By Ronak Ghorbani
Christ is alive and well on the Ryerson campus, and there are 100 tabloid-sized glossy posters to prove it.
You may have noticed one of them, featuring the slogan “Come and see” and a young air-brushed face, pasted on walls and doors around the Ryerson Campus.
They are ads for the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, Ryerson’s oldest Christian student group.
This year, the posters have helped attract a membership of nearly 40 students.
Jessica Zeyl, a private staffer hired to head the Ryerson chapter, recalled that when she was a student at Ryerson in 1998, there were only two Christian groups on campus — the Chinese Christian Fellowship and the IVCF.
Since then, the number of Christian groups has grown to seven. The new groups are Campus for Christ, the Catholic Students’ Association, the Winners Fellowship, Arab Christian and the Morningstar Christian Fellowship.
Aside from the seven Christian groups, Ryerson plays host to three Muslim groups, one Jewish group, one Hindu group and one Sikh group.
Each RSU-sponsored student group is eligible for $900 in funding, plus a maximum of two grants at $500 a piece.
Zeyl said Ryerson’s Christian groups are distinct enough to justify the division, arguing that they are denominationally and “culturally” distinct.
“Some of the groups are very specialized,” she said, adding that the “RSU doesn’t easily approve new groups. They don’t like the splintering effect.”
Another IVCF member, second-year photography student Ainsley Boyd, said.
“It’s kind of weird to me – I kind of wish that it was all one big group. I don’t understand denominations; it all really should be the same thing, because fundamentally it’s all the same.”
Zeyl mentioned that each group has its own local, national or international bureaucracy. Some of these organizations are behind the decision to establish, staff and support a Ryerson chapter.
IVCF is an international evangelical organization that has been in Canada since 1928 and has over 60 chapters in universities and colleges across the country.
The Ryerson chapter dates from the 1960s, making it one of the first Christian groups on campus.
The American branch has over 35,000 student members in 560 chapters.
“I joined Inter-Varsity because I felt that it was a very welcoming environment,” said C.J. Astronomo, a second-year theatre production student.
“It was also one of the first groups that really cared about who I was as a person.”
Zeyl said IVCF pomotes “spiritual growth, leadership development, being good responsible citizens of the world and seeking out social justice.”
IVCF Canada and IVCF America have a very close relationship. They both share the same values and purpose, which is to “transform” members into committed followers of Jesus Christ, all the while demonstrating Christian love.
At the same time, she referred to Ryerson’s chapter as a “subculture” within the wider body.
IVCF owns a publishing company, InterVarsity Press, a resource tool for Christian youth to help them understand their religion and question it.
Some of the books, however, are more controversial. Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation, published recently by InterVarsity, looks at ways religious psychotherapy can be used to alter a person’s sexual orientation.
Written by two U.S. university psychology professors, Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse, the authors claim to have made a breakthrough in mental health.
Zeyl wasn’t aware of the book, but said there was a “wide range” of topics covered by InterVarsity Press. She emphasized that the organization might have “an official stance, but within that, there would be a plurality of perspectives.”
She personally recommended a “spectrum of thinking on sexuality that isn’t black or white.”