The overall consensus regarding the core message of the Christian Scriptures is remarkably consistent, despite variations in both theology and practice among churches. The history of the church reveals twin impulses that have combined for centuries through the inward experience of spiritual devotion and the outward demonstration of service to others. We are reminded that divine grace is a gift but faith in the absence of service is lifeless. Contemplation and action go together like a hand in a glove.
Since its founding 160 years ago, Central College has expressed its faith affiliation by fostering an environment in which a personal spiritual journey is nurtured and active engagement in service is encouraged. Each member of this diverse campus community can find a way to connect through collective reflection and shared service.
In the 2010 book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, Robert D. Putnam (Harvard University) and David E. Campbell (University of Notre Dame) spend considerable time exploring extensive sociological research as it pertains to religion in America. In one section, they articulate the relationship between all types of religious affiliation and social phenomena such as neighborliness, service, philanthropy and civic engagement. They note that the effects of religious affiliation are pronounced in these areas of citizenship, when controlling for all other demographic variables. However, it turns out to be less a matter of theology or denominational affiliation. The effect appears to flow from the networks of relationships facilitated by religious organizations. To put it more simply, if you are a member of a religious community, you are more likely to give and to serve. They note:
“…religiously based social networks lead people not just inward to the church but outward to that wider secular community in terms of giving, volunteering and participating in civic life.”
I think the same is true for an academic community, especially one that brings together many people from various faith traditions deeply rooted in an appreciation for divine grace and volunteer service. These are principles that can guide us. These principles teach us that we are the humble beneficiaries of a world rich with natural resources and beauty; that we are privileged to express ourselves through art and creativity; that we are given the strength needed to learn, to work and to perform; and that together we can lift those in need to higher ground. It is our calling to serve.