R. Michael Meagher ’02 was recruited by the BCC his first year. As Meagher walked through the Yard on his way to class, a friendly stranger named Chris Zilman approached him and asked if he was interested in grassroots religion. Meagher, who had spent three years in Catholic school, assumed he was referring to an open forum for religious discussion and gave Zilman his phone number.
Shortly thereafter, Meagher joined Zilman and his friend, Michael J. Hrnicek ’96, for a get-together in Loker Commons. After what Meagher calls a “very welcoming, non-threatening” conversation about college life, the pair asked him, “So what do you think about Jesus?” A philosophical discussion ensued, and Meagher was invited to a larger group discussion in Winthrop House. He found the group to be “ridiculously friendly,” very supportive and very focused on analysis of Biblical passages. “A lot of [the Biblical analysis] was taken out of context,” he asserts, but he thought debating with his new friends was enjoyable.
Meagher found himself going out for coffee or pizza with his new buddies, who would call twice a week to check up on him. They praised what they saw as leadership qualities in him. “It was very beneficial to an ego,” Meagher recalls. “I wasn’t out there looking for acceptance, but I wasn’t going to turn it away.” Strangely, though, “never once did they mention what church they were affiliated with.”
A month into the school year, Zilman and Hrnicek invited Meagher to join them at a church service. He agreed and says he found the congregation to be an energetic (and young) community. The preacher that day spoke out against the church’s critics. Meagher summarizes the sermon: “They’re not a cult. They will be heard. They will not be held down by those who are afraid of their true message.” At one point, Hrnicek pulled Meagher on stage and introduced him to the whole audience. “He’s looking for a new perspective,” Hrnicek declared. After the service was over, “I was like a magnet,” Meagher says. Beautiful girls introduced themselves, eager to meet “the new guy,” he says. “I was immersed, infatuated. I was kind of like a celebrity. The attention was very intoxicating.” Looking back, Meagher now considers all of the attention paid him merely a very clever recruiting strategy.
Returning to his dorm room that afternoon, Meagher fielded questions from his roommates. He still could not recall the exact name of the church, only that “Church of Christ” was part of it. “Dude,” one roommate replied, “that’s a cult.”
Meagher was now on the alert and started checking out cautionary websites to which his roommate directed him. He continued to meet with Zilman and Hrnicek, who gave him assorted religious books to read, but he was more skeptical. “Now I was being a proverbial thorn,” he says. When he asked his friends what would be required of him if he joined the church, “They danced around [the answer] quite a bit.”
Meagher saw the two less frequently when lacrosse practices began in the winter, though they continued to call him on a regular basis. His roommates would answer the phone and tease him, “It’s the cult people. Do you want to talk to them?” Meagher says Zilman and Hrnicek disliked even the fact that he talked to his roommates about the church, telling him, “Outsiders just won’t understand. If people begin to question you, you have to separate yourself from them.”
Meagher finally ended his relationship with the church when he returned home in May. But without his involvement in sports and solid friendships with Harvard peers, he says it would have been very easy to get caught up in the church. He says that he was made to think he had a lot to learn from the BCC and that Zilman and Hrnicek were persistent to the point where they “never seemed to take no for an answer.” Meagher recollects how excited Zilman felt after converting his parents. “That’s freaky. This is your mom and dad,” Meagher says. “It shouldn’t matter if you have different opinions on religion. It’s no reason to completely shut them out of your life.”
Looking back, Meagher now finds his experience with the BCC educational and a little amusing. “I learned a lot about my own personal beliefs,” he says.