Oh, the dreaded days when parents and family members woke us up and dragged us to church, temple, mosque, bible study or wherever else we were persuaded to go. Many of us were forced to go, many liked to go, and some never had religion growing up. But regardless of religious denomination or lack thereof, there are many traditions that students neglect when they are out of the house. But even if Isla Vista seems godless at times, who’s to say tradition goes out the window when in our community?
Residents hardly have a steady routine here. After all, when parties are thrown simply because the date is 9/9/09, it becomes clear that I.V. is far from a place of normalcy. So do students still practice religion and basic habits they learned growing up when they are trapped in this city of sin? Or do I.V. parties and daily rituals of opening a cool Natty Light overshadow all of the amazing places of worship I.V. has to offer?
Pondering this as I wandered around I.V., I discovered many places of worship that I never noticed before. Just to name a few: Christian Science Organization, St. Athanasius Orthodox Church, Islamic Society of Santa Barbara/Muslim Student Association, Hillel Jewish Youth Organization, St. Marks Catholic Church, Lutheran Campus Ministry, St. Michael’s, All Angels Episcopal Church and the New Covenant Worship Center. It seemed there was one on every corner.
This past Sunday at 7 p.m. I experienced my first mass in I.V. After weeks of partying and neglecting to manifest any devotion to my beliefs over this summer, I was hesitant to go. It had been so long since I had practiced religion that even the word “church” had become somewhat foreign. And I must admit: I have noticed St. Mark’s before. It is a quaint Catholic Church at 6550 Picasso Road and is unusual in that it is much less formal than traditional Catholic Churches. But students don’t actually attend mass do they? Last Sunday, I was proven wrong.
When my boyfriend and I walked into St. Mark’s, we initially noticed the setup was unconventional yet traditional at the same time. Pews were replaced by chairs connected in rows, centered around the alter and pulpit and making the atmosphere intimate, laid-back, and comfortable. The decor was not the only aspect that was less austere than the standard magnificence of a Catholic Church. Father John Love, the residing pastor, presented a service that was poignant and condensed. This modified style kept the attention of the (mostly) college attendees. Four students sang in the chorus and one played the flute as incense filled the air.
I.V. is mostly composed of college students who are finding their way through life, discovering self and realizing which daily habits keep them grounded. One way of being grounded, I realized, is through religious practice. The amazing thing about religion in I.V. is that many different denominations are crammed into just over two square miles. The younger populations of residents are free to explore different beliefs in this tiny town.
Many Faiths, One Goal
In fact, there is an entire center designed to combine all faiths present in Isla Vista. The University Religious Conference (URC) of Santa Barbara’s purpose is to “promote interfaith understanding and cooperation’s at the University of California Santa Barbara and in Isla Vista,” according to its mission statement. URC has been the link between religious facilities for over five decades. It is located at 777 Camino Pescadero and is a large building containing departments for each affiliated church with scrolls adorning the walls. The scrolls stood out to me because they display the principles of over ten religions. On each, a word like “hate” or “love” is printed at the top. Under the heading, each lists a short phrases illustrating different forms of religious acceptance. The URC building is used for organizations, tenants, and local community religious organizations. There are two spaces for tenants along with The Samuel Barlow Mosher auditorium and the Ken Bartlett lounge that can be rented to nonprofit organizations whose aims correspond to the URC’s mission statement.
In the past, the URC has been a place for community members to gather and express their faith. In 2008, the URC held a photography contest titled “What’s Sacred.” The photographs ranged from traditional symbols of religion like church architecture and nature to unconventional pictures of objects around the world - a cow statue in New Orleans, for example. Whether it is through art, gatherings, or writings, the URC has historically linked differing faiths in I.V.
Right now, the URC is looking forward to many changes. Executive director Dr. Patty Forgie said the URC hopes to turn the building into an Interfaith Student Residence, a People’s Self-Help Housing or Homeless Transition Center. An interfaith student residence seems like it would be the option most in sync with the mission of URC. However, the decision will be made by September 30 of this year. “Through these relationships, we encourage dialogue and action concerning contemporary ethical issues as we strive for a just society,” the URC mission statement reads. Who could argue with that?
Make of It What You Will
What is to be appreciated most about I.V. is that anything goes. Although it turns out that I.V. has many formal places of worship, I.V. also facilitates creativity and expression despite spiritual or religious values. A few Sundays ago, for example, I walked to Sands Beach with a friend. We settled our blankets on the beach and noticed a bald man resting on a towel and blasting Van Halen’s “Runnin’ with the Devil.” As the sun went down he stood up and asked us if his music was bothering us. My friend and I replied, “No not at all.” In truth, it is moments like theses that I.V. residents enjoy most about our town. The bald man raised his arms, his body facing the setting sun as he performed a set of yoga postures or sun salutations. About a half-hour later we left and the man flashed a peace sign.
So I realized that I.V. is actually a great place to practice new and old tradition. With so many different houses of worship and a beach that rolls miles wide, it’s nearly impossible not to find a place that is sacred to each individual in some way. I.V. is a Wonderland, a place to wonder about different religious practices and keep an open mind to hidden, sacred inspiration.