Faith & Family: Rhodes helping students find path
NATCHEZ — College can be a precarious path to navigate while staying true to your religious roots.
But Alcorn State University students now have someone on campus to help them along the way.
The Rev C. Edwards Rhodes II, formerly pastor of Mount Helm Baptist Church in Jackson, is now serving as rector of Alcorn’s Historic Oakland Memorial Chapel and director of student religious life, concluding a two-year search by Alcorn to fill the position.
Alcorn President M. Christopher Brown said the position was created after Alcorn renovated its chapel and students expressed interest in using the facility.
Rhodes duties will include leading chapel services, managing the chapel, advising student religious groups and teaching courses on philosophy, religion and ethics.
“I will also serve as the spiritual care person on campus to students and even faculty and administration,” he said.
Although he is Baptist by birth, Rhodes said his ministry has been influenced by other denominations, including Methodist and Pentecostal.
But Rhodes is not just at Alcorn to serve those of Christian faith, he said.
“I think I’ll be able to speak to and reach out to students that come from different denominational backgrounds and also be extremely sensitive to non-Christian students and faculty and making sure we are respectful and responsive to our Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other brothers and sisters,” he said.
Rhodes earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Ole Miss and a Master of Divinity from Duke University.
Rhodes was engaged in campus ministry at Ole Miss and says he knows what college life is like and how college ministry fits into the larger context of being in college.
“And I’m 31, so I’m not that far removed from their various experiences,” he said.
College students face many difficulties when they arrive at college that can shake their faith, Rhodes said.
“When you come to campus, it’s a brand-new world that can include drugs, sex, even financial issues,” he said. “All of those things come with profound temptations, especially if you were sheltered.”
Young people also come to college searching for their identities, Rhodes said.
“Looking for affirmation, attention or affection can sometimes lead young people down the wrong path,” he said.
But having mentors and spiritual leaders in their lives can help students stay on a path that can ensure prosperity in both their studies and spiritual lives.
Brown said the university is very fortunate that Rhodes decided to join the Alcorn family.
Brown said Alcorn sought a candidate who had both credentials in the faith community and was an academic scholar.
Provost Samuel L. White discovered Rhodes when he attended a service at Mount Helm, Brown said, in December 2012.
In addition to being a spiritual leader on campus, Brown said, Rhodes will teach courses that Alcorn has not offered in years.
“We have several courses in philosophy, ethics and world civilizations that have not been taught in a number of years,” he said,
Those courses, Brown said, will allow students to gain a greater understanding of changing political dynamics around the world and those dynamics’ roots in “near Eastern studies,” or world religion.
Brown said he is particularly glad Alcorn now has a leader that religious campus organizations can look to for guidance.
“We have a growing traditionalism Muslim population. We have some Buddhists and also some Hindu faculty,” he said.
Rhodes said he is excited to meet and reach out to all of the Alcorn family and serve their religious and academic needs.
“The beautiful thing about Alcorn is that there are so many young people that come with a certain religious zeal,” Rhodes said. “My position was created in response to their desire for a more organized religious life (on campus). I think that really says something about the culture of Alcorn.”