A group of students from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has started a local chapter of the LDS Student Association, hoping to foster community and service among their members. The club sprung from students who spent time together but wanted to start an official organization.
Hillsdale’s LDSSA has unofficially started activities and hosted scripture studies since last semester, so this year is not radically different to what the LDS students have been doing. Last year, leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Lansing reached out to junior Hannah Schaff, president of the club, about organizing the group into a sponsored club. As part of the group’s mission, the students will focus on fellowship, service, and growth, Schaff said. The role of club president, according to Schaff, is actually a calling from the Church, like any other forms of spiritual leadership.
“The students from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have tried to do things together the whole time that I’ve been here,” Schaff said. “But last year, the leadership of the Church…said, ‘You guys should start a club.’ I hadn’t thought of that before because we are such a small group.”
With official club status, Assistant Professor of Spanish Todd Mack, the group’s faculty advisor, said a benefit is that they will be listed on the college website. This will allow LDS students interested in Hillsdale to know there is a community ready to greet them on campus, perhaps inciting more interest in the school.
“We thought it would be nice to have something official,” said Todd Mack, assistant professor of Spanish and LDSSA faculty advisor. “We are interested in doing things on campus, doing service on campus.”
LDSSA is a nationwide organization dedicated to supporting LDS college students in their faith in Jesus Christ, according to the website for the Harvard Business School chapter’s website. Like many other campus religious clubs, it provides a community in which like-minded members can encourage and support each other.
Schaff said the goal for this semester is to host a variety of events open to Hillsdale students of any tradition of faith, including regular scripture studies which will explore the topics of the person Jesus Christ and the idea of everlasting gospel.
“We’re trying to do something fun every Saturday. We’ve got some board game and movie nights, some outdoors stuff — like soccer and frisbee — and then we’ve got a couple of different service projects, helping people around the community,” she said. “We have a scripture study, and that’s been consistent. We have it once a week. It’s led by a teacher called from the church, so it’s not a student-led thing.”
Freshman club member Benjamin Burnett said the scripture study, called Institute, is important for students to grow in their understanding of Christ and what he has done for the Church. The first study, he said, explored the concept of Jesus Christ as a creator.
Another one of Hillsdale LDSSA’s more religiously-oriented activities is visiting the Detroit Michigan Temple together. While this is not open to students from other religions, Schaff said the five-hour trip is a lot of fun and strengthens their community. It’s a priority, she said, for the club to go there a few times a semester.
Schaff said there are unique benefits and challenges to being LDS on campus. The small size of the LDS club, Burnett said, can actually be a benefit.
“Sometimes when there are a lot of members for anything, people become complacent. That’s probably the same even in Hillsdale with all the people seeking truth. Some people might become complacent,” Burnett said. “One thing I knew would be good here in some ways, and also a challenge, is knowing that I would have to be strong in truth and that there would be people to help me follow along.”
According to Schaff, there is a lot of misunderstanding and negative views on what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints actually is, but she hopes the club will clear up perception of their faith.
“I think having this club helps us grow a little bit stronger and feel a little bit more secure,” she said. “We show up a little more, and people are able to see that we are normal people. We do believe in Jesus Christ; we do good things; we’re happy people.”
Mack pointed out that Hillsdale’s pursuit of truth is an LDS way of approaching life. This pursuit, he said, is achieved when students from different faith traditions discuss their beliefs and walk away with an appreciation of different ways of looking at spiritual concepts.
“There’s so much that joins us at Hillsdale. The missions of the college are built into who we are as a Church,” Mack said. “Some of the greatest things I’ve read about pursuing truth are from church leaders. Our job is to find truth. We’re at home here.”
Regardless of whether a student is Catholic, Protestant, or LDS, Mack said he believes we are all working together to discover truth. He cautioned, however, that the pursuit of truth isn’t about relativism. Instead, it’s about examining different beliefs on concepts like agency and redemption to come to conclusions about what the truth is.
“We look at some things, and see things differently,” Mack said. “We’re engaging in important conversations. That causes us to think about what we believe, what others believe.”