SMU Chaplain Studies the Hare Krishna Student Center as Model Campus Ministry
Posted November 16, 2005
Will Finnin is Chaplain to the University at Southern Methodist (SMU) in Dallas, Texas, a position he has held for twenty-three years. After a brief visit to the Hare Krishna Student Center (and tasting the campus prasadam) he decided to study our center and philosophy in more detail. His proposal to study the HKSC campus ministry was accepted and funded by the Methodist Church. During his three weeks with us, Will studied, chanted japa, attended the lunch, and shared his own insights and realizations with us. In this interview, Will explains his attraction to the HKSC.
Savyasaci das: What brought you to the Hare Krishna Student Center?
Will Finnin: It was my interest in learning more about a movement with which I have had such a positive experience in Dallas. I am especially interested in learning about this particular center's ministry in distributing prasadam for over 30 years in a campus setting. There are few if any campus ministry programs in the country today which can point to such a consistent program of campus interaction as this center and its Krishna Lunch program. I come from a tradition of campus ministry where food is of particular importance to the nurturance of community, and it takes on a sacramental dimension in other communities. Coming to understand the power of prasadam has been an insightful crossover in our traditions.
Also, I couldn't resist your invitation to spend time here this summer to be a part of the Krishna community. I felt at home here. You worship more intently than many of the Christian community.
SS: Why are campus ministries important?
WF: Campus ministry is the portal to spiritual development in an institution that often denies the validity of the spiritual aspect of human development. Campus ministries of many traditions offer the opportunity for people in universities to recognize that we are not defined exhaustively by our vocation or economic pursuits. On the contrary, campus ministries claim that human beings are primarily spiritual beings whose involvement in material pursuits alone can block their spiritual growth. For this reason the campus ministries are crucial to the development of whole human beings who are spiritually conscious. Because they serve in an environment where institutional religions provoke official discomfort, campus ministries must become the poets and prophets of spiritual awareness on campus. They are, I believe, not conveniences but absolutely essential components of a healthy educational environment.
SS: After seeing it in action, what are your views on the Krishna Lunch program?
WF: If ever there was a program that had proven its bona fides or certification to be here, the Krishna Lunch program has. At the heart of your program is service to God and the gift of food. You offer an alternative to the dominant culinary culture of meat eating. The quality of the food is exemplary.I was amazed after my first visit. The longevity, the complexity of organization required to provide a meal of this quantity and quality, the volunteer program that embraces and welcomes scores of non-Krishna volunteers are remarkable. I know that other ministers are impressed by the competence required, the clarity of the vision of this project and the enormous commitment of the people involved. It is a very impressive ministry.
SS: Did you notice anything about the interaction with the students?
WF: The way you go about sharing your knowledge is in the mode of invitation never in the mode of coercion - an opportunity to learn rather than an ultimatum. I wish I could say that about my own tradition where exclusivity can pervade the outreach. The approach you take is one for which I have great respect. You avoid "in your face" evangelizing.
SS: Could you give us some ideas of where you see us going in the future?
WF: I think to have some sort of community space for people to meet for fellowship would be the next step. A sort of lounge or living room area where students and devotees could mingle informally. Hangout space. It will be a tool for building community. At the lunch the people see smiles, good food and heartfelt singing which I think attracts people. The vegetarian information opens a door to learning more about Krishna Lunch.
SS: Any words for our Nectar News readers out there?
WF: To support the Hare Krishna Student Center is to support outreach to young people at a time in their lives when they are beginning to realize themselves. If you can't be here to share knowledge of Krishna then you can be here by giving as large a gift as you can give to help the project. It is another way of rendering service.I am very impressed with your professionalism - personally and as a community. I have never been in a campus ministry setting that is as spotlessly clean as Krishna House! I could eat off the floor and not be uncomfortable. The way you care for this facility shouts your praise of God. I think anyone who knows about this program would be eager to help fund the staffing, building maintenance and the cost of putting on the lunch program.