Almost a century-and-a-half after its founding by Norwegian Lutheran immigrants, St. Olaf College is investing in the creation of a new center that will encourage the interreligious exploration of faith, values, and vocation in ways that enrich relationships within and beyond the St. Olaf community.
The Lutheran Center for Faith, Values, and Community will provide new opportunities for students, faculty, staff, and alumni to connect with each other around the big questions of belief, meaning, purpose, and life choices. St. Olaf is the only college that has an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) student congregation that worships on Sundays in addition to daily weekday chapel services, but it also welcomes people of many different faiths and many with no religious affiliation. It is home to more than 15 different student religious organizations and offers courses examining a wide array of religious traditions, including not only the study of Christianity but also of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The center, like the College as a whole, aims to serve all members and friends of the St. Olaf community, whatever their core commitments may be.
“There is a particularly pressing need for expertise in interreligious dialogue and relationship, not only because the St. Olaf community is increasingly diverse but because the contemporary Lutheran tradition of grace and reconciliation, healing and hope, and equality and invitation calls for it,” says St. Olaf Regent Tim Maudlin ’73, who chaired the College’s Title IX Working Group in 2016 and, along with his wife, Jan Maudlin ’72, made a $1 million gift to support the center. The College will provide a matching grant from the endowment to support the center.
The center will be developed over several years, focusing first on programs for students, faculty, and staff, then expanding to include new programs for external constituencies. Plans include:
- Orientation programming and community conversations to bring new faculty, staff, and students together
- Workshops for faculty and staff that enrich understanding of the contemporary Lutheran tradition at St. Olaf
- Significantly expanded opportunities for interfaith dialogue within and beyond the campus
- Programming about discerning and pursuing vocation beyond professional work (e.g., through service, civic engagement, philanthropy, family life, the arts, and faith communities)
- Seminary exploration program with internships in church settings and other faith-based organizations
- Programs that enrich communities of faith outside the College, including existing offerings such as the bi-annual St. Olaf Conference on Worship, Theology, and the Arts and the weekly Sing for Joy radio program, and new initiatives that strengthen congregational leadership and engagement
According to an ELCA declaration, the distinctive combination of educational values expressed in Lutheran higher education — academic excellence, liberal arts, critical inquiry, education of the whole person, responsible service, and a commitment to inclusive community — spring directly from Lutheran theological claims about grace, freedom, humility, and hospitality.
St. Olaf President David R. Anderson ’74 notes that the College affirms this position. “The College’s mission is to ‘excel in the liberal arts, examine faith and values, and explore meaningful vocation in an inclusive, globally engaged community nourished by Lutheran tradition,'” says Anderson. “Lutheran tradition is more than a footnote to the St. Olaf experience. It is fundamental to the nature of the education that we offer.”
The initial idea for the center came from a 2015 Board of Regents task force, which included Tim Maudlin, that was charged with articulating and activating the strengths of the College’s Lutheran tradition. Subsequent planning of the center’s mission and programming was led by an interdisciplinary and interfaith committee of St. Olaf students, faculty, and staff. Fundraising, planning, and hiring a director of the new center will continue this year, with programming likely to begin in the next academic year.
“The contemporary Lutheran tradition calls us to direct our skills, knowledge, and passion toward loving our neighbor and advancing the common good. Toward this end, the Lutheran Center will encourage the discernment of what is worth doing, challenging students, faculty, staff, and alums to connect the work we do and the many roles we fill to larger frameworks of meaning and value.” — Tim Maudlin
The Maudlins’ gift is part of St. Olaf’s For the Hill and Beyond comprehensive campaign. Donors have raised more than $188 million over the last five years to advance high-impact learning, strengthen St. Olaf’s residential community, enhance the affordability of a St. Olaf education, and sustain the mission of the College.