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Thursday, July 07, 2022

Attendance at religious institutions surge with influx of students

With the imminent flood of tests and class assignments affecting students? sanity, those who attend religious services can pray for some holy help.

Religious institutions throughout Gainesville see their attendance increase once fall semester begins.

Kathleen Cole, the director of stewardship and development at St. Augustine Catholic Church, said the church witnesses a large attendance increase the first couple of weeks because of the influx of students.

Cole said visitors make up part of this increase, such as the parents and other relatives who visit or help their students move in.

The opening mass of the academic year was held on Sunday.

"We?ve asked students to bring a textbook to be blessed at the mass," Cole said.

St. Augustine offered a welcome week the same time that about 90 of its alumni visited.

The welcome week, also known as Blast Off Week, lasted from Aug. 19 to 26 and offered an ice cream social sponsored by Sweet Dreams, a field day, a barbecue and karaoke party.

"The new students could see the impact this faith community had on former students," Cole said.

It?s easy for new students to feel homesick or stressed, and St. Augustine can be their home away from home, she said. University Lutheran Church and Campus Center, which also experienced a great increase in new students, offers similar activities.

The Rev. Michael Collins said the church has weekly Sunday morning gatherings and a breakfast brunch for students.

A March student mission trip is being planned to Eisleben, Germany, where students will get to do community service projects with townspeople and members of the local Lutheran church.

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Last year they visited Costa Rica and lived with an indigenous tribe.

It was an interesting experience because they lived with no electricity and no running water, Collins said.

UF Hillel, located on 2020 W University Ave., offers free kosher Shabbat dinners on Fridays.

They have seen dinner attendance jump from about 95 students during the summer to about 300 students during the fall, Rabbi Yoni Kaiser-Blueth said.

Kaiser-Blueth, the associate director of Jewish Student Life, said he enjoyed making connections with new students during the first week of classes.

"There were no barriers, no walls," he said. "We were really getting to know students on their own turf."

This year Israel and UF Hillel are turning 60 years old. Kaiser-Blueth said it?s an "awesome" coincidence.

UF Hillel held a special event Thursday called "Israel: 60 & Sexy."

"To us, being 60 years old is still sexy. It?s cause for celebration," he said.

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