Here is an article I have written for ‘Kalyana Mitra – Caring for others through Spiritual Friendship’, the newsletter of The Buddhist Chaplaincy Support Group.
The Church of England Chaplain at Imperial College, Andrew Willson, talks about Higher Education Chaplaincy and working with two Buddhist colleagues.
In the Chaplaincy Multi-Faith Centre at Imperial we have four key areas to our work. The first is the multi-faith approach – using the Centre as a place where students of different faiths can practice their religion.
The second area is pastoral care. Sometimes this relates to a person’s religious life, but often it does not. The third area is interfaith – promoting better understanding and co-operation between people from different religious groups. The fourth area is offering opportunities to reflect on meanings and values arising from studies or work. For example, supporting medical ethics teaching, facilitating staff and students to share together their motivations and inspiration as civil engineers, or reflecting with animal care technicians about the stresses of their work in bio-medical research. In reality these four key areas all overlap!
For me, working with chaplains from religions different to my own has been the best way to do chaplaincy in education. Collaborative work between Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, Christian and Muslim colleagues demonstrates our commitment to interfaith co-operation and dialogue in our own lives.
For the last 6 years at Imperial we have used our budget to employ part-time chaplains who have a generic role serving anyone who comes to the Chaplaincy, as well as those from their own faith tradition. We have had Hindu and Lutheran chaplains, who have supported Chaplaincy in the four key areas. A year ago we invited Karuna Priya, our volunteer Buddhist Chaplain, take on a paid role as a generic chaplain in this way, as well as continuing to support the Buddhist communities at Imperial.
Sixteen months ago Hogetsu Baerndal came from ‘Kalyana Mitra’ for a voluntary placement to learn about HE Chaplaincy. My Lutheran colleague, Rikke Juul, and I were already running a non-religious mindfulness group. When she returned to Denmark we were able to employ Hogetsu for one day a week to lead our mindfulness work. As a trained Zen Mindfulness teacher, Hogetsu strengthened our mindfulness programme. Given the great interest in mindfulness in Higher Education we are in a good position. Together we offer a mindfulness programme that includes introductory sessions, workshops, and a weekly group. We also offer Buddhist and Christian meditation. I sense that staff and students like seeing people from different religions working together. It demonstrates that both sides respect each other, and that creates a safe, respectful space for others to enter.
Working closely with my Buddhist colleagues has energised my own Christian meditation practice. It has sent me back to the sources of my own contemplative tradition, especially to read those Christians who have a deep understanding of Buddhism, like Thomas Merton, Anthony De Mello, and James Finlay. Buddhism has helped me see the integration of mind, body and spirit that is deep in the tradition of Christian prayer and meditation. And that only deepens my understanding of Jesus and his teaching.