by Abby Musser-Co-Editor-in-Chief
Three years ago the Inclusion and Diversity Council was created to educate students and staff about diversity on campus. This includes religious diversity.
After all, only about 34 percent of the student body attending this Mennonite college actually identifies as Mennonite.
So how does Hesston meet the spiritual needs of the students who are not Mennonite?
Todd Lehman, Hesston’s campus pastor, says there are “lots of challenges” when there is a diverse range of spiritual understandings on campus.
“How do we present what an Anabaptist understanding is and help all students feel welcome and valued equal at the table?” Lehman asks.
The answer, he says, is to focus less on differences and more on what we have in common.
“The thing in common could be how we connect with God,” says Lehman.
“Sacred Pathways” could be the way to determine this.
Lehman introduced the idea of “Sacred Pathways,” a concept from a book by Gary Thomas that explores the different ways to connect to God, a year ago. Students can complete a questionnaire to see how they best connect with God, whether that be through nature, rituals, or studies, to name a few.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a Mennonite, a Methodist, a Pentecostal, you have different ways within you and if we can recognize our own pathways, not naming the denomination… we can focus on how we connect with God,” says Lehman.
Programming’s effected too. Lehman and Campus Ministries brings chapel speakers from a variety of faith traditions. Last fall Hesston hosted Friar Voelker from St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Newton. Two weeks ago Aaron Austin, Vice President of Student Life at Bethel College, spoke to students. Austin comes from a non-Mennonite background too.
In academics, one of the learning outcomes for Hesston students is to learn about their own faith within the context of local and global community. Brent Yoder, Vice President of Academics, wants students “to be able to articulate their own faith philosophy, even if it is different from that of the college.”
This can take the form of classes like Religions of the World where students learn about major beliefs of different religions and their worldviews. Events like the recent trip to visit the Islamic Society of Wichita exposes students to new perspectives as well. There students observed a worship service and listened to a presentation about Islam. Students were free to ask questions like, ‘why do women cover themselves?’ or ‘what is Sharia?”
Lehman says faith and compassion grows when we’re exposed to diverse beliefs.
“I hope that we can have an atmosphere here at Hesston where even while we might hold our own perspective fairly tightly, we also can at the same time be open to learning from others,” he said. “Hopefully then learning from others we can incorporate it into our own perspective and help give a fuller understanding of God.”