Michael Miller: Rise of the Christian fraternity
When a young man pledges membership to Sigma Theta Epsilon fraternity at Bradley University, his initiation is a bit different than the normal experience.
Rather than performing an embarrassing stunt, he may have to put on a social event or work on a community service project. Instead of singing a silly song in front of his future brothers, he may have to lead worship.
STE is a Christian fraternity. The 22-member Bradley chapter -- there are 11 chapters nationally -- has been organized at BU since 2000. A member is expected to agree with the fraternity's statement of faith and remain accountable to the other members.
"The ultimate goal of the fraternity is to give glory to God," BU chapter president and senior Marty Weiss of Highland said. "We hope to develop godly leaders."
STE also gives Christian students an opportunity to experience the positive aspects of fraternity life without having to deal with what some would consider negatives. Weiss, for example, joined the frat because he wanted to "branch out socially" but didn't want the stigma associated, rightly or wrongly, with typical frat life.
STE isn't part of BU's Interfraternity Council. It does, however, get involved with other frats by taking part in such activities as the Greek games or helping freshmen move into dorms on Move-In Day.
"Those relationships (with other fraternities) are starting to get a lot better," said STE member Ryan Jones, a junior from Metamora.
Frat members also are involved with other Christian organizations on campus like Chi Rho and Worship at Full Volume.
In the meantime, STE is busy with its own activities. It will host a dodgeball tournament later this semester to benefit Great Oaks Christian Camp, a summer facility near Lacon for low-income kids from Peoria. Members regularly engage in cleanup projects for neighborhood homes. Last winter, STE sent out a shoveling brigade to help snowed-in neighbors. The fraternity also volunteers at Morton's Grace Church for its Harvest of Family Fun event. Members attend various churches but meet for weekly fraternity Bible studies.
It's a dry frat as well.
"IBC (root beer) is our drink of choice," Jones said.
The junior religious studies and philosophy major said he was happy to move off a freshman dorm floor that saw "a lot of drinking."
"The opportunity to move out of the dorm presented itself, and I was very grateful for that," Jones said.
Seven members of the frat, including Weiss and Jones, live in a rented house at the corner of Bradley Avenue and Rebecca Place. STE tried to buy its own building this summer, but zoning problems frustrated that effort. The fraternity was hoping to turn the former Christian Family Center Church at 1800 Bradley Ave. into a residential facility for members, but the move would have required the rezoning of most of that block, something to which neighborhood associations were opposed, Weiss and Jones said.
"We're kind of in a bind right now," Jones said.
Being in STE, the two said, helps members in their Christian life and student life. Challenges for Christians during college include "remembering to be intentional in my relationship with God," Weiss said.
Such challenges don't just present themselves in social life; they're also in the classroom, where a variety of opinions that may be at variance with the Bible tempt Christian students.
"It's easy to get a head-heart conflict going," Jones said.
However, Bradley overall doesn't have much religious conflict, Weiss and Jones said.
"There's a tolerance of religious activities," Jones said. "I find it unique about Bradley and Peoria in general."
So far, there's no chapter of a Christian sorority at Bradley, though several exist nationally.
Michael Miller covers religion for the Journal Star. Write to him in care of the Journal Star, 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, or send e-mail to email@example.com. Comments may be published.