Erika Buiter–Staff Writer
Three couches and acres of floor space: These are the first things a student might notice in Dean of Chapel Aaron Baart’s office. The second is Baart himself—tall, good-natured, and the face of campus ministry at Dordt.
Nine years ago, Baart wasn’t so sure he wanted to be that face.
“I was the first pastor of Bridge of Hope in town, and I was there for five years,” Baart said. “The church plant was growing, there was lots of great stuff going on, and I had never thought about campus ministry.”
Dordt asked Baart if he’d like to apply to be their Dean of Chapel. Baart declined. Dordt asked again. After agreeing to take on chapel for a year, Baart developed relationships at Dordt.
“It wouldn’t leave me alone,” Baart said. “There was something about it that felt really right.”
The next time Dordt asked, Baart said yes. Today, among many other things, he preaches regularly in chapel, offers pastoral guidance to students, oversees Campus Ministries, serves on the president’s cabinet and involves himself in Dordt’s diverse faith community.
“I think we are still in a season of incredible change,” Baart said.
When it comes to faith at Dordt, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and other Reformed denominations have always supplied the majority of students attending—but that majority is losing ground.
According to institutional research available on DCC, “Reformed” student enrollment has decreased from around 75% in 2007 to closer to 60% in 2017. The denominations making up the “Reformed” data include the CRC, Protestant Reformed Church, Netherlands Reformed Church, United Reformed Church, Canadian Reformed Church, and more. Baart notes that of the “Reformed” churches, the CRC has had “the biggest difference in the past number of years.”
In contrast, “non-Reformed” student enrollment has risen considerably: from around 23% in 2007 to 40% in 2017. This includes students who are Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Evangelical Free and more.
“I didn’t know about Dordt for most of my life, but we had a couple of youth group leaders who came. They loved it,” freshman English major Anthony Siegrist said. He comes from an Evangelical Free denominational background.
Siegrist and his twin brother, Austin, initially had plans to attend Iowa State, but decided to visit Dordt for the heck of it.
“We just got this feeling that we were supposed to come here,” Siegrist said.
Without knowing the depth of Dordt’s Reformed background, Siegrist and his twin packed up and made the move from Wesley, Iowa, to Sioux Center.
“You don’t really get how Reformed it truly is until you come here,” Siegrist said. Parts of worship that Reformed congregations take for granted were entirely new for Siegrist, such as saying, “This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God” after reading scripture.
“I never experienced something like that before. I was like, ‘Is this a cult?’” Siegrist said, laughing. “Like, ‘What’s going on? We’re chanting?’ That’s not a big deal, but it was the first impression I had that this was a little different.”
After attending an outdoor sermon at Bethel CRC with his parents and twin brother, Siegrist started to become more comfortable around Reformed services.
“I came with a little bit of animosity. I didn’t want to be too easily swayed, but what I believe in my church compared to here is very compatible,” Siegrist said. “The only big things that distinguish the Evangelical church and the Reformed church are infant baptism and predestination.”
Those two differences have created plenty of good conversations and questions for Siegrist, and the new opinions he brings to the table can help broaden Dordt’s perspective as a whole. Though differences in faith can bring challenges, Dordt’s community is able to grow though them and learn from them.
“I think it’s made our spiritual climate on campus much richer,” Baart said.