A book in one hand, a Bible in the other
Rossi's leadership role in Athletes in Action (AIA), a Christian fellowship on campus, is one of her priorities. Rossi, who was also involved in a Bible study in high school, has been participating in AIA since the fall of her freshman year.
One of her tasks as a student leader in AIA is to work with the three other student leaders and their advisers to organize Game Time, a fellowship meeting every Thursday during which students come together to worship, play games and gather as a community. Rossi and the other leaders also organize Bible studies, which are separated by gender and team affiliation.
Rossi says that being a member of AIA has been a great source of stability during her time at Princeton. "It's sort of a unique platform," she said. "Coming from an athletic team, the college life is amplified. You're expected to go out and be social with your team, in addition to a full course load and almost daily practice."
"AIA has been a great resource because you can ask questions of older athletes, who are a resource in helping deal with difficult situations," she explained.
Margaret Walker '10 would agree with this sentiment and said she feels that her participation in Princeton Presbyterians and Princeton Faith and Action (PFA) has been an important influence on her day-to-day life.
"I think one thing that's good is you have this set of daily devotionals, which keep you focused," Walker said. "Also, you meet with the same people every week, and I find that doing that keeps me very centered and reminds me to keep that [faith] a part of my daily life."
Part of the support that these groups offer comes from the strong sense of community that is fostered through small, weekly meetings in which students create open relationships and discuss various issues in their lives.
"Students are not afraid to come in and ask each other for ongoing support and encouragement," said PFA leader Dan Knapke, an employee of Christian Union, an organization formed to encourage Christian fellowship throughout the Ivy League. "If there are areas of struggle or weakness in their lives, [students] will voluntarily connect with each other, pray with each other and help each other identify struggles and areas for growth."
Such small, tight-knit communities are fostered at Bible study meetings as well as at fellowship events organized by the different organizations. One of Rossi's co-leaders, Will McEachern '08, helped organize AIA's annual men's retreat this past winter. The event brought together 20 male students on a trip to the Pocono Mountains to participate in what is sometimes referred to as the "Council of Man."
"Basically we eat a lot of meat, play a lot of sports and share life with each other," McEachern said. "It's also a time where we can come together and have discussions on issues such as the role of men in the church and the dual roles of men. It was a great experience."
The student leaders also often give speeches during Game Time on topics that they have studied and find personally meaningful. Earlier this year, Rossi spoke about the spring semester she spent in Kenya and how it affected her thoughts about contentment.
"There are two types of contentment, physical and mental," Rossi said. "But we are only taught to be content in our physical lives, not our mental ones."
When students are not leading the discussions, advisers or guest speakers lead the conversations. McEachern recalls his favorite discussion, which was led by Princeton alumnus Vince Vitale '04.
"He had grappled with the truth behind the resurrection," McEachern said. "He dug really deep and looked at the evidence, and it was very personal and challenging."
Students often find that their Bible studies are intellectually as well as spiritually challenging. Knapke explained that the Bible study is designed to do two things: to study the Bible with the careful intensity it deserves and to create personal, meaningful relationships. Knapke works to make sure that the curriculum he creates is suitable for an Ivy League audience.
"There is a little bit of homework, and we pull out a little bit of the original language that helps add nuanced meanings," Knapke said.
The intellectual component may actually contribute to the diversity of the students in groups like PFA. Participants are required to do careful reading and analysis, which speaks to the ways in which these groups offer more than just spiritual guidance.
"We have been really surprised that so many students are interested, especially because of the rigor of the course," Knapke said. "Probably about 20 percent of the students aren't Christians; [they come] because of the relational components or because they have always wanted to learn about the Bible."
PFA and other groups actively recruit diverse students through outreach, open dinners and events. Walker said that recruitment of questioning students or students of diverse faiths is a mission of all the groups and that the wide range of events outside Bible studies helps attract these students.
Probably two of the greatest and most important recruiters for PFA are Dan Knapke and his wife, Laurie. They have been working with PFA in Princeton for three years, and they are a critical component of the group. They put hours of their time into scheduling and organizing Bible study groups, which meet anywhere between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. Dan and Laurie often invite students into their home for meals, movie nights or just to relax.
"We want to give them a real understanding of connectedness," Laurie Knapke said. "A sense that God is a part of everything; he wants us to be healthy and make good choices. For us in the campus ministry, we want to take care of every part of the student."
And in a time when students face immense pressure, both academically and socially, this feeling of connectedness is critical.
"Being involved in AIA gives me a good perspective on my work," McEachern said. "Coming into the room and studying with people who share similar values and an appreciation of sports gives me more motivation to do what I need to do, for the right reasons."