Devout Hindu Mohit Kallaria, a master’s student from southern India, considers Dalhousie University’s multi-faith chaplaincy service a lifesaver. “I felt a huge cultural shock when I initially arrived in Halifax and I was unable to follow my religious practices.” But when he connected with the Dalhousie Multifaith Centre, Clement Mehlman, the Lutheran chaplain, introduced him to the Hindu chaplain, who extended home hospitality and invited him to attend the Hindu temple in another part of the city. “I felt so comfortable having religious discussions with him,” says Kallaria, who now works at the centre. He also frequents the accessible interfaith prayer rooms set up by the chaplaincy.
“Chaplaincy has had a huge impact on my life,” says Renison University College student Laurie Guay, whose background is Presbyterian. “It wasn’t long before I found St. Bede’s chapel and the supportive, listening ear that [the Rev.] Megan [Collings-Moore] continues to provide for me. Megan encourages us to ask the hard questions and to find the answers that make sense to us.”
On an everyday basis, chaplaincy services provide low-stress and hospitable havens. For recent Waterloo University grad Ainsley Munro, the ministry centre at Renison is “a safe and comfortable space for a lot of students to hang out on campus and meet people. There’s always free coffee and tea and free cookies.”
Another specialty of campus chaplains is organizing restorative student retreats. To University of Alberta Lutheran Grace Crosby, the January 2014 Pathways to Prayer retreat on Sylvan Lake was a great blessing. “Amidst the demands and obstacles of student life, the retreat provided an opportunity to know more of Jesus’ glory as the noise of life became less,” she says.
Shamus Slaunwhite, a Baptist about to graduate from Dalhousie, says chaplains differ from professors by providing dual guidance and helping students integrate faith and learning. “Professors spit out information but draw the line at academics.
Chaplains can help guide you through some academic problems, but they also mentor you spiritually and help you get through all the other problems and challenges,” he says. “University is not just about writing exams and papers; it’s also about discovering how you fit into the world.”
Often university chaplains are connected to ecumenical campus residences where students of different backgrounds live in intentional community. Here’s what Katie Brager, a graduate of Roman Catholic schools, has to say about living at the University of Alberta’s Martin Luther House: “I am excited and eager to-as clichéd and cheesy as it is-to eat, pray and love with some of the most loving, compassionate, honest and fun people I have ever met. I can feel the Potter’s hands shaping me into the person I am supposed to be every moment I spend in connection with that intentional Christian community.”