Who’s afraid of the Chaplain’s Office? In a recent editorial, the Yale Daily News expressed trepidation regarding the future move of the University Chaplain’s Office to Dwight Hall from its current location in the bowels of Bingham Hall (“Chaplain’s Office should be unobtrusive,” 11/16). It is my belief that the concerns expressed by the News are wholly unfounded and bespeak a lack of understanding of the role of the Chaplain’s Office and the historic role of faith at Yale University.
First, the editorial states that “the decision to move the Chaplain’s Office into the Dwight Hall building, right in the heart of Old Campus, seems to us to risk crossing the line between accommodation of religious needs and promotion of religion.” It is unclear where this imagined “line” comes from. Yale is not a state-funded university and is not bound to refrain from promoting religion. As recently as the 1920s, daily chapel attendance was mandatory, and in fact Yale College was founded in 1701 as an institution “wherein Youth may be instructed in the Arts & Sciences who through the blessing of Almighty God may be fitted for Publick employment both in Church & Civil State.” That function has always been recognized at Yale, and the history of the University is one of increasing development in the facilities for training for religious service. Dwight Hall itself began in 1886 as the Yale University Christian Association and for many years saw itself as a kind of religious organization, and even in its present secular incarnation, it is a place where students are able to develop and explore their own moral and religious convictions through the work of service, activism and social justice.
In the third paragraph, the editorial says that relocating Dwight Hall to Elm Street “would decrease its visibility to freshman residents of Old Campus as well as thousands of others … who pass by the building daily.” This is an exaggerated fear, as moving Dwight Hall a mere two short blocks is hardly as drastic as it is being made out to be. I would think that students motivated to volunteer wouldn’t find it to be much of a hassle to cross the street to the other side of Green, especially considering the improved facilities, and seeing as the new facility will be on the same block or in vicinity of Yale buildings like the Visitor’s Information Center, Hendrie Hall and three residential colleges. With the traffic from downtown New Haven and the civic offices around the Green, the new Dwight Hall facilities should receive even more visibility than previously.
Toward the end of the column, we read that “the role of the Chaplain’s Office, a part of the Yale administration, should be just to facilitate students’ religious observance, not to encourage students to become religious. … [Dwight Hall] took advantage of the location to make community service an integral part of the Yale experience; the new occupant will not, we hope, approach its position on Old Campus in the same way. … The [Chaplain’s] office should make sure that it strikes a balance between responding to the demands of students and too actively promoting its work.” These sentiments ignorantly assume what the mission of the Chaplain’s Office is and show a lack of engagement and experience with that office. The Chaplain’s Office is not a missionary society whose job it is to evangelize to students, turning Old Campus or Yale into a version of Notre Dame, Wheaton or Yeshiva. Rather, “the Chaplain’s Office has as its mission to foster an understanding of and appreciation for the diverse religious and spiritual life of the University community. It does so by sponsoring programs that encourage learning about the various religious traditions and spiritual practices of members of the University community. … The Chaplain’s Office also provides services for the University community such as counseling, student program support and pastoral care. It supports the University’s interest in the city of New Haven through its liaison work with the community and through support of the Church of Christ in Yale.”
Whether you are Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Confucian, Daoist, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Pagan, Shinto, Sikh, Unitarian Universalist, Zoroastrian or none of those things, the Chaplain’s Office exists to welcome and support the whole Yale community. In a time when religious and ideological fundamentalism is on the rise, when religious sectarianism causes armed conflict and terror and when religious zealots promote bigotry, intolerance and irrationalism, the Yale Chaplain’s Office is here to promote a positive and ethical vision of religious life and practice which is respectful of people of all colors, creeds and sexual orientations, which engages in faith and reason and which helps to promote dialogue among people of different beliefs; that’s a mission that everyone on campus should support in this age of discord and division. No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. While the News wants to keep the Chaplain’s Office “unobtrusive,” effectively keeping the Chaplain’s Office underground and stifled where it will have no positive impact, I would invite anyone to come and check out the Chaplain’s Office for themselves, to meet the chaplains and see the open, inclusive, welcoming and spirit- and life-affirming work being done there.
Mark Cutolo is a second-year student at the Divinity School and the Slie Fellow at the University Church in Yale at Battell Chapel.