Chapel Spiritual Life promotes interfaith unity on campus


Photo credit: Oliver Chapin-Eiserloh

Photo by Oliver Chapin-Eiserloh

Why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?

Trinity students from all religious and cultural backgrounds discussed this question at chaplain Alex Serna-Wallender’s house at one of the semester’s first “Worthy Questions,” an event designed to engage students in conversation that challenges their spirituality. Hosted by Chapel Spiritual Life (CSL), the event is new this semester and typically takes place every other Sunday.

CSL’s fellowship program is also new this year. Eight CSL fellows help the Trinity community develop their interior lives through three categories: spiritual life, Christian life and multi-faith. Though CSL is responsible for hosting various events such as “Worthy Questions,” you don’t have to be a fellow to participate in the events.

Sophomore Dana Hatab, a CSL fellow focusing on spiritual life, said talking through topics like pain and suffering brings people together from differing backgrounds through one common spiritual experience.

“In people’s own religious groups, they’re very comfortable talking about their religious beliefs but then on the wider scale, it’s not something that’s addressed very much,” Hatab said. “It opens up a wider conversation and allows people to see different viewpoints rather than just their own in their own religious groups and facilitates understanding.”

In addition to Worthy Questions, CSL fellows organize 30 minutes of reflective, live music with instruments from organ to cello each Tuesday afternoon in Parker Chapel. While the Christian life and multi-faith categories of CSL focus on specific faith traditions, Hatab said spiritual life is all about cultivating a personal spirituality outside of organized religion.

“Spirituality is such a broad thing,” Hatab said. “There are people who don’t really identify with a religious tradition, who don’t have a group on campus, so that was kind of one of the goals with this, that it’s for everybody. It’s very open.”

However, according to senior Malcolm Fox, a CSL fellow focusing on multi-faith, students who bring their personal faith tradition to CSL programming may also bring misconceptions about another. This is why multi-faith events such as Interfaith Tea aim to break down barriers between religious groups.

“We’re trying to cut right to the chase there,” Fox said. “I think that by talking about difficult situations, life experiences, that is one of the most powerful contexts for people to generate empathy for one another.”

Since his sophomore year, Fox has been leading guided meditations on campus. He studied abroad last fall in Bodh Gaya, India, on the Carleton-Antioch Buddhist Studies Program, to learn more about meditation in a religious context and said he wanted to share the perspective he gained by stepping outside his own cultural background.

To give students a similar opportunity to explore a new religious culture, the CSL fellows are also working on a program called Interfaith Pilgrimage. Participants will be able to visit religious sites around San Antonio to learn about different faiths through worship and conversation with religious leaders and communities.

When individuals can see just how easy it is, it might do a lot to reduce an existing stigma that might surround interfaith dialogue, intercultural dialogue,” Fox said. “I think there appears to be a barrier there because people take refuge in their identities. One thing I find super important is being willing to discover new ways to express yourself, new ways to see the world, and see what it’s like to adopt that.”

Differing from spiritual life and multi-faith, the CSL fellows focusing on Christian life work on programming specifically for the Christian community on campus. This consists of creating unique programs as well as networking with existing Christian organizations through events and funding.

Junior Maureen Gallington, one of the Christian life-oriented fellows, said they’re currently working on a program called Faith Life Online. At each meeting, they will look at examples of social media and internet posts and discuss what it looks like to be Christian online. They also put on Pre-Prayer each Sunday in Parker Chapel from 9:30–10 p.m. where anyone can come pray together for the week ahead.

“[Students] might not take the time to talk about their interior lives and how they’re actually feeling and taking care of their mental health and understanding that there’s more to life than getting an A in a class,” Gallington said. “It’s nice to have a time where people can quiet their souls and get ready for the week to come.”

Serna-Wallender said CSL is always open to suggestions from students for events. With the advent of the CSL fellows this semester, he emphasized a theme of connection and growth.

“Relationship building is key,” Serna-Wallender said. “Hearing from others’ perspectives. Allowing yourself to be reflective about your own worldview and how you are finding meaning, but also hearing from others and allowing that to unfold in ways that are invitational I think can be really powerful.”