Filling spiritual needs

Nov 13, 2003, vol. 28, no. 6
By Marianne Meadahl

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Students may be thirsty for knowledge but they are also increasingly seeking ways to fill their spiritual needs while on campus.

Many will join one of a rising number of religious clubs. But nearly 500 students - double the numbers of a few years ago - will flock to the interfaith centre, located in the Maggie Benston centre, to participate in one of a number of weekly religious services, prayer meetings or bible study sessions.

Whether it's a noon-hour Catholic mass in the makeshift chapel or a gathering for Muslim prayers, the chaplains are used to making quick shift changes. “There is a lot of rubbing of shoulders as we share the facility,” says Pentecostal pastor Seth Greenham, centre director. “At the height of some noon hours you can't turn around in here.”

The centre's new home in the student building has enabled some expansion of spiritual programs. The space remains tight, but it is a big improvement over their former headquarters in a small office shoehorned beside the campus radio station. The fact that a faith-focused centre is bustling with young people is proof to those on the current chaplaincy team that a spiritual outlet has a place in the midst of their daily life routines.

Campus chaplains work off the hill in churches in the surrounding area and represent a wide range of faiths, including Pentecostal, Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Lutheran, United, Salvation Army, Jewish and Muslim. The latter group is the most recent addition to the centre, and with more groups vying to join, the team recently drafted a new policy to facilitate their inclusion as space allows.

Some chaplains, like Baptist minister Rich Carruthers, have been part of the campus' spiritual life for nearly two decades. The centre was founded when the university opened in 1965 and had among its first chaplains Reverend Bernice Gerard, and Presbyterian colleague Bob Ogdon, who was a fixture on campus for more than 30 years. The early chaplains ran the gamut of duties, even performing a marriage at the Gandhi bust. Today their focus is on fostering faith and spiritual development.

Third-year business student Ayesha Ma, who leads the Muslim prayer sessions, exemplifies the changing face of the campus faithful. While one of the oldest clubs on campus, chaplains agree that the Muslim student association's recent inclusion in the centre highlights the need for a common spiritual ground for all faiths.

United chaplain Rev. Janet Cawley points to the centre's role in bringing all people together in times of joy and sorrow. “One of the key things an interfaith centre can do is provide a place where, as religion becomes front and centre of many world conflicts, we can come and think about each other's needs, and talk to each other,” she says.

That was evident in the days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when the chaplains organized a multi-faith service. “The attacks prompted an immediate spiritual reaction, and we felt that we needed to respond to the question of why there is this evil in the world,” recalls Father Gonzalo Chocano.

“Since then,” adds Greenham, “there has been a real shift in consciousness that has people looking at their spirituality. The numbers we see continue to reflect that.”

The spirit among chaplains is jovial and supportive. While each group runs its own services and fundraising projects, they are united in their mandate to “provide pastoral care and support for those with spiritual, emotional or practical needs,” providing opportunities for worship, reflection, prayer, fellowship and outreach.

“It's important that people have a place to grow in spirit,” says Lutheran chaplain pastor Hwee Yang Tan.

For a schedule of services and programs available check the website at interfaith or call 604-291-3180.

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