Love for God and Neighbour: Interview with Rev. Dr. Loretta Reynolds

By Ülvi Gitaliyev

Three weeks ago, The Berea Torch reported on the fact that some Campus Christian Centre (CCC) supplied books that had anti-abortion pamphlets in them. Soon after, the CCC said that the pamphlets had been put by an unidentified third party and that they had all been removed. We have no ill will towards the CCC and so, we invited Dr. Loretta Reynolds, the Dean of the Berea Chapel, for an interview.

Dr. Loretta Reynolds has been at Berea for over 20 years and has seen the transformation of the CCC into an all-inclusive organization that looks after all of the student body. The interview touches on these issues and more.

ÜG: How has the CCC changed since you first came to Berea?

LR: When I first arrived, my colleagues had done a fantastic job of starting this Student Chaplain Program where they trained student chaplains to provide help and support to their peers all around campus. The only issue was that they were just volunteers. So, they were doing it on volunteer time. It was hard to find time to actually train them. Because again, they were volunteering their time, and then eventually, it changed into a five-hour position through the labour office. That was good, but the dream had always been that they could become primary labour positions so that we could then truly train them. Then, that could be a labour position that you applied for.

My first year here was when Boone Tavern used to use a lot more students to actually serve and work, and then they switched over to Sodexo. They released 30 primary job positions and so we were able to get 17 of those primary job positions. This Chaplain Program became a primary labour program and so, that has grown and developed and worked very closely with Student Life. That’s been one of the most exciting changes over the years. And it actually happened a little over 20 years ago.

I’m a part of a group called the National Association for College Chaplains. At that point, 20 years ago, nobody else in the U.S. had our program. It became the premier program; I would talk with my colleagues, and I would pass along the message. Now, there are a lot of places around the U.S. that have the same kind of form of what we do. That is so exciting to me.

ÜG: How does the CCC serve its students?

LR: I would say several ways. One of the things that I see most important, now and going forward, is being a real instrument of helping people learn how to talk to each other. You know, it is so easy for us to divide and become “us” and “them,” however that looks, whether it’s political, religious, racial, whatever. When we start doing that, we stop talking to each other, and the breach is only going to get wider. I think if we can continue to figure out how to have these really crucial conversations with each other, not trying to make each other fight. We don’t have to agree on things, but we must figure out how to respect our differences.

I think religion is one of the things that plays into some of the biggest controversies. The important things for the CCC and the College are the starting principles: “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth” and love God and love your neighbour. If we can get those to be our guiding forces, I think we can get people to talk to each other. I think the CCC will continue to do that.

The second thing that I think is really important is the support that the CCC provides. Chaplains are trained to provide spiritual support and when I say spiritual, some people think, “oh, well, that’s just this little block of life over here.” I understand spiritual to be everything we are. It is the crust on the pie. It holds it all together. We can be here for students, faculty and staff to provide that support when they are going through really tough times. When life is hard, we walked through these times with them. When times are good, we celebrate with them. I think those two things provide a heartbeat for the campus.

ÜG: Please explain how those pamphlets found themselves in The Interfaith Prayer books.

LR: The short answer is, I don’t know.

People come through placing things around here all the time. Sometimes we pick them up and sometimes we don’t see them. We didn’t see them because they were concealed in our books.

We seek pamphlets here all the time, including yours [The Berea Torch]. Some people do ask permission before they place them in. Then we can look at them and say “yes,” you know, but most people don’t. They just drop them. We try to monitor and, you know, see what’s here, but we don’t always. Any material that is produced or provided by the CCC will have our CCC logo printed on it.

ÜG: Do you feel that there is a conflict between secular and religious/spiritual life here?

LR: I would hope it is not a conflict. We might have disagreements, but this is an educational institution and the CCC is not a church. You know, we don’t have a specific doctrine. Have you seen the Christian identity statement of the College? The Christian identity statement of the College says that we believe in our commitments as they’re lined out and that anyone who can live and support those commitments is welcome here.

So, are we going to have differences of opinion, and are we going to disagree? Yes, but that’s what education is about. Education is about being able to put all of our ideas out there on the table and to discuss them. If we stop doing that, I think, we lose the whole point of education. It is combining whatever drives you spiritually and in education. It’s a good place to be as long as we can continue to have those crucial conversations.

I don’t demonize you because I don’t agree with you. We can disagree with each other and still have those conversations and still be in community with each other. For me, what Berea really signifies is that community. We bring people here from all over the world, from all different kinds of mentalities and spiritualities and religions and politics. We throw everybody here in this little place and the fact that we can grow and maintain community and family is really important to me. I think it is one of the things that makes Barea so special. If you get out and look at other places, I think we do it really well. Do we do it perfectly? No, nobody does. But I think with our mission and our commitments, we work really hard at building that beloved community that we talk about so often.

ÜG: Where do you see the future of the CCC?

LR: Well, you know, that’s an interesting question. I am retiring this summer. So, I’m leaving that in someone else’s hands, but I know the things I hope for that is the continued growth of the Student Chaplain Program.

I hope that the CCC will continue to be a centre of community building. I don’t doubt that it will happen. How will it happen? That’s going to be in somebody else’s hands because at the end of July, I will be doing something else and I’ll miss it. I have loved my time here and for me, Berea is my family. I’m one of those old-school kinds of people; I have always felt like my work was my life and my life was my work, and I have loved it that way. It’s been a good place and a good place for me, personally, to grow. I’m not the same person I was 20 years ago. I have loved this educational, supportive environment, especially working with students like you.

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