The entrance to the Yale University Chaplain’s Office, located on Old Campus in the basement of Bingham D, opens to reveal a massive banner emblazoned with the Chaplain’s Office motto: “You Are Always Welcome.”
As the Office celebrates its 90th anniversary this fall, these words of welcome are especially apt. Over the course of nearly a century, the Chaplain’s Office has become not only a place of comfort for those of Christian faith — as it was initially intended — but a nondenominational safe haven for students of all backgrounds.
“The Chaplain’s Office cares for the soul of the University,” said Maytal Saltiel, the associate University chaplain. “For me it’s both the small things and the big things … helping people find what their inner passions and meaning are, connect to their heritage and traditions, their faith and also helping them connect to one another.”
This year, the Chaplain’s Office celebrated its anniversary at the Founders’ Day celebration on Oct. 11 on Cross Campus. Students took home various souvenirs, including seltzer bottles with the Chaplain’s Office 90th Anniversary logo and stress ball key chains in the shape of ice cream cones, from several tables run by the Office. The ice cream trinket was a nod to the famous Chaplain’s Office ice cream freezer, one of Bingham’s biggest draws.
Students, faculty and other visitors at the Founders’ Day celebration also got the opportunity to participate in an art installation in honor of the 90th anniversary of the Chaplaincy. The project, titled “Chaplains Hold the Hopes of the World,” encouraged members of the Yale community to write their hopes for the future on white ribbons and weave them into a loom.
The Chaplain’s Office has always emphasized religious and spiritual connection, but its current inclusivity is the result of 90 years of progress. Although there is no exact date for the founding of the Chaplain’s Office, the first University Chaplain, Reverend Elmore McNeill McKee, was appointed in 1927, just a year after the end of Yale’s compulsory chapel services, a time when virtually all Yale students and faculty were white, male and Protestant.
The beginnings of religious diversity at Yale appeared after the arrival of Reverend A. Sidney Lovett, Yale’s second chaplain. Between 1932 and 1967, Yale welcomed its first self-identified agnostic, Buddhist, Muslim, Baha’i and Atheist students. During this period, a religious counseling program for Jewish students that would later evolve into the Yale Hillel Foundation also began, and St. Thomas More Chapel opened to serve the needs of the rising Catholic population.
In more recent years, the Chaplain’s Office has expanded to include physical spaces for students of all faiths. From 1997 to today, the Chaplain’s Office oversaw the opening of the Musalla, the Muslim prayer room, and the Hindu Prayer Room in Bingham Hall, as well as the Buddhist Shrine in Harkness Chapel.
“It’s like a net of support that I can count on,” said Phuong Hang Nguyen ’21, who identifies as a Buddhist. “I don’t use it often, but I appreciate the fact that it exists.”
The Chaplain’s Office hopes to someday expand even further, with the ultimate goal of one day having their own building to better serve the student population.
Saltiel affirmed her desire for the Chaplaincy to one day overcome the current physical limitations, which prevent more cultural and faith-based activities.
“Our dream would be to have a free-standing space where we could put all different religious spaces together, in one building with windows,” Saltiel said. “And so to really have people interface with one another, coming in and out of worship to do interfaith programs in a space that can fit people, do meals, have dances, experience religion and culture in physical ways, together … that would be a dream, to have a space to do that.”
As the Chaplain’s Office celebrates nine decades of service to the Yale community, students interviewed said that while there is still more work to do, the level of religious inclusivity on campus should be valued and maintained for all subsequent years to come.
“[The Chaplain’s Office] was one of the things that was really important for me adjusting to Yale, feeling more at home here,” said Arjun Prakash ’19, a Chaplain’s Office peer liaison. “Just keep up the great work for another 90 years, that’s all I can ask for.”
Feasting on Faith, the Office’s annual banquet, will take place this February and provide students with the opportunity to eat foods from various cultures and learn about different religious opportunities.
Mei Chen | firstname.lastname@example.org