One among Many
by Frederick P. Lampe (March / April 2002 • Volume 18 • Number 2)
The Lutheran community gathers as an open community of worship, growth, and support as one faith community among several at Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University.
Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York
The banner draped across the entrance during public events proclaims "A Home for All Faiths." There, at the head of the Quad, the public square of the university, Hendricks Chapel identifies itself as an interfaith center of Syracuse University (SU).
The university has been interfaith from its inception. In 1894 the chancellor stated "Syracuse University will be a university Christian enough to make a Hebrew as much at home as a Christian. It will be a Christian not by exclusion, not by magnifying a sect, but by magnifying human learning and contributing to the same."
Lutheran Campus Ministry has a long history at SU. When Samuel Trexler became the first "Lutheran Student's pastor" in New York in 1913, he helped shape a "Lutheran Club-style" campus ministry. As time progressed, both clergy and lay associates came into contact with student-driven activities. Since the early 1960s, a full-time Lutheran pastor has served the needs of the Lutheran faith community.
Today, Lutheran Campus Ministry at Syracuse University is one member of a complex team of groups who seek, proclaim, and advocate varying truth claims. All share the same public space in a mid-sized private institution in Central New York.
Syracuse University, home of the Orange, is also home to roughly 15,000 students. Although many undergraduates come from the surrounding locale, including the metropolitan New York City region, the university is host to graduate and undergraduate students from across the United States and around the globe. An added complexity comes with the university's relationship to a neighboring state school, State University of New York (SUNY)-College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
The student body and faculty represent the spectrum of faith questions, experiences, expectations, and credos. The Chapel community seeks to maintain an open dialogue about and among these varying traditions. As the Lutheran Campus pastor, I am one of eight chaplains at the university. I join my Muslim, Jewish, Baptist, Roman, Episcopal, Evangelical, and Protestant counterparts in working with the Dean of the Chapel to create a climate for respectful faith rendering in a complex inquiring community.
None of us is funded by Syracuse University. Each relies upon grants from their umbrella organizations coupled with gifts from alumni, parents, and area congregations to maintain minimal presence. Syracuse does, however, provide a place at the table together with faculty, staff, and students to provide programming for both our own constituencies as well as the university at large.
In addition to working with roughly 300 students, who have self-identified themselves as Lutherans, in worship, study, service, and fellowship activities, I also work with the other chaplains to provide appropriate expressions of faith and provide learning opportunities that cross faith affiliations. The Chapel's mission statement explains that it is "a diverse religious, spiritual, and cultural learning environment seeking to generate a welcoming and caring community within Syracuse University." It goes on to suggest "The Chapel values differences as a resource for enrichment" (Mission Statement, June 2000).
Impact of Sept. 11
In the wake of September 11, we were an integral part of the university's Emergency Response Team. Public gatherings included the Chancellor's Convocation that afternoon. Chaplains representing the three Abrahamic traditions stood alongside the Chancellor, each offering prayers or readings appropriate to the moment.
In the weeks that followed, the Chapel folded peace cranes, prayed and stood alongside the Muslim community as partners in those early days following the bombings, and advocating for the free expression of faith and identity vis-â-vis fundamental extremists. Chaplains offered prayers at candlelight vigils, dorm conversations, and other student-organized events. I was a part of an afternoon vigil at the SUNY school.
At one point, I gathered with the Alumni Board, reading the names of alumni who had perished and then offering reflection and prayer for those who were left behind. My colleagues fanned out across the campus and larger community to lead similar events.
This home for all faiths was open 24 hours a day immediately after the bombings with chaplains taking turns maintaining vigil. Each of us recounted substantial conversations with students asking deep and penetrating questions about the violence that had been perpetrated in the name of God.
This presence is not new. Thirty-five SU students died along with many others in the downing of PanAm 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. One of my predecessors, Michael Schultz-Rothermal, upon hearing word of the downing of the plane and suspected death of countless people with ties to Central New York, with forceful persuasion, led the SU community in a moment of silent prayer prior to a December 21 basketball game.
Since then, the Chapel has hosted the annual honoring of Remembrance Scholars–senior students dedicated to the memory of those who died and were committed to peace and justice. Every December 21 at 2:03 p.m., the chaplains gather in the Small Chapel to remember, reflect, and pray. They are joined by a dozen or so staff and faculty who then take the short pilgrimage to the Wall of Remembrance with a vigil candle and flowers to honor those who perished.
In addition to being a presence in times of turmoil, we also work to promote peace, understanding, and occasional fun on campus. The Hillel community organizes an annual soccer tournament. This past fall, an Ultimate Frisbee challenge filled Sunday afternoon freetime. There is talk of a spring "game day" this year with events for the athlete as well as the uncoordinated among us. A Lutheran-sponsored broom ball event is in the works too.
The Chapel is also sponsoring a Middle East experience this year. Fifteen students representing the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish identities are joining representative chaplains together with the Dean in exploring the Middle East through the eyes and ears of one another.
The goal, should peace permit, is to travel to the region, not only visiting the sacred sites of one another, but more importantly to hear the stories of faith and life amongst each tradition. This experience is being made possible by a significant grant from the university that is designed to encourage integrative experiences outside of the classroom.
Does the Chapel motto work? On some days, it works better than others. We still struggle to understand and appreciate the nuanced differences that distinguish each of our traditions. What is sometimes intriguing is the assumed "sameness" among the Christian traditions that is not really present. We expect difference between Christian, Jewish, and Muslim counterparts. The dialogue there is easy. The distinctions that separate the peculiar Christian voices is very apparent but much more difficult to ferret out.
Nevertheless, we learn, dialogue, cooperate, and continue, each in our own way, to explore and experience faith in an increasingly complex world.
Our Lutheran community is deliberate in gathering as an open community of worship, growth, and support. We encourage the exploration of faith questions in a confusing world, living in an increasingly intricate world of ideas, agendas, and possibilities.
As God's baptized people, we welcome all who join us, and we experience the grace that comes through gathering around the Table of Grace. We explore the questions of the self, community, and cosmos, and we go out in service, seeking to allow others to experience grace in their own lives.
Frederick P. Lampe is campus pastor for Lutheran Campus Ministry at Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York.