Guest Blogger: Frederick Faison
The University Religious Life Program plays a unique role in its task to enable interested students to pursue full spiritual growth and development and to foster a campus atmosphere in which interested members of the college community may freely express their religion, spirituality, and faith. This essay briefly identifies challenges and changes faced by Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and shares my quest to advance the legacy through creative, ethical and social leadership for Lincoln University’s Religious Life.
Morehouse President Robert Franklin reports that in recent years, many HBCUs have closed their doors. He outlines eleven factors and his twelfth point concludes that “Financial, governance and other programs are affecting program changes to be made.” HBCUs were all started by the black church. Each had a religious life program that supported the programs and values of the African American community. Today, HBCU administrators are making tough choices that could possibly threaten the historical impact on these campuses where religion and learning go hand and hand. According to the Council for Advancement of Standards in Higher Education, “The Religious Life Program promotes student learning and development that is purposeful and holistic. The programs encourage: intellectual growth, effective communication, realistic self-appraisal, enhanced self-esteem, clarified values, career choices, leadership development and productive lifestyles, and appreciation of diversity, spiritual awareness, and achievement of personal and educational goals.” There are questions about whether the values which led to the establishment of HBCUs are still relevant and affordable in the shift of an ever-changing economy and shift in cultural values.
While tough financial decisions are being weighed in the balance to see if these religious life programs should remain, the HBCU students are attempting to make the right decisions where morals and values are overwhelmed by popular culture and negative images. Jarret Carter believes the value of the HBCU chapel is more pressing than ever. For this reason, Carter believes, “the University chapel, by its nature, challenges students to a higher level of critical thinking within areas of how they find and define their own personal value in their lives and within the world. Even with activities and discussions that are not spiritual in nature, the setting prompts an injection of morals and values that likely would not be present or as robust in the classroom or dorm room.” William H. Williamson, dean of the Chapel at Duke University said, “Values must not be ‘clarified,’ they must be debated, judged, exemplified, demonstrated and tested before the young if they are to be embraced and inculcated in the young.”
A Chaplain’s Quest to Creatively Inspire Excellence
Inspiring excellence has been “a family affair” which began with my family using music to encourage other sharecroppers facing the grim realities of life. I grew from music to ministry serving at my church. From 1987-2000, I served in a number of capacities from youth choir director to minister of music. My faith gave me the courage and confidence to reach out to people. Maturity and time gave way to the assessment of goals and direction of my life. In 1995, I graduated from St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh NC with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Music, also becoming “the first” of my family to graduate from college and first schoolteacher. I served as a minister of music in my church on Sundays and taught English in the classroom on Mondays, hoping in some way to help young people. In 1997, I was selected to serve as a Rotary International U.S Ambassadorial Scholar to study abroad in Sunderland, England. In 1999, I obtained a Master of Education degree from the Sunderland University in Sunderland, England, and completed writing my first book, Celebrations of Life, Faith and Songs. As I matured, there was this great passion to help others achieve academic and personal excellence.
Upon my 1999 return home to the U.S., I accepted this call and preached my initial sermon on December 31, 2000. In January 2001, I began pursuing a Master of Divinity degree from Shaw Divinity School and graduated in 2005. A dream of mine came true when I was hired as a First-Year Program Professor. I enjoyed teaching and mentoring other first-year, first-generational students like myself. The lessons taught were modeled after the plethora of inspiration I received from inspiring professors a few years earlier. This began my love with Student Affairs professionals. Teaching gave me the ability to attend with my students the host of Shaw University Weekly Chapel C.A.S.E.S. (Cultural Academic Spiritual Enrichment Seminars). Later, my music eventually led to me being hired as the Chapel Minister of Music during on Shaw University Weekly Chapel Sundays. From August 2003 to December 2008, I continued to excel in leadership and eventually became the Associate Dean of the Thomas J. Boyd Chapel on the campus of Shaw University. As the associate campus pastor, I served university students, faculty and staff and also assisted in planning outreach programs, conducting weekly Bible study and preaching for worship services. As professor, I also lectured and taught in the college classroom.
As a former resident of low income housing, one of four children to a single parent, a mediocre high school student and an African American male, I was a prime candidate to be called “at-risk.” Despite grade fluctuations that did not merit any scholarships, I became the first of seven generations of former slaves and sharecroppers to become a college student. I know the foundation of my success was the family culture at St. Augustine’s College and Shaw University, which were both HBCUs and valuable extensions of my community. All of this informs who I am and the zeal which I serve as University chaplain.
