I’ve been finishing up a field education placement at the Waysmeet Center, the United Campus Ministry to the University of New Hampshire in Durham. Waysmeet strives to be an interfaith or multifaith campus ministry where “all ways meet.”
Waysmeet’s name conjures up all sorts of images for me. I imagine people coming from diverse religious and spiritual paths and backgrounds converging for this short time (college) before being sent out again on their own paths.
After being at Waysmeet for a year, I can tell you it most certainly is like that. In my course of time there I met and worked with a variety of Christians (from Catholics to Quakers to Evangelicals and everything in between), Jews, Unitarian Universalists, Pagans, Polytheists, among others. But by far the largest group was people who did not identify with any particular faith tradition or practice. These were the students who shrugged their shoulders when asked about their faith or religious tradition, but who were nonetheless actively involved with Waysmeet, a Campus Ministry. An interfaith Campus Ministry, but a Ministry no less.
As an independent campus ministry at a secular state-funded University like UNH, I often wondered what made this role different from someone who worked at a local community center. In a given month my role included the following:
- Attending events on campus, mostly with the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, with whom Waysmeet had a close relationship, and interacting with students.
- Facilitating the Waysmeet Community Circle a discussion group focused around a different theme each week, from “Transformation” to “Authenticity.”
- Attending the Waysmeet Community Dinner and drum circle.
- Meeting with students one-on-one for pastoral counselling.
- Helping with the Cornucopia Food Pantry that is run out of Waysmeet’s space
- Preaching at a local congregation (Mostly United Church of Christ or Unitarian Universalist)
Only one of these activities really has any kind of strong religious tone, and that’s the preaching. And one of the local congregations had a program where students of all different faith backgrounds and beliefs would come and offer the sermon.
In my eyes, the Waysmeet Center is an example of how to do interfaith work when the majority of the people you are working with don’t strongly identify with any faith, and aren’t particularly to do so. It’s a place where work is done for the benefit of community and for the good of the world. It’s a place where people can feel free to express and talk about faith – or not if they so choose.
But I think what makes it unique – and important – is that you can ask religious and spiritual questions, and you can be searching. And all of this can be done while living out your own values, whether in work for justice or in work for community.
I think it’s a mistake to confuse a lack of attending, or even identifying with, a religious community with a lack of need or desire for spiritual and religious space. Waysmeet has taught me that these lines of interfaith work as not as set in stone as I may have previously thought. That it’s not just Muslims working with Christians working with Jews. Its people, with their diverse religious and spiritual backgrounds, working with other people of diverse backgrounds and having dialogue, finding commonality, and most importantly working together despite their differences.
Because all of us identifying specifically as something as still a complex combination of our experiences.
All images are owned by and used with permission from United Campus Ministry @ UNH.