As the clock strikes 7:37 p.m. on Thursday night, a crowd of people file into the Campus Center Dining Hall. A rainbow of cereal boxes and milk cartons cover the tables, a feast to accompany the Bible study that will take place momentarily.
At 7:37 p.m. every Thursday, the Ithaca College cereal ministry club meets to eat cereal and discuss the Bible together. Junior Alexa Spinnato, president of the Cereal Ministry, said for the first 20–30 minutes, the club just eats and socializes. Then, around 8 p.m. a member of the club leads a Bible study where members read and analyze different sections of the Bible. Spinnato said right now the club is focusing on the Book of Mark.
Spinnato said the overall goal of the club is to create a welcoming community for students. There are 18 members in the club, according to the IC Engage page.
“We just want to see more people feel like they have a sense of community on this campus,” Spinnato said. “Because not just Christians, but a lot of people on this campus kind of just feel, like, lost in that they’re the only ones going through a certain situation, and we kind of just want to bring, like, a home to those people. Like, you can come here and you won’t be judged, you won’t be looked at differently. You will be welcomed with open arms.”
The Cereal Ministry meets at exactly 7:37 p.m., which Spinnato said was chosen because of the Bible verse, John 7:37. The verse reads, “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.’”
“We were bouncing around a bunch of different times and ideas and we landed on John 7:37,” Spinnato said. “Just because of the message behind it and, like, how it talks about coming together and feeding people and we were like, that’s exactly what we wanted to happen. We want people to come together in cereal, in Jesus’s name. It just felt right to put it together.”
Sophomore Megan Burghdorf said joining the club has given her the space to express her beliefs.
“I felt like I didn’t have a group of people that I could talk to really about my beliefs,” Burghdorf said. “And it was kind of lonely. I was like, ‘I don’t know who to talk to.’ So it’s nice now that I have a group of people who, once a week, I can hang out with. It’s very refreshing.”
Treasurer junior Luke Pohlman said the group was founded after he, Spinnato and other Christian students from Ithaca College met at Real Life, a program held by the Christian group Cru at 7:30 p.m. every Friday at Cornell University. Spinnato said the Cereal Ministry adopted the format of Cru’s community groups where members share meals and discuss the Bible.
J.W. Betts, campus minister at Cornell, said Ithaca College students have been coming to Cornell for Cru events for many years. Betts said he has talked with students about starting up a Christian club at Ithaca College, and this year they were able to make it happen.
When the club first started meeting in the beginning of September, it met in the Roy H. Park Hall parking lot. Pohlman said it met outside because it was not officially recognized by the Office of Student Engagement (OSE) as a club yet.
“We came in not knowing if we were going to be a club or not, and if there would be any pushback or whatever,” Pohlman said. “And so we were operating in this renegade structure, where we were just trying to go somewhere where we didn’t think we would cause trouble. So that was our spot.”
Spinnato said via email that the club was officially recognized by the college Nov. 3, enabling the e-board to book rooms indoors when there is inclimate weather.
Pohlman said he thinks there may be misconceptions about the Cereal Ministry because of politics.
“I think, in many ways, religion has become politicized,” Pohlman said. “And I think it’s rather unfortunate, because it’s falling into that category of political polarization, where people will fixate on one little thing that they disagree with instead of seeing the whole picture. I think specifically with Christianity, there’s a lot of targeting in terms of intolerance of sexual orientation, things of that sort. But we just want to love people, whether they look like us, act like us, sound like us, it doesn’t matter. We just want to love everyone and be a reflection of the love that we receive.”
According to previous reporting by The Ithacan, students felt that the religious group, the Protestant Community, was exclusionary of the LGBTQ+ community. The Protestant Community has since changed its name to the Lighthouse Christian Fellowship as part of the club’s effort to become more welcoming and inclusive of LGBTQ+ students. Pohlman said he thinks other religious organizations like the Protestant Community have been dismissed by the college community because they perpetuated the beliefs that Christian clubs are unwelcoming, and he hopes that does not happen to the Cereal Ministry.
“My biggest hope is that when or if that pushback comes, that the people who are on this quote-unquote, opposing perspective, would come for themselves and see what it’s all about,” Pohlman said. “Because we don’t want to push anyone away. Ithaca College is a very unique place that has a lot of different perspectives on a lot of different topics, and that’s great. I support that 100% and I hope that they feel the same way about us.”
Graduate student Carolyn Wright said that although the Cereal Ministry only meets formally once a week, the community is always there.
“It’s not just a weekly thing that we come to, to talk about Jesus,” Wright said. “It’s like, we’re constantly still reaching out to each other during the week and, like, checking in on each other and like, wanting to do more, live together completely as opposed to just, we see each other once a week and that’s it and then we kind of move on.”
Pohlman said he wants to continue fostering a sense of community for everyone through Bible study and cereal.
“We want everyone to come,” Pohlman said. “We want conversations with people, we want to share what we believe and hear what other people believe and engage in friendly conversation over a bowl of cereal.”