Reverend Linda shares her thoughts on her new position.
Photo by Minh Nguyen
Reverend Linda Morgan-Clement, Ph.D., has been appointed as the first Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life at Lawrence University, after her 20 years at an interfaith ministry at The College of Wooster. She arrived here only two weeks ago and hopes to contribute more religious diversity and inclusiveness to the campus. During this interview, she introduced her role as a Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life and expressed her heartfelt passion for an interfaith ministry.
Can you talk a bit more about your new role here at Lawrence?
I am Linda Morgan-Clement, the Julie Ecsh Hurvis dean of spiritual and religious life. It has been created in response to a number of Lawrence students saying that spiritual and religious life here is not supported, and having concerns that they don’t have [certain] kinds of access to resources they needed. I think my role is to work with staff, faculty and students to create an environment where spiritual and religious inclusion is a part of the Lawrence’s landscape.
What are some of the programs and plans that you are working on?
One of my responsibilities is to be the point person on the campus when something bad happens to someone. If you have someone who died back home, earthquake or flood that is affecting your family, then I am available for that. On campus, if we’re having memorial services or some of the big community gatherings, then I’m responsible for leading those services and events. Another big piece is that we’re renovating what used to be Greenfire House into now Sabin House to be a Center for Spiritual and Religious Life, including a meditation center, a kitchen and places where people can come to have conversation with each other. My big focus is, whatever the program or activity is, to bring people different from each other together to get to know each other in terms of being able to both listen to their stories and share them.
A big part of my work in the next whole year is helping Lawrence see all the people, resources and programs you already have to help cultivate your spiritual and religious life. I’m now hearing from folks all over the place, including students, staff [and] faculty about things they want to do, about things they are doing already and about relationships that they have. I think all those various stories support the spiritual and religious life. I’m also hearing about the gaps between their ideals and reality, or the places they wish have been something different. For example, we talk about micro-aggressions with race. I think also there are a fair amount of micro-aggressions around religious identity. I think that’s something we need to work on.
Can non-Christians also visit your office?
Absolutely. Students of any or no religious tradition are absolutely helpful to visit. I can do one-on-one conversations, [which are] different from counseling. We can talk about spiritual backgrounds and big questions such as “what does my life mean?” For example, if you were a Buddhist back home and realized that this new place isn’t the same as your home, or if you feel spiritually challenged in the classrooms, I can talk about making spirituality yours and working through various processes together, whatever your tradition was. I will talk pretty much with everyone.
Some people might naturally relate Christianity with your position of Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life. What do you think about this preconception of religion that some might have?
It is a really hard thing to talk about because especially the media and U.S. are teaching us to put things in boxes. Religions are also put into boxes. It’s like Christians saying “I know what that means,” Muslims saying “I know what that means,” or Buddhists saying “I know what that means.” For any person in any tradition, it doesn’t mean what it’s been boiled down to mean. The same thing applies to religion. So I need to be who I am as a Christian in order to have a good conversation with someone else even with an atheist. During the conversation, I have to be aware of the framework I use in order to think about religion and I can discover a commonality between different religions. That is why I want to educate people about what means to be religious in many different religious traditions and deconstruct the popular notions of what it is to be religious.
Can you explain more about your interfaith ministry?
If I think about what are some of the things in our life, times and places where we build our shapes, values, traditions and identity, this kind of thinking guides me to have a good interfaith group with each other. The goal of this interfaith ministry is to listen to each other and talk about religion together. One of the major activities we do is what we call our spiritual narrative when we talk about a time when we had a vision for something bigger than ourselves or experiences in our lives when we felt incredibly small and needed a community. The answer to these questions not only come from my being a Christian, but from everybody. It doesn’t matter whether you come from Korea, Tibet, Cameroon, South Africa or Appleton, Wisconsin. There are things that happen in our lives and shape who you are, and many of those things are very similar, including people and experiences. Some people might ask, “How can you talk to somebody who’s not a Christian?” Why can’t I? I can listen to various people and help them share what’s going on in their lives with me. I don’t have to make them Christians to have that conversation that is meaningful to both of us. If I know who I am, then I have a space to know who you are. If I don’t know who I am, then I would want to change you and make you a Christian, because I wouldn’t feel comfortable.
Is there anything else you want to mention to Lawrentians?
Yes. I need feedback all over the campus for the Sabin House. If people have peculiar ideas, I would really love them to email me or set up an appointment to talk about them. Please invite me in and be my consultants on what we will do inside the Sabin House. I need to start figuring out what kinds of things I need to buy in terms of furniture, dishes for the kitchen and all those kinds of things throughout October. So any suggestions would be really helpful if this community can be included in the whole process of renovation. Also watch out for the classes I’m preparing for 2017 and 2018!