An Imperative Call

14 Feb

I work on a community college campus in downtown Dayton, OH.  We have 24,000 students from the Miami Valley, other places in the state and nation, and international students from around the world. In addition, we have about 6,000 staff and faculty.

Recently, a faculty colleague (a Muslim member of the board of the multi-faith non-profit organization for which I work) and I led a workshop in the Diversity Track for our Center for Teaching and Learning.  We worked with faculty and staff on a Friday morning considering “Spirituality, Religion and Diversity on Campus: Acknowledgement, Affirmation, Appreciation.”

We gave them a Pre-Test as the workshop began.  The first question was:  “On the Sinclair campus which of the following religious and spiritual traditions are represented?”  The multiple choice responses were Judaism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, African Spirituality, Islam, Buddhism, Native American Spirituality, Wicca, Sikhism, Confucianism, Jainism, Baha’i, all of the above, only 5 or 6 of the above.  The correct answer was “all of the above.”

Many of the participants were surprised at the answer.  They would have chosen the “5 or 6” option.

Several years ago, the Office of Campus Ministry added to its name the amplification of “A Multi-Faith Center for Spiritual Life.”  My Roman Catholic colleague and I gave up our Catholic Campus Minister and Protestant Campus Minister designations.  We now introduce ourselves as “Interfaith Campus Ministers.”  Our practice of welcoming all, supporting student groups of a wide range of spiritual perspectives and religious traditions (including Cross Walk, Campus Bible Fellowship, the Muslim Student Association, the Alternative Religious Forum and the Secular, Agnostic, and Atheist Students), and programming broadly to offer interfaith dialogue and education and multi-faith events did not change, but was expanded and became more explicit.

When people ask me why we are not more Christian in focus, I am likely to refer to Bill Moyers comment of late last century.  He said that a major issue of the 21st Century, if not the issue of this century would be learning to live creatively with the religious and spiritual diversity of our world – globally and locally.

I believe it is not just important, but imperative as a campus minister in a very diverse setting to offer a model for dialogue and conversation about religion and among religious and spiritual traditions.  It is necessary not only to assist the members of this academic community in creating positive relationships, but also to assist students specifically who will move from here into a more and more religiously diverse, spiritually broad, and increasingly secular world.

What is it like on your campus?  1 or 2 of the “above?”  5 or 6 of the above?  “all of the above?”

What are the implications of this for your work on campus and in preparing students for the 21st Century world of multi-faith connections and conversations?


The Rev. Dr. Barbara Battin is Interfaith Campus Minister at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, OH where she has been working for nearly 10 years. She is also adjunct faculty at Sinclair, teaching in the Religious Studies area.  She worked in a congregationally based campus ministry in Kent, OH on the edge of Kent State University and as Campus Minister at the College of Wooster in Wooster, OH.  She has been ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for 33 years and has served six congregations (in Ohio, Illinois and Minnesota).  She “restores her soul” by walking about 5 miles a day and feeding the birds, squirrels and lots of ducks who visit her backyard.


3 Responses to “An Imperative Call”

  1. Mark Forrester February 14, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    Thanks for this timely post, Barbara! My ministry context, Vanderbilt University, is ecumenical and grounded in a growing Interfaith network of friends. I was rereading Abraham Heschel’s “No Religion is an Island,” in which he says that the “most important prerequisite of interfaith is faith…it must come out of depth, not out of void absence of faith.” This audacious essay is emphatic that the only meaningful work that can be done under the banner of interfaith is by individuals who are rooted into a depth of their own respective faiths. Can legitimate interfaith dialogue occur among students who are spiritually curious but lacking a tradition from which to speak?

  2. Bruce Chapman February 14, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    I like & admire your question, Mark inasmuch as I find recent “spiritual but not religious” designations at least paradoxical if not contradictory and thus untenable perhaps. I wonder, too if and how interfaith dialogue can occur in the absence of a practical point of reference (read: “praxis”), too; and I wonder at least about the authenticity of such dialogue. Like Donne said, “No man (sic) is an island entire unto himself (sic);” furthermore nature abhors a vacuum. What, then is the referent over and against which one may compare and contrast one’s self, much less one’s “god”? Maybe things are more screwy that we imagine, this idea now current that assumes we might somehow construct a religion or a spirituality ex nihilo, a tact that other thinkers in earlier ereas I recall proved empty.


  3. paul walley February 15, 2012 at 11:56 am #

    Can’t resist weighing in here. While I deeply respect other faith traditions and believe that Christ welcomed all persons, he did not disown of run away from his historic Jewish roots. Rather he carried them with him all his life and enlarged his embrace of persons from nonJewish origins. He was truly “spiritual” in seeing beyond the parameters and limited borders of the scribes and Pharisees. I would like to think that we can do both/and here.
    I call myself an ecumenical/interfaith Christian and am not afraid or reluctant to say so. I welcome others to join me as I join this growing circle.
    Paul Walley
    NCMA President

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