Disclaimer: The writer of this piece also works for the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life. This was taken into account during the editing process to account for bias.
Willamette University’s Office of Spiritual and Religious Life (SRL) has had a fresh start this semester under the leadership of the new University Chaplain, and Director of Spiritual and Religious Life, the Reverend Ineda P. Adesanya (who is referred to in this article by her first name, as she invites all to engage with her as simply Ineda to reflect her desire for true accessibility). The physical office located in the University Center lives up to SRL’s motto, “A Space for Well-being and Connection,” by offering a warm and welcoming space open to all students, staff, faculty and alumni regardless of faith tradition, spiritual orientation, ethical viewpoint or worldview. With the intent to extend the motto outside of the office and into the WU community, SRL has been organizing various events and services that welcome all to participate and feel connected. Chaplain Ineda’s first big task was to organize the annual Opening Days interdenominational worship service. She learned early on that the annual Opening Days worship service has had relatively low attendance, with an average of just zero to five people attending. Ineda was inspired to change the traditional approach to be more inviting, interfaith and less conventional.
The 2021 Opening Days Worship Service, held on Aug. 29 at Cone Chapel, was an interfaith gathering with special highlights that reflected a diverse and inviting space, as reflected in the opening meditation. The meditation was based on “Eagleboy,” a Native American prayer from the book “In a Sacred Manner; an Indian Prayer for Litany”; and finally, a sacred reading called “How Wonderful,” written by Howard Thurman in his book “Meditations of the Heart.” Moreover, SRL also hosted a jam session and an open mic, which all students were invited to participate in. With a total of sixteen attendees, more than half of the students performed and uplifted the spirits of the audience with their various talents, such as playing instruments, singing, etc. Kiera Atkinson (‘25) played “How Beautiful” by Mosaic MSC on piano. Kiera stated in reflection that, “The Chaplain was so warm and welcoming that I felt comfortable performing last in front of everyone.” She also said that the best part of the service in her opinion was when the Chaplain read the beautiful poem “How Wonderful” by Howard Thurman. CJ Lane (‘23) commented that “The service led by Ineda was very warm and welcoming. Going in, I was afraid it would be a very Christian domineering space, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The service was inclusive of all spiritualities and faiths. Afterward, there were open mic performances where anyone was welcome to perform. Overall it was a very pleasant experience!” Ineda later shared on social media, “First worship service as University Chaplain at Willamette University. After a contemplative opening of prayer, meditation, and reflection, I was so jazzed that more than half of those in attendance braved the stage for our inaugural jam session!!! We had an acoustic guitar, piano, electric guitar, voice, keytar, alto sax, and me tapping on my djembe.”
Based on the exciting success of the event, SRL was inspired to host a similar service for the Annual Family Weekend Worship Service on Oct. 17 at Cone Chapel. The theme was “Poetic Praise,” and used poetry as a sermon, as well as encouraged the participation of the attendees for the open mic. Sacred text, prayer, poetry and spoken word readings were all allowed. SRL’s student staff chose a range of poetry and readings that focused on themes such as freedom, connectivity, family, and encouragement. They had these printed and ready for all those who wished to participate. A few minutes into the service, there was a feeling of connectivity amongst the strangers. Ineda’s sermon “Stay the Course” focused on the theme of perseverance through the challenges of everyday life, and she referred to various poems and even played a portion of “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child. The service was very interactive in nature from beginning to end, such as a call to worship between one of SRL’s leaders, Interfaith Chaplain Intern Kim Griggs, and the audience. In the form of a call and response, they together read a piece written by Sr Kira Sohldoost entitled “Facing Change,” a thematically exemplary piece of the times, given its focus on the re-creation of a world where inequality in race and gender is no more and where peace, justice and love define the constructs of the world. As seen in the extract below:
“Help us create a world where [all who are oppressed] are esteemed
And all the weak and poor appreciated.
Help us create a world where the benefits of culture
Are shared equally between [all genders].
Between races and nations.
Help us create a world where peace is laced
With justice, and justice intertwined with love.”
In addition to this, the service featured inspiring and apropos music by Honey Wilson, a responsive reading that called upon two volunteers to read “I Will Not Give Up,” a short essay written by Howard Thurman in his book “Meditations of the Heart.” For the open mic/spoken word segment almost every single attendant participated by reading their favorite piece of poetry, short reading, or piece from a collection that inspired them, with twelve attendees in total consisting of both parents and students. One of the participants, Maya Eshelman (‘23) read their own original piece of poetry entitled “Our Celebration,” which was inspired by their search for a peaceful space as an Indigenous student during Indigenous People’s Week.
Encouraged by both of these successes, SRL is committed to having many more events like these in the future, with at least one open mic/spoken word/jam session every month. The SRL also offers weekly and daily meditation as part of a growing series intended to reach all of WU’s campuses and schools. The weekly meditation titled “A Time for Meditation” occurs every Thursday at Cone Chapel from 4:15 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., and the daily meditation entitled “A Meditation Moment” happens every day at the University Center, Room 217 from 12:15 - 12:30 p.m. Feel free to contact the SRL office at (503) 370-6213 or Chaplain Ineda at firstname.lastname@example.org.