Stepping into ministry at McMaster as your Interim Ecumenical Chaplain has been an exhilarating experience! While McMaster University started as a Baptist institution, before long the Anglican, Presbyterian and United Churches joined in supporting a ministry to students, staff, and faculty that has grown exponentially. No one could have imagined back in the early 1970s, when the Ecumenical Chaplaincy position was created, that we would now be ministering to a community of over 40,000 people.
What exactly does ecumenical chaplaincy entail? We serve soup and bread to hungry students every week and host a Thanksgiving dinner for international students when everyone else is home with their families. We offer cookies—lovingly home-baked!—during the extended period of ‘exam hospitality’ and even have a therapy dog to help with exam stress; students are now pouring into our office to see the ‘therapist.’ ‘Wonder Walks’ (on McMaster’s many beautiful trails) get people out in nature as every member of the community feels their way in the new world created by the pandemic.
We provide a listening ear for issues of grief, isolation, identity, faith, and a myriad of other conversations that happen quite naturally within and beyond the Chaplaincy’s open door. Of course, we organize worship, like McMaster’s first-ever memorial service for those who have passed away over the last year—Blue Holiday—and Advent services. We pray for and with all those within our circle of care.
As ecumenical chaplain, I believe we draw an incredibly wide circle around what this ministry means and who it encompasses. I see students who are studying addiction because of friends they’ve lost, those trying to please far-off parents, students worrying about their friends back home in war-torn countries or homelands facing incredible social upheaval. I see people struggling with self-acceptance, problems that range from crises of faith, deep grief, and mental health challenges to roommate problems! Faculty and staff are ‘hotelling,’ having lost offices during the pandemic, and come to campus a few days a week not knowing where they’ll be working. And everyone—absolutely everyone—is still recovering from the last almost three years, trying to figure out how to go forward with some hope, faith, and belief in this old world.
Your contributions of every and any kind—spiritual, volunteer, financial—are the heart of what makes McMaster’s chaplaincy possible and are always welcome! If you would like to come and see what we’re doing or contribute in any way—we need lots of cookies for two weeks of Exam Hospitality! —please contact me, Allison Barrett, at [email protected] or our office administrator, Nathan, at [email protected] if you would like to support this ministry with a much-needed donation. It’s your ministry and always has been.