Mirroring national trends, religious attendance at Cornell and in the greater Ithaca area has increased in recent years, according to local religious leaders.
In 2008, 42.1 percent of Americans attended church services about once a week. That number slightly increased to 42.8 percent in 2009, and then up to 43.1 percent last year, according to Gallup polls.
Cornell United Religious Works does not keep official statistics of the number of students attending services, but many religious leaders estimate that attendance has increased or remained constant.
Rev. Paul Epp, pastor of the First Ithaca Chinese Christian Church, said services at his church are mostly populated by Cornell students. His church has two different services, one in English and another in Chinese. Epp estimated that more than 80 percent of the 50 to 60 people in the church’s congregations are Cornell students.
Epp said the recent national increase in attendance for religious services was caused by the worsening economy.
“When the economy gets bad, church attendance tends to go up. People tend to feel a greater need for God when they’re hurting than when they’re doing well … and they’re hurting now,” Epp said. “Jesus once said, ‘It’s harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.’”
Rev. Steve Froehlich, pastor of Ithaca’s New Life Presbyterian Church, estimated about 25 undergraduates and 30 graduate students attend his church weekly. He said that number has increased steadily, with more students from Ithaca College coming this year.
Froehlich credits the increase to the culture in his church community.
“[We have a] strong, open church family community. Students feel connected not only with peers, but also with families,” Froehlich stated via e-mail. He said that more students attend because “students who appreciate being a part of the congregation naturally invite other students.”
The fact that Cornell is a secular university does not mean that religious organizations have nothing to contribute, Froehlich said.
“Religious organizations ... play a vital role on a secular campus. They provide the larger context for learning — why knowledge is valuable, how knowledge is to be used for the stewardship of creation and the good of society,” Froehlich said. “Organically, it’s impossible to separate religion from life.”
Students listed several reasons why they think it is important to attend services.
John-Ryan Burris ’11, who attends Roman Catholic services every Sunday, said that attending helps him to think about his life at Cornell and his post-graduation plans.
“It gives me reflection on what I’m doing at Cornell,” Burris said.