Donning “I heart Sharon” buttons, several dozen students were among about 150 members of the Yale community at Battell Chapel Sunday to celebrate the installation of University Chaplain Sharon Kugler.
Kugler, Yale’s first female chaplain, will also be the first chaplain called upon to serve those of all faiths, said University Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer during her remarks. The appointment of Kugler — a lay Catholic — is also historic because all previous chaplains have not only been ordained ministers but have also served as preachers of the Protestant University Church.
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The University’s emphasis on interfaith leadership reflects the changing face of Yale’s religious landscape, several speakers at the ceremony Saturday noted.
Kugler, who has been performing the duties of chaplain since July, said in an interview last week that she intends to take a heavily student-oriented approach to her chaplaincy. In her remarks, Lorimer presented the University’s formal charge for Kugler, calling upon her to “bring together individuals from a rich array of student religious organizations.”
Although most students in the audience were members of the Multifaith Council, Kugler has already done just that, several student religious leaders said.
Two weeks ago, Kugler helped orchestrate the creation of the Inter-Religious Leadership Council, a group of student leaders from over 20 different campus organizations, meant to provide a collective forum regarding campus religious issues.
“The effect she’s had has been monumental already,” said Jeremy Avins ’10, senior coordinator of the student-run Multifaith Council, which organizes campus-wide events and promotes. “She’s made clear that whatever the MFC wants to accomplish as a group [is something] we’re going to accomplish.”
Yale intends to “align religious ministry excellence with the excellence of the rest of the University,” Lorimer said. Part of Kugler’s task will be to create “as successful a set of campus ministry programs as can be found anywhere,” she said.
With students from over 20 religious and spiritual groups, Yale has achieved an unparalleled level of student diversity, said Rev. Robert Beloin, Yale’s Catholic Chaplain, in his remarks Saturday.
“Yale is no longer a strict monoculture when it comes to religious faith,” he said.
“We have a long way to go in promoting interreligious dialogue, as does our nation as a whole,” he added, calling Kugler’s appointment a “step forward” in accomplishing this goal.
Kugler’s ability to draw together members of different faiths was one of her chief qualifications for the chaplaincy, said Harold Attridge, dean of Yale Divinity School and co-chair of the committee that chose Kugler.
“[She has] a breadth of empathetic imagination that connects with members of a variety of faiths,” Attridge said in his remarks.
Prior to her installation, Kugler organized a full day of religious and social events to bring together students from across the Yale community.
On Saturday, the Chaplain’s Office threw a dinner event at the Afro-American Cultural Center at which Kugler dedicated a giant labyrinth painted on a sheet of canvas 20 feet in diameter. Clad in their socks, the two dozen participants, many of them students, filed behind Kugler as they carefully made their way along through the labyrinth to the center of the canvas.
Kugler said the Labyrinth, entitled “Our Next Journey,” was meant to symbolize the idea of a shared spiritual voyage to draw students together.
“We’re all going to make it different ways, but we’ll all make it to the center,” she said.
Nathaniel DeLuca ’06, who serves as a chaplain’s intern, noted that the labyrinth — though derived from the Christian tradition — is a symbol esoteric enough to be appreciated by members of all religions.
Several of the speakers at Battell on Saturday — including Kugler herself — emphasized the importance of Kugler’s job in a world that must increasingly rely on religious leaders to help solve global problems.
“Our world needs them desperately,” Kugler said of Yale students. “They must and will have a role of curing the world.”
She added: “We live in a world that is fractured by violence. … Our mutuality is what moves us forward, and forward is where we must go,” she added.