The Willis D. Weatherford, Jr. Campus Christian Center

Interfaith Dialogue, Education, and Action: The IDEA Project

As a department of the College, the Campus Christian Center exists to serve the larger educational mission of Berea College.  In this respect, the Center defines the character of its service and orients its programming around the historic purpose of the College, to promote “the cause of Christ,” through the College’s more focused commitment: “[t]o stimulate understanding of the Christian faith and its many expressions and to emphasize the Christian ethic and the motive of service to others.”

Moreover, the Christian character of the department derives from the Christian identity of the College itself.  According to its official statement, The Christian Identity of Berea College, Berea College understands its Christian heritage and its contemporary Christian identity in terms of an inclusive hospitality that welcomes “all peoples of the earth,” students, staff, and faculty of many religious traditions or of no religious tradition, those who “accept Berea College’s core values of impartial love and service to others, whatever their culture, faith or philosophy.”

As a consequence of this important basis for its departmental identity and programs, the Center develops an ecumenical Christian atmosphere and provides education about expressions of Christian faith that engage in healthy, respectful ways with persons from other religious traditions or from no religious tradition.   As the Campus Christian Center seeks to fulfill its vision of engendering interfaith and inter-religious education, conversation, and engagement, the Center supports activities and plans programs, through which the department hopes to achieve several aims: (1) to educate students, staff, and faculty about both the many different Christianities and the many different religious traditions and spiritual communities; (2) to engender and cultivate both constructive conversation and harmonious community among members of the College community who have different or no religious commitments; and (3) to engage members of the College community, who may hold very different religious perspectives, in common tasks, toward the shared goals of peace, social justice, and sustainable life, on the basis of the values that inform the mission of Berea College.

Because the Campus Christian Center aims to integrate its larger work into the events, programs, and activities of the entire life of the College community, the Center’s program of Interfaith Dialogue and Education operates similarly.  In addition to the various initiatives that the Campus Christian Center itself envisions, plans, and offers to the academic community, the Center also encourages the development of interfaith initiatives and projects by various departments in the College and groups of students or student religious organizations.  In this encouragement of and support for interfaith initiatives from other sectors of the College community, the Campus Christian center, affirms processes of Guided Learning, in which the Center seeks to engage with students, student religious organizations, and other departments on campus in ways that empower partners in interfaith initiatives to develop patterns of self-determination, encourage healthy criticism of and proposals for revision of the status quo, minimize hierarchical patterns of leadership, and nurture teamwork on the basis of shared values and goals.  In other words, the Campus Christian Center seeks ways by which to encourage an atmosphere of interaction among persons from different religious traditions on campus, in which an emphasis on constructive interfaith and inter-religious engagement pervades all academic areas and considerations of religious issues and phenomena, rather than limiting interfaith dialogue and education to the activities of one department or two departments on campus.   The Campus Christian Center implements this facet of its mission and vision in a variety of ways.

All Peoples Prayer Chapel

The Campus Christian Center, as part of its departmental self-study in 2000, proposed and the College established the All Peoples Prayer Chapel, located in the Alumni Building of the Crossroads Complex.  The College opened this Chapel for use by students, staff, and faculty of any religious faith, tradition, or community, but especially for members of the College community from non-Christian religious traditions or communities, for the purpose of prayer and contemplation. The name for this chapel comes from the Christian biblical text that serves as the College motto, appears in the mission statement of the College, and thematizes the College Seal: “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth” (Acts 17:26).  The Campus Christian Center maintains and supervises this chapel.  Located at the crossroads of the campus, All Peoples Prayer Chapel reflects and enhances the commitment that informs the mission, values, commitments, and identity of Berea College.

Interfaith Council

Also on the basis of its departmental self-study in 2000, the Campus Christian Center led the College in developing the Interfaith Council, by working with several departments and student organizations: the Department of Philosophy and Religion, the International Center, the Asian Studies Program, the African and the African-American Studies Program, Campus Life, the Buddhist Student Association, the Jewish Student Association, the Muslim Student Association, and the Pagan Coalition.  The Interfaith Council has several goals: to provide opportunities to learn about various religious traditions and communities; to promote dialogue among students, faculty, and staff of different religious perspectives; and to encourage cooperation in common tasks, on the basis of shared values, toward common goals, among the various religious groups on campus.  Membership on the Interfaith Council consists of representatives and College sponsors from each participating non-Christian religious group, as well as representatives from the Campus Christian Council and the professional College Chaplains.  The Interfaith Council exists alongside, but separately from, the Campus Christian Council.  The two councils interact and collaborate in various ways, however, through dialogue, planning events, developing common projects, and addressing common religious needs, concerns, questions, or issues on campus.

Spiritual Seekers: an Interfaith Program

Each week, the Campus Christian Center offers an interfaith program known as Spiritual Seekers.  On Thursdays at noon, this group gathers for discussion of a presentation by a visiting scholar or speaker, student, or member of the College faculty or staff on some religious topic, issue, or theme of contemporary interest or concern.  The topic of discussion might include comparisons of religious traditions to one another on a given issue or topic or might simply relate to one religious tradition only on a given week.  These topics often include issues like the concept of jihad and crusade, the nature of prayer, the problem of suffering in world religions, and so forth.  The Campus Christian Center provides lunch for those who participate in this program.  The Center welcomes persons of all perspectives from any or no religious tradition or community.  This program produces lively discussion and attracts a diverse group of students, staff, and faculty each week.  Ms. Katherine Basham and Prof. Jeff B. Pool, the Director of the Center, in partnership with the participants, work together to develop the schedule of topics and speakers each week.

