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Asking the Clergy: How can students observe faith traditions on college campuses?

From left, The Rev. Lachlan Cameron of the

From left, The Rev. Lachlan Cameron of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, Sanaa Nadim of Islamic Society Interfaith Center at Stony Brook University, and Rabbi Karen Reiss Medwed of Northeastern University. Credit: Diocese of Rockville Centre; Newsday / John H. Cornell Jr.; Julio Chuy

College-bound high school graduates and upper-level students returning to campus after more than a year’s lockdown may find it challenging to balance religious practice again with schoolwork and other academic pursuits. This week’s clergy discuss how students might continue observing faith traditions between worship on holiday visits home.

The Rev. Lachlan Cameron

Director of Campus Ministry, Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre

To stay in contact with their Catholic faith, college students have to be proactive. No surprise there. Like most things in life, initiative is required. To that end, I would recommend, even before packing the car, students explore what Catholic presence is on or near campus.

It is different at each school, but there will be some way to practice the faith and find community. Whether it be at a Newman Center, a campus ministry office, a parish affiliated with the school or a student-led Catholic club, students should simply stop by early in the semester — maybe during orientation — and say hello. Chances are they will find a warm welcome and discover a multitude of ways to pray, serve and grow while at school. There will be Mass on Sunday. That is the best way to practice the faith and begin and end the week.

Additionally, activities will be offered to live, deepen and come to own their faith: service opportunities, Bible studies, meal and discussion evenings, social events, retreats and mission trips. Finally, I would remind students it is in giving that we receive, so give your time to God and receive abundantly — maybe surprisingly — in return.

Rabbi Karen Reiss Medwed of Plainview

Member, Joint Beit Din of the Conservative Movement; assistant dean, Networks and Digital Engagement, Graduate School of Education, Northeastern University

Graduation always takes me to Mount Sinai and the story told of God offering to Moses the Ten Commandments, the compass of the values and practices to guide the people on the road ahead. What is the compass your Jewish student needs, that will connect them to the Jewish people at college?

For some this might be ritual objects, such as a mezuzah for the dorm or shabbat candlesticks. For others it is a subscription to Jewish arts media or cultural programs. Others will be guided to Birthright heritage trips to Israel or Hillel programs, which help them stay connected with peers. Students will need ways to continue their tikkun olam — acts of loving kindness — to be part of a Jewish community of giving. Still others will need language and support to face, navigate, debate and respond to some of the anti-Semitism we are sadly seeing coming up at college.

And for those sending off our students? We need the faith that these students will use their compass as not merely a suggestion but as a guide or a blueprint. They might choose a different route from the main one, but they will always look to their compass for guidance.

Sanaa Nadim

Chaplain, Islamic Society Interfaith Center, Stony Brook University

College can be tricky to navigate and at times, isolating. For many of our students, it’s their first time living away from home, and this, of course, creates a deep sense of confusion and trepidation.

As a Muslim chaplain, I hold weekly office hours for students and very quickly learn much about their personal lives — their family dynamics, their desires for their futures and their struggles. I also meet with students interested in better understanding Islam and with those who have a close Muslim friend and want to know more about our traditions.

Stony Brook’s interfaith center promotes dialogue and cross-religious community building. Our students organize university events that expand their access to peers, mentors and friends, and that create avenues for support and meaningful, restorative, uplifting connections. Through the celebration of faith and various cultural traditions, this spiritual network provides a strong system of support for our youth as they journey to self-discovery.

During the past year, our work became ever more important as students confronted difficult emotional and mental health struggles. By caring for them — while they, too, so often care for us — we’re helping to shape our future and the future of our society.

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