About faith in a Secular context

About two weeks ago I stood in front of 2000 International students during GIM – the General Information Meeting that Lund University arranges for the newly arrived. Afterwards I got to hear the usual reactions – most where surprised, some even chocked, that a religious representative was present at this event. What does the Church and the University have in common? But from experience I also know that for a number of students my presence at this event was very important. Out of those 2000 students hundreds come from backgrounds where faith is an important part of everyday life. For some of them finding a community to belong to and a place to worship is very high on their list of priorities. As a student chaplain it is my job to help those students to find a spiritual home away from home regardless of their faith. Most are Christians from different denominations but I also get e-mails from Buddhists, Hindus and Jews looking for places to worship. I help everyone to find a place. Some of the students wind up at the Holy Communion Service I have every Sunday at 5 pm and that is of course very rewarding, but when it comes to my work at the University that is not my first priority. Working with the University it is necessary for me to be multi- faith, even though I myself am a Christian. Recently the Student chaplaincy in another town here in Sweden was thrown off Campus because the University was supposed to be independent from all religions and political ideas. My colleagues there hadn’t misbehaved in any way – the University had just decided that they didn’t want to have anything to do with religion – any religion. I am extremely pleased that Lund University has taken a different approach – they invite all religions not favoring anyone. That’s why, at my presentation during GIM, there is contact information to all denominations and religious bodies that can be found in the region. At a meeting the Vice Chancellor of Lund University has said that the University wishes to help students with every aspect of their life during their stay here, and since many students have a faith, the University want s to help those students to find a place to worship – regardless of faith. To me that is the best possible way to handle religion in a secular context – favor no one, but let everyone in. It is not a question of churches or religions doing missionary work. The students in question already have a faith when they come here. Helping them with information so that they can continue their spiritual life in Lund is not evangelizing, it is just providing them with a service, just like telling them how to contact the hospital if they need to is a service. Like the Vice Chancellor said in an interview – “Lunds universitet står heller för mångfald än för enfald”. It is hard to translate this into English – but he is basically saying that it is studip to ignore the fact that for many people religion is a part of life . I agree!