In a significant step for ecumenical campus ministry, over 30 chaplains and religious professionals working with university students gathered for a 4 day program in May at 5 Oaks retreat centre, at the first in-person Ecumenical Chaplains gathering in several years.
The Student Christian Movement was officially represented by the General Secretary, with several of the chaplains and church representatives involved in organizing identifying their own history with the SCM. The conference was supported by Anglican, United, Presbyterian and Lutheran denominations, and also included individuals from Baptist, Mennonite, and Non-Religious chaplaincies and groups.
Aside from being an important time of retreat and spiritual renewal under the guidance of Anglican Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald, networking and development were important features. The keynote speaker was J. Cody Nielson from Convergence, an organization working to promote the place of campus formation of religious, secular and spiritual identities. He led the group through an exploration of the place of chaplains and chaplaincies in the University and in the student experience, emphasizing the many documented benefits of students having meaningful access to religious and philosophical expression, and identity formation.
Other presenters offered excellent sessions that explored the realities of white privilege, gender violence, and Indigenous rights and reconciliation on campus and in Canada today. Discussion often focused on the role of the chaplains within the University community, as trained and equipped individuals with unique perspective, experience, and access to students, who nevertheless sometimes struggle to explain their work to a secular institution.
One ongoing conversation of great value was the opportunity of Christian chaplains to support the development of chaplains of other faiths. This is a basic issue of justice and access to power, and also functions to establish and model stronger inter-faith relationships for increasingly diverse student bodies – showing a way to be faithfully religious in the university, rather than expecting students to suppress their religious/cultural identities for the educational years.
Open Space methodology allowed for many fascinating breakout groups to form, exploring everything from inter-religious dialogue, advice for newer chaplaincies, to drum circles. Several in attendance collaborated on an SCM session, promoting the SCM as a program that can be supported by chaplains and talking about the gifts that involvement in the SCM can offer to a university student. This was accompanied by a give-away of the ever-popular SCM buttons!
The conference was wrapped in prayer and thanksgiving for the meaningful, life-giving, powerful work that chaplains are called to do and that the Student Christian Movement sees as part of our mandate. In working with students, chaplains, faculty and churches, the SCM upholds a vision of student-led engagement with faith and justice, equipping individuals for lives of activism, peacemaking and community-building.
We are deeply thankful to the Mission and Service Fund of the United Church of Canada, and to the staff support of the United Church, Presbyterian, Anglican and Lutheran churches.