Westmont Magazine Students Minister in Residence Halls and Local Churches

"You are loved! You are capable! You are redeemed!” These phrases echoed through Emerson Hall this year. Spiritual Formation Coordinator (SFC) Paige MacLaren ’22 began saying this mantra to the women living around her, and they quickly learned to repeat it. “The spiritual formation coordinator program creates an intentional space for vulnerability and support for students’ faith, where we walk side by side as we yearn to follow Jesus more closely,” says Rachel Gorelik ’22, an SFC in Clark Hall. Created as a partnership between the Martin Institute and Residence Life, this student initiative seeks to accomplish two goals: cultivate the spiritual development of student leaders and empower them to foster and encourage spiritual growth among students in the residence halls. 

By looking for ways to connect with those living around them, these leaders help students create a culture of truth-filled conversation about life and God. In addition to leading weekly prayer times in residence halls and organizing events, SFCs take students on “indies” to connect one-on-one, lead Capax Dei spiritual formation groups, publish a monthly newsletter and act as a prayer team during chapel on Fridays. 

After transitioning to remote learning, the SFC team quickly pivoted to encouraging peers from afar by continuing to meet with Capax Dei small groups, posting encouragements to social media or mailing hand-written notes.

Carolyn Deal ’21, an SFC in Armington Hall, chose to share about God’s presence in her life by writing and directing a Westmont Fringe Festival offering, “The Labyrinth.” At the end of the piece, Savior speaks to Troubled Soul as he pries her loose from the grip of Anxiety, Control and Inordinate Love, saying, “You don’t have to put up a front and control how you appear to others. Trust me with your whole heart, and you won’t have to lean on your own strength because I’m walking the path right next to you, showing you your next steps. Believe me, I’ve got you. When you’re afraid, turn to me. When you’re overwhelmed, I’m with you. When you’re grieving loss, lean on me for strength.”

The program offers flexibility for leaders to follow God’s promptings and use their own interests and strengths. Josiah Swanson ’22, an SFC in Page Hall, uses his love of surfing as a way to connect. Many students arrive at Westmont with a dream of learning to surf, so Josiah invites people on his own surfing expeditions. Josiah uses these early morning outings to help students get plugged into a local church, often inviting them to attend a service with him. Often he watches students struggle to find the deep sense of community that exists at a local church among people from all walks of life. He attends weekly prayer meetings at Reality Carpinteria, where he has gained invaluable wisdom from older, godly men. “People need to realize that church is so much more than just Sunday,” he says. 

Like Josiah, Ella Hearn ’22 prioritizes ministry in the local church. Last spring, she listened with excitement to a chapel announcement describing a new ministry internship course. Taught by Campus Pastor Scott Lisea and his wife, Jamie, the class places 30-40 interns each semester in churches across Santa Barbara. “We regularly encourage our students to participate and belong to a local church during their time at Westmont so they can dwell in a multi-generational faith community,” Lisea says. “We want them to do more than just go—we want them to be part of it, offering their gifts and talents.” 

Ella began interning at Anthem Chapel, where she completes tasks ranging from working with the church’s database to planning events for youth. Through this experience, she sees firsthand how involvement in a local church can broaden students’ limited perspective and grow their understanding of servant leadership. 

Paige Maclaren and Meg Mason ’22 also serve as interns at Anthem, and they’ve seen God use their involvement in the local church in powerful ways. Meg absorbs lessons from spiritual leaders while learning how to share Christ’s love with others. “This internship has been a huge catalyst in my faith and shown me what it means to put my faith into action and step out of what’s comfortable,” she says.

Paige has experienced the beauty of finding joy in sacrificial service that often includes mundane tasks. “I wanted to learn from the steadfast commitment of church leaders even in the midst of the daily struggles of ministry,” she says.