Building Bridges: Connecting Faith Traditions

      Catholics are definitely in the minority here at Eastern. Being Catholic at Eastern can be intimidating. Because Eastern is a protestant school, there is not a strong Catholic community. This has several repercussions, the first being that it is easy to feel alone and isolated because there is not a Catholic community. And second, it makes it very difficult to find a ride to Mass, which for a Catholic is the absolute most important part of the week. Further, the majority of classes that begin with a prayer are typically prayers from the Book of Common Prayer, which is itself a protestant prayer book. As a Catholic, it can be intimidating when everything on campus is geared towards the protestant tradition, especially since there is not a Catholic community on campus. So, what can we do as a school to help build bridges between the Catholics and Protestants? What can we do to try and build a stronger Catholic community?

      After interviewing a couple of Catholic students, a few suggestions were raised. The first of which is creating a Catholic bible study. When asked if such a club would be helpful in creating a Catholic community, both Douglas Kramer, a freshman, and Anthony Barr, a junior, answered with a resounding “yes”. A Catholic bible study would be a great way to meet other students who are Catholic. Currently, trying to find another Catholic at Eastern is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Creating a Catholic bible study would bring together the few Catholics that are on campus. Anthony Barr said that “just being able to see that there are other Catholics on campus and to do things like go to Mass together or remind each other of Holy Days of Obligation, would be helpful.” A club or a bible study would be a great way to bring together the Catholic community so that there is not such an isolation.

      Another suggestion that was brought up was having a class on the Catholic tradition. Barr said, “I wish protestants understood basic Catholic theology or what it means to be a Catholic, and I wish Catholics understood more about protestants. It would be beneficial to learn where the disagreements actually lie because there are obvious misconceptions both ways and then there are also substantive disagreements.” Kramer also said he was “surprised that so many people do not understand our side of Christianity.” Having knowledge of the disagreements between both traditions would help open the dialogue so that we are able to have a fruitful discussion about our traditions and the truth of God. Eastern has classes on other traditions such as Orthodoxy, but does not have a class on Catholicism. Having a class on Catholicism would be a great way to make the Catholic minority on campus feel a little less displaced and a little less misunderstood.

       Perhaps, as Barr says, “having more opportunities for liturgical functions and services on campus would be beneficial in building bridges.” Chapel and Wednesday Night Worship tend to be non-denominational and contemporary, which is understandable because the service  is catering to the majority of the students. But, it would make Eastern more welcoming and inviting if students were able to experience the ways in which different traditions worship God, rather than just catering to the majority. When asked how this could be accomplished, Barr suggested that “the ways in which some of our professors use a prayer at the beginning of class, which is a good opportunity to use an Orthodox liturgical prayer or praying to St. Julian of Norwich, just to try to diversify the language that we are using and the styles of approaching God that we use.” When we begin to diversify the language that we are using, we are better able to include the people who are in the minority, like Catholics. It can be challenging to be in a religious minority on campus when there are not a lot of ways to really express that tradition. Introducing liturgical functions on campus is a way to include more people from different traditions. It is a way of trying to understand each other and see from the other’s perspective, which is incredibly important when trying to build bridges.

       One of the biggest ways that Eastern as a whole can begin to build bridges between Catholics and protestants is by trying to be inclusive to both traditions. This could mean starting class with a prayer to a Saint or an Orthodox liturgical prayer. We need to find a way to open the dialogue between Catholics and protestants, and to do this, we need to be aware of the differences dividing the two traditions. We also need to find a way to build a Catholic community, through something like a Catholic bible study. Eastern has an environment that would definitely allow for these bridges to be built, we just need to take the first step.

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