So I know this is an article dated Sep 2008, which is more than two years ago. Still I think it’s worth posting on this blog as it shows that the Wesleyan chaplains, and not just the students, also support Interfaith work!
Teaser: There will be guest blogposts from some Wesleyan administration staff very soon! Keep your eyes and ears (and internet) open!
Also, interesting statistics here: 400 out of 600 students in the Class of 2012 said they identify with a religion, while only 200 students who responded to the survey identified as atheist and agnostic. I sure didn’t know about that before!
New Catholic chaplain promotes interfaith work
By Jae Aron, Staff Writer
Ian Park Father Hal Weidner hopes to collaborate with students in planning religious events for the Wesleyan Catholic community.
After two years of publicity searches, active recruiting, and student pressure, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life finally hired a new Catholic chaplain: Father Hal Weidner.
Since relinquishing its ties to the Methodist Church in 1937, the University has been grouped in the Princeton Review with schools that allegedly “ignore God on a regular basis.” On a shelf in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, Christopher Hitchens’ book “God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” is prominently displayed.
Yet despite such indications, 400 out of 600 students in the Class of 2012 said they identify with a religion, while only 200 students who responded to the survey identified as atheist and agnostic, according to Rabbi David Leipziger Teva, the University Jewish Chaplain and Director of Spiritual Life.
“Racial, economic, and geographic diversity are only part of it; religious diversity compliments this,” Teva said. “We live in a world where religious values, good and bad, play a major role, and part of Wesleyan’s job is religious literacy.”
Weidner and Teva are part of an interfaith office team of four chaplains, each of whom sponsors a weekly service and collaborates to sponsor several multi-faith events each year. Every week, 10 percent of the student body participates in religious activities on campus, Teva said.
For the some 300 Catholic students at the University, many of whom fought for a Catholic chaplain for so long, Weidner pledges to provide opportunities for worship, as well as non-academic support.
“This year I’m learning the ropes,” Weidner said. “No matter what I’m interested in doing, if the students are not, it’s not going to happen.”
Long before coming to Wesleyan, Weidner worked as a campus minister at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. There, the ministers were external to the college (Wesleyan is unique in hiring chaplains as employees of the University) and religious life was not interfaith (they were all Christians). Like Wesleyan, however, the school sponsored ecumenical services. The ministers also met once a week to talk about the Bible, spirituality and social justice, as well as to entertain sponsored inspirational speakers.
With a doctorate from Oxford, three books to his name, and 13 years of experience as a pastor in Hawaii, Weidner was the first candidate that the search committee believed was right to follow in the footsteps of past chaplains Father Loumanzo and Father Cohan. Because of the high demand for Catholic priests in America, with many retiring and few entering the profession, and the difficulty of finding someone who would work on a campus with relatively few Catholics, the search turned into a two-year process.
Weidner’s father was in the navy, so he lived all over the country, from San Diego to Missouri, before finally settling in Hawaii in 1959, when he was 12. Weidner said he didn’t know any Catholics growing up, and he himself was Protestant until he became Catholic when he was in prep school at Punahou, which happens to be the same school Barack Obama attended.
“[Barack Obama] visits his grandmother who still lives in Hawaii, and there was a picture of him body surfing,” he said. “You can tell he’s a Hawaii baby.”
It was in Honolulu, as director of Interfaith, that Weidner learned just how divisive religion could be.
“When I was director there, everyone went to the table, put their cards down, and we looked around to see what cards were the same and linked up with one another,” he said. “Christianity is divided, and so are other monolithic religions. When you look inside of them, my goodness, look at all those differing opinions.”
Also on the shelf in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life is a book by Jim Wooten entitled “We are all the Same.”
“People are people,” Weidner said. “My philosophy is, you shouldn’t do anything separate that you can do together.”