Religion on campus

| Op-Ed Submission

Is there a place for religion at Washington University? Not officially, because the charter prohibits supporting any particular religion. But how do we account for the growing number of religious groups over the last decade or the extraordinary growth of groups like the Catholic Student Center over those same years? Mass attendance has necessitated three expansions of our chapel, which includes students of all faiths and none on any given Sunday. Religion at Wash. U. is on the rise, and is frequently an object of reflection and study and debate.

Perhaps this rise has to do with the need we all have for guidance, for coaching in the often complicated and painful world of relationships—arguably the most important “school” at Wash. U. We at the CSC define our work at Wash. U. to be at the service of helping all students become more capable of giving and receiving love. That is for us the essence of God, the essence of life itself.

Campus ministry can be a place to go with your broken and blessed lives, to believe in something bigger than a me-centered life—some horizon against which every day can be lived out, a place where your own personal story and the Great Story can connect and lead to transformation. A place to help us remember we are not alone. And a place to honor the desire many feel to worship, to give thanks, to pray.

From my perch across Forsyth for the last 18 years, I have seen that being religious at Wash. U. can be a source of great consternation and great creativity, and my observations have given me great hope for the future of religion in the world. It is religious illiteracy that hurts people and can be dangerous to the common good. Campus ministries at Wash. U. work hard to encourage greater understanding of one another. Together, we seek to model the dialogue that will always lead to the truth, the truth I trust will set us free.

If religious groups are to succeed at Wash. U., it will be because they respect all students as they come, of any faith or none. It will be because our faiths are open and engaging and willing to be challenged, calling us beyond ourselves and our own agendas.

Can the practice of faith help us, then, during our years here? Clearly, yes. Because it will challenge all of us to be less selfish, because it will lead us to be better citizens of the world. It will encourage us to step back and ask the Big Questions like “What am I going to do with my life?” and “How can I contribute?” and “What is my personal and our civic morality?” and questions like “What is the relationship between wealth and success and happiness?” The practice of spirituality can, undoubtedly, invigorate our education.

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