Amidst the secular: spiritual groups navigating Corvallis’ religious oasis

The First Presbyterian Church of Corvallis located on SW 8th Street in Corvallis.
The First Presbyterian Church of Corvallis located on SW 8th Street in Corvallis.
Morgan Barnaby

In the heart of Corvallis, where religiosity is sparse, Beit Am Jewish Community Center, Newman Center and the Pagan Club defy the trend.

As major religions emphasize growth, these groups similarly strive to foster community and spiritual exploration in the area.

What can the residents of Corvallis and students at Oregon State University come to expect to find if they ever find that they may want to explore their spiritual curiosity?

OSU students who find themselves seeking answers to some of their bigger questions may find solace at the Newman Center, a ministry for the St. Mary’s Catholic Church and St. John’s Society provides OSU students with opportunities to engage in and encounter Christ.

When asked about the knowledge of Corvallis’s low religious participation, Vincent Vanzuylen, a volunteer missionary for the Newman Center said, “Yeah, I was very much aware. Especially when entering into (missionary) work.”

“Especially with it being a college town, it doesn’t surprise me in any way, shape or form that Corvallis is ranked as one of the lowest in terms of religious practices,” Vanzuylen said.

In many religions, expanding and incorporating new members by “spreading the message” is part of their doctrine.

“The Church and its main mission is to go out and spread the good news,” Vanzuylen said. “In the spreading of the good news, we wish to invite others to participate and join in the love of Christ that we have come to know so that way others can also come to recognize the fullness of potential and love that the Lord has in store for them.”

If Corvallis residents want to get involved with the Christian ministry but feel there may be pressure to join or contribute in a way, there are other options to get involved.

St. Mary’s has volunteer opportunities for community members who may want to check their good deeds off their daily checklist.

“St. Mary’s has this program called St. Vincent DePaul, in which it specifies in helping out with homeless ministry, in which you can go and participate to help out the homeless within the area of Corvallis,” Vanzuylen said.

As for OSU students, there are plenty of options to get involved and volunteer as well.

Vanzuylen said, “We offer a mass specifically designated for OSU students, that way, they can build up a community of students who might be seeking or might not be seeking (faith) but just want to hang around people their age, in the same church.”

There are also options where students can go and get one-on-one mentoring from volunteer missionaries at the Newman Center if they would prefer a more private and quieter space to speak more freely about their faith or what they are looking for.

The Newman Center is located at 2127 NW Monroe Ave. and you can visit their website here for more information.

When speaking with Rabbi Phil Bressler from Beit Am Jewish Community Center about the religious practices of Corvallis residents and how he felt those effects at his community center, he said he was aware.

“I figured out pretty quickly when I moved here about just over five years ago that this is in some ways the Jewish frontier, as I like to call it,” Bressler said.

However, given the state of the current conflict happening right now in Israel and Palestine and the rise in reported anti-Semitic crimes, Bressler says that they aren’t looking to actively bring people from the community into the community center.

That’s not to say that they turn residents away but with the strain of the pandemic and the lack of staff at the moment, it’s easier to manage and keep track of the going-ons of the Jewish community and their center this way.

“We list services and things, … that we’re comfortable with someone random coming to,” said Bresler. “I do encourage folks to come, but you know, call, ask to find out, talk to us first, that lets us have that degree of vetting a little bit. It’s important.”

For Jewish OSU students, they are always welcome to Beit Am but if they can’t make the trip off campus there is a Hillel chapter that offers services.

Hillel is an organization dedicated to improving the lives of Jewish students by offering them opportunities for continued or initial engagement with their Jewish identity. The organization empowers these students by providing a platform where they can nurture and bring their individual ideas and interests to fruition.

If any Corvallis residents would like more information about Beit Am or how they may be able to get involved with the community center, they can visit their website for more information.

For those in the community looking for something untraditional, there is the Pagan Club at OSU which is open to students and residents who are looking for community.

The Pagan Club doesn’t actively look to recruit or go out into the community to spread the message of their beliefs, so the news of Corvallis being ranked low in religious and spiritual participation wasn’t much of a shock to them.

“There is no proselytizing. The point of Paganism is not to grow. There’s no institution, we’re not organized. We don’t have a Pagan temple that we’re trying to uphold because we’re not interested in control. We’re interested in healing and that’s interested in community,” said Zane Yinger, an officer for the Pagan Club.

Paganism and its practices are approached differently for these members.

“The community extends so far beyond (recruiting for members),” Yinger said. “Like queerness is chosen family, I think Paganism operates in a really similar way. You don’t have to be Pagan to participate and enjoy what we do because at the end of the day, all we’re doing is healing and that’s a universal experience.

Residents and OSU students should know that if they are interested in sitting in on a meeting to see what this practice is about and what is discussed, they are more than welcome to do so as there is no obligation to keep attending.

“We often see a lot of people that will come to one meeting and then we never see them again and that’s fine. They are checking it out,” said Sage Morrison, an officer for the club.

If anyone wishes to get more information on the Pagan Club and learn more about this practice and what it entails you can check out their Linktree, which has all of their social media and contact information.

The Northwest didn’t get its name of the “Unchurched Belt” for nothing. If the trend of low participation in religious and spiritual practices remains where it is, then maybe Corvallis residents and OSU students won’t notice a difference.

But for those who do find themselves curious and wondering what more may be out there, know that you aren’t alone and there are people waiting to welcome you.

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