For Some Students, a Balance Between Work and Religion is Difficult to Find

The recent release of the Report of the Committee on Chaplaincy and Spirituality and the celebration of Passover and Lent have again brought the issue of religion on campus into focus. In 1976, Headmaster Theodore Sizer established the tripartite Protestant-Catholic-Jewish chaplaincy to accommodate the school’s religious diversity. Because of the ever-changing nature of Phillips Academy’s religious needs, Head of School Barbara Chase requested that the Members of the Committee on Chaplaincy and Spirituality “review the current structure of the chaplaincy and assess the broader need for support for the spiritual lives of Andover’s students.” In response, the members of the committee, including Associate Head of School Rebecca Sykes, Chair of the committee, Chaplain Reverend Michael Ebner ’70 and students Sean Hilton ’07 and Hasan Siddiqi ’07, convened to consider the topics later discussed in the resulting Report of the Committee on Chaplaincy and Spirituality. Hilton stated that the committee addressed the lack of attention toward religions minorities. He said, “[The committee] is also trying to provide more leadership for religions that do not have representation on campus.” Mary Grinton ’07, head of Christianity Happening in Living Life (CHILL), noticed the lack of consideration for religious minorities as well. She said, “Sometimes Andover doesn’t address the needs of religious minorities in the student body, such as Quakerism, Mormonism, and various sects of Islam and Protestantism…What the administration could possibly do is offer forums on what spirituality is in a non-organized sense.” Several students noted the lack of religious prevalence in the Andover community, though most found this understandable. Naomi Sobelson ’08, Co-Head of JSU with Jonathan Adler ’08, said, “For the average student, I don’t think it’s an essential focus of life at PA. Sometimes it’s hard to get teenagers to really start asking ‘religious’ and ‘meaningful’ questions in their lives, especially with all the stress.” Rabbi Neil Kominsky noted, “In a formal sense, religion is not terribly prevalent. There are a number of students for whom it means a great deal. There is a larger number of students who are not personally involved at this point in their lives, which is a normal thing in the adolescent population.” As a day student, Elizabeth Patino ’09 does not attend the Catholic services on campus; instead, she goes to Mass every Sunday with her family. Patino commented, “There’s so much [school] work that when I go to church, I think more about what I could be using the time for. My priorities have been reset.” Not all students feel that their religion has been compromised while attending the school. Grinton asserted that coming to Phillips Academy did not have any negative impacts on her religious life. She came to Andover from an Episcopalian school where all students were required to attend chapel three times a week and to take religion classes. “I didn’t used to go to church at home…and while my extracurricular religious life has grown, I spend less time studying or practicing my religion,” she said. Although Hilton expressed similar restrictions to his availability to practice his religion, he felt that the school also had positive effects on his spirituality. He said, “There’s so much work in class and outside of class that you kind of feel taken away from religion.” He continued, “But the school’s helped me grow in my belief. I’m independent right now; it’s not like my parents are dragging me to go [to church]. That just reinforces my faith.” Hilton also observed, “I’ve been to a few Masses, and I’ve been recognizing that there are more students who have religious beliefs than I thought.” Adler also manages to attend the Jewish services every week. “School offers a very different religious dynamic than at home. At home, the religious independence I found was through my bar mitzvah. After that I wasn’t too religiously active, and I was able to continue my religious activism through the Jewish Student Union,” he said. Since accepting the role of chaplain in 1995, Reverend Michael Ebner ’70 noticed a trend. “In the 12 years that I’ve been chaplain, I’ve seen an increase in interest in religion, not just of particular traditions or faiths, but curiosity of other religions as well,” he said, “Religion is in the minds of most people whether they’re involved in a tradition or not.” Reverend Ebner admitted that there were some limitations to the religious community on campus. Limited faculty members attend the school’s religious services and many attend the local church instead, which compromises the fellowship that students may have developed at their churches at home. “It’s the community that brings all generations together that build people’s understanding of their faith,” he said. Both the chaplains and the students agreed that Phillips Academy provided sufficient opportunities to practice their religion and to retain or develop their spirituality. “You kind of have to search for it, but if you look hard enough, there’s plenty of opportunity,” Hilton said. Andover sponsors several spiritual organizations where students can further their spirituality or simply learn about a s pecific religion. Clubs such as CHILL, Andover Christian Fellowship (ACF), JSU, Hindu Student Union (HSU), and Muslim Student Union (MSU) meet weekly. The majority of these groups are not only devoted to develop students’ religiousness but to educating the curious about the various religious traditions. “All the students at PA are very understanding about all the different kinds of religions and all the different levels of religious practices. They’re geared to learn about all the different kinds of religions,” said Arun Saigal ’09.