A Pagan, a Hindu, a Christian and a Muslim gathered for a leadership meeting of the multifaith ambassadors this past week to discuss our programs. Sounds like a great line for a joke, but no, this is the great life I lead as a chaplain serving on a campus. As I see how polarized the world is now with rhetoric of hate and especially distortion and outright ignorant statements about religion and spiritual identities, using my own education in theology, religious studies and pastoral care, I celebrate each time I get to be at an interfaith table in my profession of chaplaining.
“This is the safest place on campus on which we can be all ourselves.”
These words, said by a student to another, at an interfaith gathering I hosted on campus. This initiated an immediate and lively conversation by everyone present. Students from around the table were popping in with their comments, saying how this was the one place, on campus, that no one tried to talk anybody into anything or convince anyone that they were right or wrong. Instead, they said, who you are is valued, and learning from one another’s spiritual journeys is, in fact, appreciated.
May the young ones teach us. Honoring the identity we come with, sitting at a table together with, one another, respecting one another, as we are…even if from a very different place than our own, imagine that table.
I am lucky enough to serve in the campus setting where with much work and intentionality -- yes let me say that again -- with much work and intentionality, all are welcomed, valued, and appreciated, in all their identities, including their faith perspective and/or country of origin.
On our campus today we have Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews and Non-affiliated students who are eating in the same dining hall, going to classes together, and living in housing together. Think of that our current campus’s our like mini United Nations and it works. Truly a dynamic reality! And as chaplain to all, I get to help create spaces and places to teach and interpret literacy and practice, not just with students so they can get it and live it. I get to companion with them to be ambassadors of, and teach the importance of the spiritual life to faculty, staff, administration and alumni now… and for when they are contributing leaders in their years to come as they live into their post-campus world.
Our campus communities, whether in person or scattered because of remote teaching are incubators to the world the way we want it to be, one of authentic curiosity, respect, care, understanding combined with compassion…. and where there is no room for white supremacy.
I am honored to serve as chaplain in the campus setting, where the questions asked are; why am I here, what do I believe, what do I want to do with my life? You see the space has been created for the questions to be asked this cannot be stressed enough the space has been created. Aren’t these great questions for us all to ask every so often? Don’t you think?
In this historical moment, I know most of us feel like we are living in an era of distrust. We are. Our democracy is being threatened, we are living in a deadly pandemic that is not going away. And now the outbreak is at the HIGHEST levels of our government with all of us having unsettling questions. Our planet is struggling as the climate changes way too fast. It is so extremely hard to have hope; but I am telling you our future looks good. Our students today see the current world and they do not want it. They want one of collaboration not competition. They delight in difference and see it as a strength. They not only care about one another but the planet we are hosted by and will fight to save it.
But our students cannot do it alone they need leaders and folks who can companion with them. I am grateful for the profession of chaplaincy so I can practice this for them. These are, and will be times, like no other. We as leaders have an opportunity to set a tone of much needed grace. Let us together no matter what we do on campus or off, be good models for the leadership that is to come. Our students among us are watching us. Let us be worth watching.
Reverend Dr. Monica Corsaro is a United Methodist clergy from Galesburg.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Western Illinois University or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.