‘Kissing in the Chapel, Praying in the Frat House’

Concordia’s Reverend Copeland compiles a book of 21 student essays

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Reverend Copeland signs copies of his publication. Photo by Maddie Malat.

Though Zandbroz Variety in downtown Fargo might not be exactly the center of the world, its location makes it a fitting venue to speak about college-related issues, being the unofficial epicenter of the tri-college area. Concordia’s own Reverend Copeland chose Zandbroz to discuss his newest publication, dealing with issues related to college students and faith this Thursday.

The Reverend Copeland’s newest book, “Kissing in the Chapel, Praying in the Frat House: Wrestling With Faith and College,” is a compilation of 21 essays submitted by college students across the country.

The essays explore issues concerning the relationship between faith and the students’ individual college experiences. Copeland, who serves as Concordia’s Director of Theological Inquiry, also teaches courses within Concordia’s Faith and Leadership program.

“I wanted to bring a collection of essays together in which young people could tell their own experiences of wrestling with faith in college. By hearing their individual voices we might be able to understand a little more about the depth of students’ experiences,” Copeland said.

Though Copeland recognizes that 21 essays is not representative of an entire demographic, he hopes that the essays, which include submissions from Georgia, California, Arkansas, and even Canada, provide at least some sort of variety of experience for readers.

“I wanted the book to include a wide variety of  students’ experiences of faith in college,”  Copeland said.

Copeland attributes his experience in studying young adults and faith formation as the source that sparked his inspiration for the book. This is an area of interest for him and it relates to his faith-formation studies at Concordia.

“I’m really happy with the diversity of submissions. It’s not just a book of essays told from students who attended ELCA-related colleges. There are [essays] from large state schools, private bible colleges, or church-related institutions from other denominations,” Copeland said.

Copeland says that students can benefit from the essays which not only cover areas concerning students’ struggles with  faith and college, but also several essays that explore students’ experiences dealing with sex and sexuality during the college years.

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Reverend Copeland does a reading from his book at Zandbroz Variety. Photo by Maddie Malat.

“There are some essays that should trouble those of us who care about students’ healthy experience of faith, sexuality and relationships in college.” Copeland said.

The book has even received national recognition coming from Publishers Weekly which described the book’s “Sex and Sexuality” section as “extraordinarly, even painfully, honest.”

“This [is an] absorbing, diverse anthology . . . In 21 essays, young men and women in their 20s and 30s reflect on their college experience with faith, exploring a wide range of subjects—from Kristi Del Vecchio’s socially-minded humanism to Edward Anderson’s reflections on the powerful ways a religious upbringing can both shape and challenge a young person’s attempt to discover faith on his own terms. The most outstanding essays appear in the section on ‘Sex and Sexuality,’ every one of these extraordinarily, even painfully, honest. The authors movingly describe their intimate experiences as they deal with some complicated topics, made even more so for persons of faith (coming out as gay, being transgender, and the trauma of sexual assault, among them). Copeland includes a set of discussion questions at the end of each essay that will be useful for youth ministry groups and classes.” — Publishers Weekly

Copeland  hopes that the collection of essays will be helpful for other readers as well, such as faculty members who work closely with students, and who want to gain a clearer understanding of what the college experience is like for students outside of the classroom setting.

“I hope that [readers] might think more deeply about their preconceptions of what the college experience is, and to get some understanding about the variety and the particular issues that challenge college students today,” Copeland said.

Even though Fargo-Moorhead might not be the center of the universe, as a community with a large college population, it is no doubt a community filled with young people undergoing both the struggle and the exploration that accompany the college years.

“As we know, Fargo-Moorhead is a college town. So together, I hope and pray that we might make this community a place for students to wrestle with faith, thrive in college, and serve God together,” Copeland said.

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