By Tyler Bui | Staff Writer
Baylor students have brought the Coptic Orthodox Church to Waco, opening its doors for the Baylor community to participate in or learn more abut.
The Coptic Orthodox Church is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, brought to the land of Egypt by St. Mark the Evangelist who preached Christianity in Egypt around 43 A.D. It is the primary Christian Church of Egypt and adheres to the Nicene Creed.
Dallas senior Athanasius Attia, Grapevine junior Barcenia Morgan, Houston sophomore George Fereg, Seattle, Wash., junior Nicole Salama and Baylor alumna Sherry Mina are the founding members of the Orthodox Christian Campus Ministries (OCCM) group on campus and the Coptic Orthodox Church in Waco.
The five students have all grown up in the Coptic Orthodox Church and said there was an absence of their religion not only at Baylor, but in Waco. Looking to build a larger community for their religion, the students decided to bring Coptic Orthodoxy to Waco themselves.
“I was raised Coptic Orthodox and coming to Baylor, I felt like there was a big lack— I couldn’t adapt to anything else,” Morgan said.
During Morgan’s freshman year, she began looking for students who were also Coptic Orthodox. By sophomore year, she had found a group of nine students, which she said has continued to increase.
“Last spring semester we started Bible studies. Our Bishop heard about our community, made us an official community and gave us the patron saint Youstina,” Morgan said. “We submitted an application to get chartered [on campus] and got chartered in July.”
Not only have these students reached out to other Baylor students, but they have also connected with members of the Waco community who are also Coptic and Oriental Orthodox.
“Earlier this semester we found out that there were two [Coptic] families in Waco, which we didn’t know about,” Morgan said. “That created a greater need for us to take a more active role in making an actual church, not just a Coptic culture.”
They are supported by His Grace Bishop Youssef, who is enthroned as the first Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States. Through his approval, the students have successfully chartered an official OCCM group and founded a Coptic Orthodox Church in Waco.
“There’s two aspects— one is the student organization, then there’s the actual church itself,” Attia said. “The closest church would be in Austin or Dallas. That’s why we also wanted to incorporate the aspect of building a church.”
The students are looking for a permanent location for the church and are working to find more members in the Baylor and Waco community.
“We meet now at St. Andrews in Woodway and do Bible studies twice a month in Elliston Chapel,” Attia said. “We are starting a fundraiser to purchase land or some type of real estate to build a church.”
Currently, there are around 20 people involved in the church, including two students who are Armenian Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox.
“I think our goal is to attract anyone who is here and anyone who is interested, even if they’re not already Oriental Orthodox, and to provide an opportunity for our community to come here without hindering them by the lack of church,” Morgan said.
Fereg said he was surprised at the number of students who were Coptic Orthodox on campus.
“Coming to Baylor, I didn’t think there were any, but coming here, finding these three and growing [the community] after that…I was very surprised,” Fereg said. “I used to say I wish there were more Coptic Orthodox students that went to the school, but now the goal is to find them because they are here.”
Salama said she hopes the presence of the religion at Baylor will provide an opportunity for more Coptic students to attend the university.
“We’re here for people who need us. But also we want to encourage more people from our church and our community to come [to Baylor], and that’s a big stepping stone,” Salama said. “People don’t come here because there’s no church, no community and nowhere to have a [Coptic] religious life—that was a big struggle for me when I was choosing [Baylor].”
To stay involved with the church, Attia said he wants to serve as a mentor to the younger students in the future.
“Being able to mentor the kids is really important and also giving them advice about their faith, because there are so many challenges that we all face being in college,” Attia said. “In the long run, our faith is very important and interconnected. We’re all unified, and it’s something that we will continue to do.”
The students said they will stay closely connected to the church, even after graduation.
“It’s tough to leave something when you are physically involved in every decision, and your heart goes out to it,” Salama said. “I think for all of us, this is always going to be our own church.”