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Murphy, Thomas H. (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 83, Number 1 (Nov. 1981)

Wineke, William R.
Religion is "in" on campus,   pp. 19-27


Page 19


Religion Is "In" On Campus
By William R. Wineke
Wisconsin State Journal Religion Editor
s this the University of Wisconsin
    campus, this place where students are
    carrying Bibles, monks are chanting
mantras, and chapels are packed with stu-
dents? It couldn't be! "Everyone" knows
that the University is a hotbed of radicalism
and atheism. Students wouldn't be caught
dead carrying Bibles; everyone knows that.
But, if that stereotype of UW students was
ever true-and it never was for the major-
ity-it isn't true this year. State Street is the
scene of an almost incredible religious re-
vival, one that offers students the opportu-
nity to be involved in virtually any kind of
religious experience one can imagine.
   Followers of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon
stand in front of the Memorial Library talk-
ing about cosmology, while a fudge stand
next door sports a sign reading, "This is not
a Moonie operation, thank God."
   The Rev. Ed Beers, who has been a
United Church of Christ chaplain here
since 1964, can hear the chants of the Hare
Krishnas filter through his office window at
Pres House as he speaks with students
about Christian prayer.
   The Rev. Steven Umhoeffer, chaplain
of the University Catholic Center, can peer
out of his office window overlooking the
State Street Mall and watch fundamentalist
preachers trying to convert his students.
   The Navigators, a theologically conserv-
ative Christian group, are running no fewer
than sixty Bible studies in UW dormitories.
   There's no question about it; religion is
"in" on campus this year. "I try to be a little
cautious about it," says the Rev. James
Knuth, pastor of Calvary Lutheran Chapel,
the Missouri Synod student center. "I see a
resurgence in interest in the church, but I
also see a resurgence of conservative poli-
tics, so I don't think we in the church can
take all the credit for doing things right. It
may just be a phenomenon of the times."
   Whatever it is, Knuth attracts an aver-
age of 700 students to Sunday worship serv-
ices. "We have a number of graduate and
medical students who are enrolled in two-
year Bible study programs and we attract
about 100 persons to Thursday night vesper
Reprinted with permission from the Wiscon-
sin State Journalfor September 6, 1981.
services." Knuth thinks the church offers
some stability in the middle of the chaos of
college life. "There's a lot of emptiness,
hopelessness and self-deprecation on
campus. You can see it in the faces of some
of the students as they go from one bar to
another. But in the midst of that, we have
to be able to celebrate and worship and
reach out and care."
   ampus religious centers remain ha-
       vens for social activists, but the
       chaplains say much of their work
runs in more conventional lines including a
great deal of pastoral counselling.
   "A lot of my work is with married peo-
ple," said the Rev. Gerard Knoche, a pas-
tor at the Lutheran Campus Center, which
serves student members of the American
Lutheran Church and Lutheran Church in
America. "Statistically, a fourth of the resi-
dents now at Eagle Heights will end up get-
ting divorced, and many of them will want
to talk to a clergyman about it. We still
think of students as twenty years old and of
campus ministry as involving cost suppers
on Sunday nights. But today we have to
meet the spiritual needs of forty-year-old
mothers who are back in college as well as
the eighteen-year-old undergraduate."
   Another Lutheran group, the Wisconsin
Evangelical Lutheran Synod, operates the
Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel and Student
Center.
   At the Catholic Center, where no fewer
than twenty-four Masses a week are sched-
uled, Umhoeffer says, "I don't think we're
trying to program more conservatively than
we did in the past, but if the students be-
come more conservative, and if they have a
say in the workings of the center, then our
programs will reflect that."
   The Rev. Thomas Woodward, rector of
St. Francis House, the Episcopal student
center, said he sees students becoming
more thoughtful about their response to so-
cial issues. "There's still a lot of social
action, but students aren't as polarized as
they once were. Ten years ago, no one had
an open mind, but today I think more peo-
ple realize their own ambivalence about
how to solve social problems."
   Beers agrees. "There are a lot of people
working on a lot of issues. I see students be-
ing very concerned about peace, for exam-
ple, but they're doing their work with less
noise and more insight than was true a few
years ago."
ut what some chaplains see as
       thoughtfulness, others fear may be
       a symbol of apathy. "It is not as in-
teresting a time as it used to be on campus,"
suggests Rabbi Alan Lettofsky, who has
been chaplain of the B'nai B'rith Hillel
Foundation since 1972. "I see students to-
day as being interested in knowing what
they have to know in order to get a grade.
Questions of spiritual or intellectual mean-
ing are not so much in vogue as they once
were."
   Lettofsky suggested that students, like
the public in general, may be looking to
conservative religion and conservative poli-
tics because their personal lives have little
certainty. "I see a trend in our students, one
I see in the Christian churches too, toward a
conservatism, a fundamentalism. I think
liberals, whether they are Jews or Chris-
tians, are still grappling with questions of
what makes sense in this world," Lettofsky
said. "I think fundamentalists are address-
ing issues that are of concern to people, and
responding to their needs with certain an-
swers. We liberals can't do that because we
know the answers the fundamentalists give
aren't acceptable; they won't work in the
long run."
   No matter how much students may
change, however, the chaplains who serve
them say they maintain their enthusiasm
for the job.
   "It never loses its excitement," Beers
explains. "There's something about stu-
dents that keeps you active, keeps you
thinking, keeps you alive."         El
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 1981 / 19


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