College Ministries and the Diversity Center began to dream about Journey Conversations in the spring of 2009. That year, our joint staff meeting ended with a simple vision: to establish an interfaith presence on campus. Today, we share a vibrant interfaith presence on campus; one that is consistent with the Lutheran tradition of inclusion and connected to the college’s spirit of cooperative action—working together for peace with justice.
So far, the interfaith partnership between College Ministries and the Luther Diversity Center has produced great things, including:
- The Melanchthon room refurbished as the Melanchthon Interfaith Room. This room is now used for Bible Study, meditation, and interfaith work.
- The Luther Gospel Choir revitalized, led initially by Brendon Adams, a South African choir director and continuing with Luther alumnus Sam Simataa, the Gospel Choir promotes an understanding of the African and African-American Christian religious traditions.
- The Interfaith Student Alliance (IFSA), an interfaith student organization working with the Muslim Student Association and Allies (MSAA) to extend interfaith welcome and understanding.
- Student-organized social gatherings for holiday celebrations—such as Eid Al-Adha, Kwanzaa, Lunar New Year, Holi, and Seder—to learn from those who know and love these traditions.
To promote an emerging interfaith tradition at Luther, the College Ministries/Diversity Center partnership founded Journey Conversations with Dr. Diane Millis, a contemplative practice writer/scholar and independent consultant. Diane helped us create a framework for bringing people together in the presence of their deepest commitments.
Over the last five years, the team developed presentations, retreats, and small contemplative practice groups dedicated to exploring life journeys. In coming together to practice silence, reflection, listening, and storytelling, groups share a path to empathy, connectedness, and hope. In this work, Sandhya Purohit Caton was the college’s interfaith coordinator.
As our practice evolved, the team was called to articulate how Journey Conversations engages teachers, pastors, students, and other members of the learning community. A Paideia lecture titled "Don’t Just Say Something, Sit There: How Contemplative Practice Can Reshape Our Communication and Our Communities" provided a forum to explore this calling. For teaching and learning, we described Journey Conversations as a way to “quiet ourselves, listen within and to others, speak from a place of deeper awareness, and respond with compassion, rather than reacting.” Learning in this way engages all of us beyond the surface dailyness of college classes and invites us to explore why we study and what we really want to know.
To honor its interfaith purpose, Journey Conversations is open to every faith or no faith at all. We can come together across differences in religious and spiritual traditions because Journey Conversations is not about our faith; rather, it’s about our stories.
Once each semester, Journey Conversations hosts a retreat that provides the community with an opportunity to experience what happens. The next Retreat is scheduled for February 23, 2013 from 2-5 p.m. in Qualley Lounge. Contact me if you’re interested, and I’ll send you a link to register for the event.
In closing, the Luther Diversity Center is a proud partner in Journey Conversations because, for us, this process is a contemplative form of inclusion. Being inclusive means that people remain open to connecting to and learning from one another. Inclusion is being together to embrace the dignity of the human spirit; and to act justly throughout the broader world community.
Sheila Radford-Hill is an educator, author and community activist who became the first executive director of the Luther Diversity Center in August 2003. Her responsibilities involve extending the benefits of diversity at the college and serving faculty and students as a resource for inclusion. She is a faculty associate who teaches Paideia II courses and a course in English, Africana studies, and women and gender studies.