Webb’s new religious devotional group


Austin Ra ('23)

Webb’s first student-led devotional group’s gatherings take place every Monday at McMillin Park. Students are invited to meet before afternoon activities and use the amphitheater as a space for prayer, song, and worship from all faiths. Group organizers, Jarra Jallow (‘25) and Esperanza Smith (‘25) encourage students to utilize the space as an environment where everyone can feel safe, comfortable, and accepted no matter their religion.

It’s a warm afternoon. Narrow beams of sunlight trickle in through the leaves of the oak trees surrounding McMillin Park. There’s thirty minutes until afternoon activity and you immerse yourself in the soft breaths of the surrounding nature; the birds calling from the branches and students praying, singing, and sharing personal experiences.  

You could never have imagined that there would be a space to celebrate and sit with your own faith while encouraging and learning about others. You feel understood in a way that you had never expected.  

 As an independent school, it has been challenging for Webb to create religious and interfaith programs, and as a boarding school it is difficult to transport students that live on campus to places of worship.  

The only place that students, especially boarders, have to worship is in their dorms or in chapel, and even then, it is quite restricting. The chapel is dedicated as a nonreligious space out of respect for all the students and faculty, religious or not. Some students may also not feel comfortable praying in their dorm rooms because of a roommate’s presence.  

Jarra Jallow (‘25) and Esperanza Smith (‘25) addressed the lack of religious space at Webb by establishing Webb’s first student-led devotional group. 

“I felt like a space like this was really missing at Webb,” Jarra said. “I felt like we have all of these programs to support our students, but we don’t really have space where students feel comfortable worshiping.” 

 The devotional group is off to a very productive start. The group currently meets at McMillin Park during X block every Monday. Jarra and Esperanza intentionally chose a space like McMilliin park to host the meetings.  

“I didn’t want to have the meetings in chapel because it was too centered on Christianity. I wanted to have a neutral space because of the diversity of religion.” Jarra said. 

The group also sent out an email to student news to invite those that resonate with religion or are interested in one to the Monday devotionals at 2:30. The email articulated that the group would share songs and prayers, either from the heart or from a specific religion. It was not only an invite to those who would like to worship and share, but also to anyone who would enjoy and respect the space. 

However, the group still faces some roadblocks. It’s hard for affinity groups to meet consistently, as there are other events during Monday’s X-block that may conflict with the group’s meetings. A more recent issue has been the weather. The stormy weather that persisted from late February to early March prevented the devotional group from meeting in the park until there was an indoor space available or the weather cleared up.  

In the future it will also be tricky to regulate the devotional group since it is a melting pot of different religions that have contrasting and different beliefs that can be very personal to individuals. 

“I think religion and faith is something that is so beautiful, and people have very strong feelings and opinions about it, rightfully so. This can be positive, but also sometimes unproductive so I hope that the space stays positive in the future,” said Gretel Barsotti, Assistant Director of Equity. 

Despite setbacks, the future of these devotional gatherings looks bright. The devotional group will have a huge impact on the Webb community, growing as an open space of understanding and reflection. Many students hope that the devotional groups will continue to reach Webb students and provide a safe space for them regardless of their religious background. 

“I hope to get other languages and religions involved and I want to welcome more diversity in the prayer section,” Jarra said. “We would love to have more people come to share new things.”