UR chaplaincy

Growing together

March 22, 2024


In the coming weeks, some students will gather to celebrate Easter Sunday, others will mark the end of Ramadan with a community banquet, and yet others will sit down for a traditional Passover Seder.

These times of celebration also present an opportunity to understand the similarities and differences across the various religions. Many of the related campus events include an invitation to the wider University community and those who want to learn more about religious traditions and beliefs.

The multifaith nature of these spring holidays is in part a reflection of the work of the Chaplaincy office. The staff includes chaplains from Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim backgrounds, and one who supports students who are spiritual but not religious. The result is a natural multifaith environment where students can learn more about one another through both long-standing, structured programs, and organic interactions.

“Because the chaplaincy staff works so tightly together, and we share what we're seeing in our own communities, we can see themes emerge,” says Josh Jeffreys, Jewish chaplain and director of religious life. “We are then able to support one another and figure out where there's a shared interest or opportunity to come together for those conversations.”

For instance, this past fall, the chaplaincy organized a series of events for Jewish and Muslim students to come together to process the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Jeffreys and Waleed Ilyas, Muslim chaplain, were talking about how they were supporting their own groups and realized they were having many of the same conversations about vulnerability and fear. They saw an opportunity to bridge the gap.

“We invested in these relationships during ‘normal’ times, and we were able to activate them in meaningful ways during the most traumatic of moments,” Jeffreys says. “We focused on each group seeing one another and recognizing that their suffering isn't mutually exclusive, that they can be in community and humanize one another. And that might be one of the most radical things we could do.”

While organic, student-driven programming and intentional multifaith spaces are a key component of the Chaplaincy’s work, structured multifaith programming is equally important. The staff regularly brings groups together for discussions about prayer, food, and other religious beliefs. And the intensive Pilgrimage program facilitates deep engagement with complex topics from a multifaith perspective while traveling to locations, including Morocco, South Korea, Berlin, and Spain.

University chaplain Craig Kocher says these multifaith opportunities — whether it’s a one-hour conversation or a week-long trip — have both pragmatic and intrinsic value for students. Students deepen their personal relationship with their own faith, and they grow to be better citizens of a diverse society.

“We live in a world where people of different faiths interact with one another in the workplace, in the marketplace, in families and friendships, and in neighborhoods and schools,” Kocher says. “If, at this important time in their lives, students have the opportunity to grow deeply in their own beliefs while expanding outward to learn from those who have vastly different life experiences, they’ll be better prepared to live lives of faith and leadership.”