Religion and faith in the Ames community

Christianity is an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

Loretta Mcgraw

Editors Note: This article has been updated with more religious resources in the Ames and Iowa State community. 

Ames is a college town, a Midwest mecca, yet there is a lack of religious resources for different types of students. With very few mosques, synagogues or temples in an accessible proximity for community members without access to a personal vehicle, it can prove to be a barrier. 

Many individuals grow up with a particular faith while many others find theirs later on in life. College can be one of the most opportune times to find a religious organization, given the community- and campus-wide diversity of organizations. In Ames, you will find over 20 Christian churches of numerous denominations, but there are only a handful of differing religious organizations aside from Christianity.

Iowa State is home to over 25 student groups with a focus on religion or spirituality and encompasses everything from Judaism to Buddhism and more. Just about every religion is accessible in Ames via student organizations or off-campus 501(c)(3) organizations/nonprofits. 

It is a First Amendment right for individuals to practice various faiths and religions without fear of prosecution or any sort of impedance on the free exercise of religion as American citizens, but despite the diverse amount of students at Iowa State, the university and the surrounding community of Ames have very few places of worship outside of what they consider the major denominations of religion.

“Faith is one of the hardest things to grasp, especially if you don’t come from a place of religion,” said Jedidiah Chukwusom, president of the Adventist Christian Fellowship. 

Religious freedoms are protected in the United States, so while you can pray in any place, many religions require a place of worship for prayer, meditation, completing offerings and, in some cases, even house schools and community centers outside of religious practice times.

A sign of the times comes as organizations adopt more flexibility in their practice requirements, locations of worship and leniency in ways that have not been done since the cancelation of public masses in 1918 due to the influenza pandemic, better known as the Spanish Flu.

Not all people associate religion with places of worship, especially as COVID-19 has halted many in-person services, but that doesn’t stop physical organizations from looking forward to the day they can reopen their doors. Religion generally concerns what a person holds sacred or considers to be spiritually significant, so for some, a location of worship is extremely relevant while others see no issue worshipping virtually or on their own.

According to Iowa State and Ames community members, among various religions, one thing remains the same: misconception. These individuals said misconception, or rather, a lack of willingness to become educated on religions other than their own, can cause individuals to make incorrect assumptions regarding the acts of others or pass unfair judgement on religious organizations. 

Islam is a religion that has a history of many misconceptions, according to Learning for Justice. As one of the biggest religions in the world, there are approximately 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide. There is one mosque in Ames known as the Darul Arqum Islamic Center, but many students engage in their five daily prayers at Parks Library on campus.

“Islam is actually a co-existence religion,” said Mahmoud Gshash, Muslim Student Alliance committee member. “Most of the first-comers to Islam were people of preexisting religions. Many Christians and Jews embraced this religion very quickly because they saw the same core message.”

There are an estimated 10,000 classifications of religion worldwide and 10 times as many acknowledged gods or symbolic figures.

“[When we] talk about the differences between other denominations, independent churches or religions, it just goes along with how we understand who we are in relation to God — or other symbols — and how [they] would want us to be active in the world,” said Jennifer Hibben, campus pastor of the Wesley Center and reverend of the Collegiate United Methodist Church.

Soto Zen Buddhist priest Eric Daishin McCabe guides virtual Zoom sessions with members of Iowa State’s Dizang-Qi Buddhism Club from 6 to 7:30 p.m. every Monday. This organization does not have a formal and accessible location at this time, but is permitted to share space at the Ames Friends Meeting House, which primarily hosts The Religious Society of Friends who practice Quakerism — a sect with Christian roots.

“Buddha taught that there is suffering, and we can see that a lot in terms of people experiencing anxiety or going through periods of depression,” McCabe said. “He said there is suffering and that there is a way out of suffering. By following certain guidelines in the way we think, we speak, we act, our livelihoods and following meditation [and mindfulness] practices, those things help to end suffering.” 

Another religion practiced in Ames is Judaism. Judaism is characterized by a belief in one God and by a religious life in accordance with the Torah and various other traditions. Individuals can currently practice virtually, but post-COVID-19, the location is the Ames Jewish Congregation synagogue located just south of Ada Hayden Heritage Park. 

“Judaism is really not a literalist religion,” said Mike Lazere, president of the Ames Jewish Congregation Board. “I think a lot of people might disagree with me on that, but Judaism is about interpretation. It’s always updating, even among the Orthodox. What did God intend is really always the question, and most of the lessons of Judaism are about how to live your life and how you treat other people.”

Hindu Yuva is another religious organization on campus that emphasizes values of self-discipline, self-confidence and a spirit of selfless service for the society in accordance with the practice of Hindu Dharma. Ames lacks a Hindu Temple, but there is one located in Madrid approximately 30 minutes away by car, known as the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center of Iowa.

Each organization took time to state they are a fully inclusive congregation and non-judgmental, and while they recognize their independent organization may not be the perfect fit for every one person, they hope individuals can find a sense of community and belonging and come to worship alongside them. 

Only a handful of locations of differing religions are available outside of the 20+ Christian organizations locally in Ames and more so that not all of these religions have any form of access to a place of worship locally.

To get in touch with any of the religious organizations at Iowa State, in Ames or in the surrounding communities included in this article, individuals can find the information below:

Collegiate United Methodist Church and Wesley Foundation

Reverend Jennifer Hibben 

515-292-6936 [email protected]

Muslim Student Alliance

President Azeez Idris

[email protected]

Dizang-Qi Buddhism Club

Soto Zen Buddhist Priest Eric Daishin McCabe

515-491-8283 [email protected]

Zoom services 6 to 7:30 p.m. Mondays

Meeting ID: 576 340 3743 Passcode: ZenFields

Ames Jewish Congregation

515-233-1347 [email protected] 

Hindu Yuva

515-357-3271 [email protected]

As well, more resources can be found below: