A certain bias enters the mind instantly when religious learning institutions are brought up in conversation, and it is important to reflect on what evidential truths those opinions are rooted in. Eastern University has planted itself on three claims: faith, reason, and justice. Prospective students are told these core values before they even decide on Eastern; enrolled students hear these words in assumingly every classroom, and alumni recite these words with deep emotions, memories, and nostalgia of lessons tethered to time invested here.
A religious university community that proclaims faith, reason, and justice as their values should certainly reflect them in the treatment of each other, specifically each other’s journeys in their faith, which in most cases is closely related to their denomination. This thought raises the question of whether or not we, as Eastern University’s community, welcome anybody, from any denomination, in any place in their walk as a Christian. Are Catholic students experiencing the same sense of justice as Protestant students? If someone is Episcopalian, can she worship on campus as she would worship anywhere else? Can someone who attends an Orthodox church and leads an Orthodox life continue enriching his faith at Eastern? Is there a line within the Christian faith, separating, but perhaps not defining, who can come to Eastern and consider their spiritual journey welcomed, encouraged, and supported? I asked around to see if I could begin to uncover an answer.
EU senior, Kathryn Notley, says, “I became a member of the Episcopal Church when I was younger, perhaps eighth or ninth grade, and was just beginning to explore my faith… Sometimes I feel like I’m in a limbo of still desiring the more traditional, liturgical framework that I grew up with, while also feeling a pull towards more contemporary services. I’m still trying to determine where in the many diverse sects of Christianity I fit… I grew up right outside of New York City, and was always exposed to very liberal ideas, most of them not having anything to do with faith. Many of my friends at home aren’t practicing Christians, some don’t identify with a specific religion at all, so spiritual matters weren’t typically part of my conversations with friends or classmates. I didn’t know what to expect regarding faith and community when coming to Eastern. Truthfully, it was a bit of culture shock at first, but I have really found the spiritual support offered by peers and professors to be such an incredible blessing during this crazy season in life… I think a lot of people think Episcopal churches have these boring, long, monotone services, but that hasn’t been my experience. Sometimes I sense judgment when I first tell people that I’m a member of the Episcopal church, but I just use that as an opportunity to clear up any misconceptions they may have, and explain to them what my experiences have been. I think Eastern is growing in spiritual diversity. I find that the differing denominations and faiths represented in its student body provide tons of opportunities to discuss our differences, but I don’t often see those conversations taking place, and would definitely love to see that happening more. I think there’s a lot to learn in our differences, and discussing them would open the doors for better understanding and greater acceptance in the Eastern community.”
Senior, Ricky Haynes, says, “I was raised Roman Catholic, but after coming to Eastern I was able to discover my faith more and determined that I enjoy non-denominational services more. I came here knowing that I would be around people who I would want to be with: people who would treat me with respect and accept who I was. I feel very welcomed here at Eastern. I feel like I could talk about any religion to most people on campus and have an enlightening conversation. I believe Eastern is a place of diverse faith. In all of my faith and philosophy classes the professors were very open to hear other students’ views and enforced that they were just speaking their opinion. I feel like even non-Christians who enrolled at Eastern are welcomed by the majority of campus.”
Sophomore, Jacob, says, “I am a Christian. I consider this not only because of my faith, but because I am Baptized and Chrismated in the Orthodox Church. I actively participate in my sect of Christianity. I participate in my daily life (we consider Orthodoxy to be very much a lifestyle, not just a sect or denomination), on campus (through the Orthodox Christian Fellowship of EU), off-campus (at local Orthodox Churches), and at my home parish. I actually came because of, and in spite of, my faith. Because of the Institute for Orthodox Thought and Culture at Eastern, I knew I would find at least some [people] that shared my beliefs. However, I knew Eastern was largely Evangelical in population and theology so I expected there to be a challenge. I welcomed both ideas as I thought this would provide the best opportunity for growth and development in my spiritual living. I certainly feel welcomed in my faith. I am grateful that Eastern has permitted such an Orthodox presence on campus (whether it be through our Orthodox Christian Fellowship, interactions with Orthodox professors, or through the Orthodox Institute). In that respect, I certainly feel welcomed. The only way I do not feel fully embraced is through the corporate worship on campus. Coming from a sect of Christianity that is very traditional and different from both low church and high church Protestantism and Catholicism, I find it hard to relate to chapel services and other activities like Wednesday Night Worship. This is mostly due to the idea that I typically do not worship Christ through contemporary worship songs. This does not anger, upset, or offend me, but I would certainly feel more embraced if more diversity in worship was included. I do, however, think Eastern is a place of diverse faith.”
What an encouragement it was to hear a generally positive response from students of differing faith experiences. It is my prayer that Eastern continues to become even more reflective of living out our call to faith, reason, and justice, in all areas of our community, and in the world at-large.