Sensing Journey by Sarah Wyman, Director of the Faculty Development Center and Associate Professor of English
with Allison Moore, Episcopal Campus Minister
- Listening to others: to what the people you meet are offering to you.
We walked on the Rosendale trestle bridge all the way to the Rail Trail Café with her dog.
- Listening to yourself: to what you feel emerging from within.
As usual, a wish to share much info I had about ways to connect at SUNY New Paltz, but I held back (some) and listened until the end. Curiosity about a woman near my age who had begun a whole new campus-based career in a new location on her own (apparently). She reminded me very much of a dear friend who recently moved away, and it was good to know her as a unique person. Listening to her talk about her work as a parish minister, I reflected on my own spiritual journey as a non-practicing Episcopalian who had once found connection and strength through faith. I decided not to share that, nor my desire to become a minister when I was in my early 20s. Wondering why I have such trouble connecting emotionally or spiritually to my own feelings these days, despite meditation practice. Numbness.
- Listening to the emerging whole: to what emerges from the collective and community settings that you have connected with.
Through my listening and then our discussion, we found a shared desire for greater connection and belonging for all members of the NP community. While I feel firmly embedded, she is still very much on the outside. We both value the presence of ethical and spiritual elements in our lives and feel that this is missing on campus, maybe because it requires a high level of trust, acceptance of difference, and understanding. We determined great potential to increase opportunities for students, staff, employees, faculty to discuss questions of spirituality in its many manifestations. We also acknowledge the negative impacts of religious extremism and our inability to achieve the diversity, equity and inclusion changes to which our campus has committed. By the end, we came up with many projects we could work on together.
What personal experience or journey brought you into your current role?
Allison has 15 years’ experience working as a parish minister in White Plains, NY, Fort Lee, NJ, and four other interim ministry positions. She has also taught as an adjunct and enjoyed speaking with college students. Campus ministry is a new area for her. She did not discuss her own spiritual journey in any personal way, but she did talk about the difficulty of finding a good job at this time in her life.
What issues or challenges are you confronted with?
Allison began with this question, even before I could pose it. She talked about the difficulty of initiating a more active spiritual ministry on campus under COVID contingencies when she knew nobody on campus or in the region. She does not feel like she is making enough progress initiating discussions or activating the food pantry.
Why do these challenges exist?
Allison had no formal introduction to the campus community. She was not even allowed to be on campus; the food pantry she was hired to manage has shut down and is working remotely.
Her orientation and outlook seem to be quite different from those of the previous person in this role.
What challenges exist in the larger system?
Skepticism and even resentment about religion. A culture that does not acknowledge spirituality or a moral center to our activities and decisions.
There is no evidence of religion on campus at all.
There is a generational piece in play amid the faculty. People need to learn to speak across all sorts of difference, not just religion, race, etc.
What are the blockages?
Since Allison especially values hands on, practical implementation of spirituality, COVID makes such activity nearly impossible. She wants to work with people more than anything, and that just has not been possible this year, except thought zoom.
Fundamentalism and orthodoxy can be dangerous and shut down conversation unless they are carefully explained and their representatives welcome open discussion.
What are your most important sources of success and change?
Allison also works with St. Andrew’s Episcopal church in town and has connected with many people on and off campus. She described very successful initiatives such as bringing music and alternate forms of worship to her yearly Episcopal diocese conferences. One of her most wonderful activities was a drag show. Our students would certainly welcome this sort of thing.
What would a better system look like for you?
People have an option to contemplate and discuss their beliefs. A place where we have a ropes course (maybe we do?) or where people can hang out and cook together. There are not enough physical spaces for simply gather.
We could create a Kosher kitchen.
What initiative, if implemented, would have the greatest impact for you? For the system as a whole?
A physical place where all faiths could say, “I think I believe…….” “A place in which life-giving conversation can happen.”
On-going scheduled, hosted conversations on spirituality & faith that emphasize self-empowerment and conversation across difference.
An inter-faith prayer room, already-designated space in the SUB, where Allison invites representatives from all religions to answer the question “What do you need in our prayer room?” And provide that.
Book discussions such as the ones she has been having through her church on race & racism: White Fragility; How to be an Antiracist, etc. could be run on our campus.
If you could change just a few elements of the system, what would you change?
More discussion between different groups – students/faculty/staff/employees.
Acknowledge we are living in a nation with “competing forces trying to tear each other apart.”
Whom else do we need to talk to?
Moshe Cohen (Math); Jen Rutner (STL) about book discussion series, possibly through STL or FDC. Wendy Leone at Twice Blessed, Lutheran Church, Huguenot Street who has provided clothing vouchers for students and employees in need. Bruce Milem (Philosophy) who teaches religion.
Anyone involved in planning the Contemplative Space by the pond (i.e. Administration)
I encouraged Allison to apply to be a DEI faculty fellow with the project of increasing interfaith conversations on spirituality.
- What was most surprising or unexpected?
Allison really lit up when she talked about past successes that might be replicated or attempted on our campus. I was inspired by all her ideas and the potential to open up this dimension on campus.
- What touched me? What connected with me personally?
Allison has deep experience and many great ideas. I urged her to claim her legitimate authority and BE the spiritual center of the campus she is hired to be. She could start by using the fac-staff email listserv and the Daily Digest to invite people to conversations on faith, or walks, or workshops. We can work together to make this happen. I resonated with the challenge of stepping into such a leadership position and opening oneself to scrutiny and criticism.
I felt guilty that I did not connect with Allison earlier on because I could have mentored and provided much information – I was just plain maxed out.
- If the social field (or the living system) of the visited organization or community were a living being, what would it look and feel like?
Allison imagines SUNY NP as a hovercraft.
- If that being could talk: what would it say (to us)?
We just stayed with the mechanical whirring hum, I guess.
- If that being could develop—what would it want to morph into next?
Hovercraft needs to be GROUNDED, it needs to grow roots, a big taproot, or legs.
- What is the generative source that allows this social field to develop and thrive?
Human energy & need and the ingenuity to build a container for them. Example: we could schedule events such as a vigil for George Floyd.
Allison is curious about the pollinator garden and the Children’s Center and how they can be more visible and activated in the life of the school.
- What limiting factors prevent this field/system from developing further?
Skepticism about spirituality. Resentment about the damage religious institutions have done. Allison spoke about working with men in NJ who had been “hurt by the church.”
Allison asks, “how much does SUNY New Paltz know about the town of New Paltz?” or about its history. She spoke with former Provost Vass who, in the 1970s tried hard to “improve faculty morale.” Interesting to learn this has always been a problem.
- What ideas does this experience spark for possible prototyping initiatives you may want to take on?
After our deep listening journey when I tried to stay quiet, Allison and I discussed involving her more deeply with Eddy initiatives, possibly opening the inter-faith Book of Job discussion she has been holding to the NP campus, possibly planning a LUNAFEST women’s film festival with the Eddy on the theme of food/housing insecurity after COVID, holding workshops on spirituality through the FDC and possibly in a space owned by the Lutheran church across route 32/Mannheim from campus. We imagined panels where we have faculty/staff/students/employees speak on a particular question of faith/spirituality.