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Find It Fast

Culver students flock to prayer breakfasts for worship, fellowship

Tom Coyne
Culver Academies students gather after meeting separately for the Catholic and Protestant portions of the prayer breakfast to say the Lord's Prayer.

Feb. 8, 2023

Shortly before 7:30 a.m. on Thursdays, some Culver Academies students begin lining up with friends in the foyer of Legion Memorial Building for breakfast.

No, the Lay Dining Center isn’t shut down. Every week, more than 50 students decide to get up just a bit earlier than normal so they can skip the regular breakfast at the dining center to take part in a weekly prayer breakfast organized by Spiritual Life and gather with friends for worship and fellowship – and possibly a home-cooked meal.

“We're a safe place on campus for students to spend time,” said Deacon Mike Madison, the campus Catholic minister at Culver. “We don't give grades. We don't give rank. We don't tell you whether you made the team. We're here for them. We’re walking with them, like on the road to Emmaus, when Jesus was walking with his people.”

The idea of a prayer breakfast at Culver Academies was simple: invite some Catholic students to meet on Thursday mornings. It fit right in with the school’s mission of nurturing the mind, spirit, and body. Amah Medard, associate director of college advising in Academic Affairs, and the lead organizer, hoped about 10 students would show for breakfast at the Spiritual Life offices on the third floor of Huffington Library in September 2021. Organizers planned for a maximum of 12 students.

Seventeen showed up, including new student leaders Elle Teglia '23 and Constantino Oberto '23 and current leaders Kari Teglia '24 and Raluchi Obioha '24. It’s been snowballing ever since, with a group of Protestants starting their own prayer breakfast with eight students initially and it continues to grow.

Abby Sears ’23, one of the Protestant student leaders, says students come to the prayer breakfast for more than the “yummy” food.

“It’s a very open place to come and pray in the morning,” she said. “We do a bunch of different activities, dive into a bunch of different Scriptures, so I think we engage every type of person here to grow their faith.”

Students at Culver don’t have much free time, so the folks at Spiritual Life are always looking for ways to incorporate faith into students’ days. The prayer breakfasts are held at the same time as breakfast at the dining hall, so it fits into their schedules.

“We know that some students come in initially for the breakfast, but then they really do look forward to being with their friends and using this time to center themselves,” said Pastor Brenda Hafer, Culver’s Protestant campus minister.


Pastor Brenda Hafer, the Protestant campus minister at Culver Academies, talks with students during prayer breakfast.


An average of more than 50 students have been showing up, with as many as 70 showing up some weeks. A total of 90 students have attended the breakfasts. The Catholic students gather in the Heritage Room and the Protestants meet across the hall in the Alumni Lounge. The Protestants and Catholics gather at the beginning each week when they line up to select their food and at the end to say the Lord’s Prayer together. They occasionally meet together.

Sears said that while the food is great, the real draw is the people.

“The best part is being able to talk to anyone in that room about anything you have going on, sharing what you might be praying about and knowing that others in that room will be praying for you,” she said.

Obioha, a leader on the Catholic side, said the prayer breakfasts are calming.

“It’s a friendly community where we all talk about God and we’re all sharing our ideas about religion,” he said. “I like getting to know a lot of people’s perspectives and ideas about God. I’ve learned so much. It’s challenging for me because I want to know more about religion.”

Sometimes Catholic students go with a friend to the Protestant service, or vice versa. Students of faiths other than Catholic or Protestant also occasionally take part to be with friends.

The prayer breakfasts sometimes consist of home-cooked meals, which is the students’ favorite, and sometimes the meals are catered, with parents paying the costs. Some mornings it is a casserole, other times it’s a cereal bar and other times it is doughnuts and other foods.

Madison and Hafer go into each week with plans about what to talk about, but they’re ready to adjust depending on what is on the minds of students.

“We let the leaders on both sides help guide us,” Madison said. “They’ll say, ‘There’s this thing going on on campus, it's really got our attention. What do we want to do Thursday morning to address that?’ ”


Deacon Mike Madison, the Catholic campus minister at Culver Academies, talks with students during prayer breakfast.


The students frequently start the breakfasts by sharing roses and thorns with each other, or good things going on and things that are troubling them. A lot of times students will say it’s Thursday, so that’s a rose, because they get to have breakfast with friends.

Student leaders on the Protestant side started the year with the theme: “I Spy.”

“The theme asks the question “how can I find God , how can I see God at work in myself, in the world around me, in my friends?” Hafer said. “We have been incorporating practices and readings to see where is God working? Where can I invite God to be more present? Where can I bring my awareness?”

One week they did paper airplane prayers where they write a prayer prompt, such as: “God you are …” and throw it. The next person picks up the airplane, reads the prompt, and fills in an adjective of what God is, or who God is to them, and throw it. Another prompt was, “I thank God for,” and then asked the reader to list three things. Another was, “I need help with …”

“So we try to do stuff that is, very student-focused and very student-friendly but is teaching them the practices of the faith,” Hafer said. “We’re trying to show them that   prayer is accessible.”

The Catholic students heard about the airplane prayers and wanted to do it. So the next time the two groups met together, they did the airplane prayer.

“They are talking together to each other, which is great,” Madison said.

The Catholic students have been talking about parables, which are stories with moral lessons. They discuss a different parable each week and answer three questions:

“What was Christ saying to his disciples at that time with this story;” “What's he saying to us today?” and “How do you apply that this week at Culver?”

“They're diving into Scripture in that way, and for Catholics taking a deep dive into Scripture is relatively new since Vatican II. That was left for the clergy to do prior to the reforms,” Madison said.

Religion, like politics, can be divisive because it can lead people to choose sides. The goal of the prayer breakfast is to bring the students together.

“What we’ve said from the beginning is we have something in common and that’s Christ,” Madison said.

Hafer said Culver provides students a unique perspective because the various Protestant denominations worship together and the students see a female Protestant pastor and a male Catholic deacon working together “for one community.”

“When they see us working together and then us encouraging them to share together, I think those divisions and those lines are a lot more blurred,” she said.

Hafer said students tell her that the prayer breakfasts have spilled over into other aspects of their lives at Culver.

“If they take it and make it more their own, that's the goal. So that they take prayer from Thursday morning to Wednesday evening to CQ, to Tuesday at lunchtime. We don't want it to stay on Thursday morning,” Hafer said. “It's a really unique community of faith that is being built.”


Culver Academies students talk while eating breakfast. Students taking part in the Protestant portion of the prayer breakfast meet in the Alumni Lounge in the Legion Memorial Building.

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