual spaces while learning more about the groups’ traditions from leaders and practitioners. By attending these tours, students are able to diversify their understanding of a faith or religion and can find shared values between them and their own beliefs. These tours assist students looking to broaden their knowledge of the traditions and beliefs in west Michigan’s growing community.

“These are places where students typically don’t go, when we take them to these sacred sites they have the opportunity to see the commonalities and differences between the site and their own faith,” said CIR Graduate Assistant Lauryn Nett.

CIR is dedicated to bringing GVSU students to different mosques, temples, churches and other sacred places that they would otherwise never experience. By getting students out of their comfort zones, CIR believes students begin to make connections with these sacred places and see a whole new side to a faith, religion or non-religion. 

According to the 2015 GVSU Climate Survey, 57 percent of Grand Valley students identify as Christian. This strong presence of Christianity on campus can be seen through the various ministries and services offered on GVSU’s campuses. It is this strong connection to student faith that motivates CIR to maintain an equal representation of religions and non-religions in their various programs.

“Religion and spirituality play a huge role in a lot of students’ lives. Having students learn more about different faiths reminds them them that, at Grand Valley, we are still catering to their spiritual needs. Often it can be messy discussing faith and spirituality in higher education, but it is a big part of students’ identity,” Nett said.

Campus Interfaith Resources works alongside over 30 identity and religion-based organizations to create a space for students of various worldviews to come together. These organizations include on-campus student organizations as well as national groups that represent a variety of faiths and backgrounds. CIR aims to help students grow more religiously literate and to break down the divides among different religions to create a place that is welcoming to all. Students of all religious and non-religious traditions are welcome to attend CIR programs.

“At GVSU we are home to a variety of Christian traditions; we have Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, Pagans, Atheists, Agnostics and UUs. We try to create policies and spaces that allow our underrepresented religious traditions to come together,” McIntosh said. 

CIR also hold ‘Lived Experience’ dialogues to give the GVSU community a space to discuss religious, secular or spiritual identities and the experiences of those in the community. These conversation-based events are held each month, the next being a discussion about Transhumanism on Tuesday, Oct. 9.