Interfaith Events and Activities

The Campus Christian Center also plans other special events throughout the academic year that promote interfaith dialogue and education in various ways.  Through annual lectureships, special lectures, convocations, and special services of worship and meditation, the department addresses this feature of its mission in the College, which the following examples illustrate.

In the fall semester of 2003, the Campus Christian Center brought Mr. Richard Wiener, a survivor of the Jewish Holocaust during World War II, as the speaker for the Robbins Peace Lecture.  As co-sponsors, the Campus Christian Center and the International Center also invited Dr. Lily Feidy, a Palestinian feminist peace activist, to the campus for this same lectureship in 2004.

In the spring semester of 2004, the Center held a reception in honor of and appreciation for a group of visiting Tibetan Buddhist monks, who had provided several opportunities for education about Tibetan Buddhism on campus, including the construction of a mandala.   In the spring semester of 2005, the Campus Christian Center and the Women’s Studies Program invited Dr. Tumani Nyajeka to campus for lectures on pre-Christian African spirituality and its relationship to Christianity in Africa.  The Campus Christian Center, the Department of Philosophy and Religion, and the Women’s Studies Program, also during the spring semester of 2005, co-sponsored the visit of Dr. Chung-Fang Yu, from Columbia University, who lectured on Buddhist nuns in Taiwan.  During the fall semester of 2005, the Campus Christian Center, the Women’s Studies Program, and the Department of Counseling and Psychological Services co-sponsored a series of interfaith events: “A Week of Interfaith Experiences and Conversations.”  During that week, events included a dialogue about friendship between a Jewish woman and a Muslim woman, entitled “Under the Veil,” and a presentation by a visiting Fulbright scholar and Islamic specialist, entitled “The Sanctity of Human Life in World Religions.”

Each year, the Campus Christian Center and the Center for Excellence in Learning through Service (CELTS) co-sponsor a Service Convocation.  For the service convocation of 2005, Dr. Eboo Patel, Executive Director and Founder of the Interfaith Youth Corps, delivered the address: “Interfaith Dialogue and Service.”  In the fall semester of 2005, the Campus Christian Center and the Department of Counseling and Psychological Services co-sponsored a College-wide symposium, “Diversity in Spirituality: Implications for Wellness,” during which several visiting professors and several professors from Berea College addressed the theme of health and spirituality from Buddhist, Sikh, Jewish, and Christian perspectives.  For the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Convocation in 2006, the Campus Christian Center, the Black Cultural Center, and the African and African-American Studies Program invited Dr. Molefi K. Asante, a scholar in African philosophy and culture, to deliver the address.

In addition, the Campus Christian Center annually offers a Service of Interfaith Worship and Meditation in Danforth Chapel, which includes readings, prayers, and meditations from various religious traditions: in the spring semester of 2006, for example, the Campus Christian Center, with the Department of Philosophy and Religion, the International Center, Asian Studies, and the Buddhist Student Association, as co-sponsors, invited Rev. Thich Hang Dat (a Vietnamese, Zen Buddhist master) to lead this service.  The Campus Christian Center, in partnership with the Learning Center, other departments, and the Jewish Student Association, also holds an annual Holocaust Remembrance Service in Danforth Chapel.

Support of Student Interfaith Activities

The Campus Christian Center also supports a variety of projects, events, and activities that individual students and student religious organizations propose to the department.  Several examples will illustrate the range of projects for which the Center provides some funding.  In the summer of 2003, the Center provided major funding for two student organizations, Students for a Free Tibet and the Buddhist Student Association, to send nineteen Buddhist students from Berea College to see and hear the Dalai Lama (the exiled spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people) in Indiana.  In the summer of 2005, the Campus Christian Center and the International Center also co-sponsored a number of Tibetan Buddhist students to attend the seventieth birthday celebration of the Dalai Lama in Minnesota.  The Campus Christian Center, in the spring semester of 2006, also helped to support the spring banquet of the Buddhist Student Association.   In the spring semester of 2004, the Center sponsored a very successful student-initiated interfaith dialogue, which included student representatives of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.  Also, in 2004, the Center co-sponsored a group of Tibetan Buddhist students to participate in a Protest March, which the International Tibet Independence Movement had organized to prevent the execution of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a Tibetan political prisoner.  The Campus Christian Center also helps to support each year a banquet that the Muslim students offer to the campus on Islamic Awareness Day.   The Center also regularly provides some funding for transportation of Muslim students both to nearby Mosques for worship and to special religious events.

Additional Interfaith Support for Students

The Chaplains of the Campus Christian Center offer religious counseling, consultation, and referrals for students with commitments to any religious tradition or community.  For example, the Director of the Campus Christian Center currently serves with other members of faculty and staff on an advisory committee to students who have proposed an Interfaith Theme House to the Department of Residential Life.  The staff of the Campus Christian Center welcomes opportunities to work with students of all religious traditions, as they have need for conversation about issues, questions, or projects that relate to religious life and spiritual growth.  In addition, the Student Chaplains, who serve in the student residential-life system, have responsibilities to minister to students of all or no religious persuasions, to plan events and offer services that help Christian students in their spiritual development within an academic context, and to plan events or activities that actively promote interfaith dialogue and education.

Interfaith Staff and Faculty Development

The Campus Christian Center also helps to support the development of its staff and related members of the faculty in areas of interfaith dialogue and education.  Members of the staff sometimes participate in conferences and events that increase their understanding of the many religious traditions and enable them to develop their skills for interfaith conversation and education.  For example, in the summer of 2004, the Director of the Campus Christian Center and another member of the faculty from the Department of Philosophy and Religion attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona, Spain.

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