Leading Lincoln University Students in Living the “Legacy Life”
As a Student Affairs professional, I partner in planning collaborative programming with colleagues and campus and community organizations. My office is not in the chapel but it is the entire campus. I hope to inspire students to also make ethical decisions and lead as world citizens. Weekly, we sing our musical mantra for Sunday Worship Service. The “Legacy Life” song shares our common goal of “Living the Legacy Life.” Weekly over 250 students sing about being “intentional about being relational; participating in a concert of care; and Advancing the Lincoln Legacy through character, leadership and service.” At Lincoln, the Religious Life program remains an integral part of orientation. Each incoming freshman receives the Lincoln University Religious Life Calendar of Activities & Resources during orientation. Student assistants assist me in explaining our mission and the myriad of opportunities students may participate.
First, we explain our quest, how we are: “Intentional about Being Relational.” Through its contribution to Student Affairs and Enrollment, the Mary Dod Brown Memorial Chapel supports the educational mission of Lincoln University. A major goal of the Chapel is to serve as a moral compass at the institution. As such, the Chapel encourages in the student a desire to enter and contribute to the development of “community” on campus and in the larger world. The Chapel is also the spiritual resource for the administration, faculty and the staff of Lincoln University. In addition, the Chapel encourages a respect for, and appreciation of, a variety of worship experience and faith traditions, thereby encouraging a culture of religious tolerance.Secondly, we explain how we are: “Participating in a Concert of Care.” The Chapel is a learning laboratory complementing the student’s intellectual development in the classroom with worship experiences that enable opportunity for the practical application of skills that are important to personal success. The student is actively involved in the conception and implementation of Chapel programs. This involvement facilitates development of the student’s communication skills such as critical thinking, organization and presentation of projects, and effective spoken and written English expressions. These transferable skills support the student’s career and professional interests. The Chapel recognizes and embraces the diverse and ever-changing student population. Therefore, we are intentional in seeking to expose, teach and discuss subjects that deal with spiritual, physical and emotional aspects of the lives of college students facing the 21st century.Thirdly, we explain how we are: “Advancing in Character, Leadership & Service.” The University Chaplain, Chaplain Assistants, student leaders, Lincoln administrators and various Faith Development National scholars and theologians teach and lead in both the Sunday morning worship experience as well as Bible Study, conferences and seminars. The Chapel is an anchor for Lincoln alumni. It is a focal point for alumni relations, encouraging fidelity to Lincoln Traditions, helping to provide a vital nexuses for present and past students and urging alumni support for future growth and development of the University. Finally, the chapel is ambassador for the university. Through its program on and off the campus, inclusive of enjoying Philadelphia’s rich culture of plays, historical monuments and entertainment, the Chapel also sponsors a variety of joint ministries, concerts, revivals and leadership trainings. The chapel positively represents Lincoln University and generates support for the institution.
Since 1854, the Chapel has been a historic campus oasis featuring a pulpit of distinguished preachers and outstanding local, national, and world leaders as a part of empowering programs and services. While providing for the education of black students, the institution also hosted lectures and groups dedicated to the abolition of slavery in the United States. The college attracted highly talented students from numerous states, especially during the long decades of legal segregation in the South and students from around the world. In 1952, Lincoln University admitted female students. Over the course of time, these changes would necessitate changes in religious life program and services to meet the need of LU students. Since 1955, in the throes of great transitions, Lincoln University Chaplain and Religious Life program has played a pivotal role in preserving the spiritual ethos during those changes. It has been a source of hope to university students and the larger university community because of the many distinguished preachers and outstanding local, national and world leaders who have graced the Mary Dod Brown Chapel pulpit.
Today, in the 21st century, programming is intentional and coherent in its planning and based on theories and knowledge of learning and human development. Programming must also be specifically reflective of developmental and demographic profiles of the student population, and responsive to needs of individuals, special populations, and communities. Thus, this is the reason for our work to help advance the Lincoln legacy through creative, ethical and social leadership for Lincoln University’s Religious Life.
Bond, Horace Mann. Education for Freedom: A History of Lincoln University of Pennsylvania. New Jersey. 1976.
Carter, Jarrett L. Black Voices News. HBCU Digest. Morgan State Chapel: HBCU Alumni And Students Work To Revitalize Campus Sanctuary In Baltimore City.
Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education. Updated 10/06.
Franklin, Robert M. Franklin. Crisis in the Village: Restoring Hope in African American Communities. Minneapolis. 2007.
Lincoln University Religious Life Calendar of Activities & Resources 2012-12. Page 4. Reverend Frederick T. Faison, Editor and University Chaplain.
Willimon, William H. and Naylor, Thomas H. The Abandoned Generation: Rethinking Higher Education. Nashville. 2000.