Tea for the Soul: The Holidays at Albion
Rev. Daniel McQuown has been Albion's chaplain since 2003. "Chaplain Dan," as he is known on campus, is active in providing leadership for the spiritual life of the College through a wide array of activities, such as personal spiritual counseling, advising student groups, and faith-based recruitment of prospective students, to name but a few. A native of Springfield, Ill., McQuown received his masters of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. He he and his wife, Lynne Burmeister McQuown, '93, have three children.
The Holidays at Albion: Look beneath the Surface!
This fall, I had the pleasure of teaching a First-Year Seminar on spirituality. As the holidays approached, I asked my students whether Christmas was a religious, cultural, or spiritual observance. Most agreed that it was founded in the Christian religion, but Christmas has become a lot of different things. These days, they said, Christmas has become a cultural phenomenon, with sprinklings of spirituality and religion.
My students are right. Christmas has become a cultural experience, with a focus on family, gift-giving, special music, and decorations. This cultural patina is what most of us think of when we think of "the holidays."
But what if we look below the surface? At Albion, we have an incredible educational community. Since we are committed to learning together, and since we are committed to diversity, "the holidays" mean a lot more than what first meets the eye.
If you look, you can still find the original religious fervor of Christmas on campus. It's alive and well. For the third year in a row, our Christian groups came together to offer a united Christmas worship service. Jon Reynolds, '09, has been one of the main organizers of this movement. Goodrich Chapel came alive with gospel music, an Evangelical praise band, skits, readings from Holy Scripture, prayer, and a powerful message from Kwame Sakye, '09. In the same week, Goodrich Chapel was also graced with the 43rd annual Festival of Lessons and Carols. Full of the best in sacred vocal music, this concert was also a worship service. As always, it concluded with Dave Strickler's serene rendition of Silent Night.
The holidays at Albion stretch beyond Christmas, and into a wide diversity of observances. Many of our Jewish students and faculty have been making plans to observe Chanukah at home over winter break. President Randall and her husband, Paul Hagner, hosted several dozen of our international students---who bring a broad representation of religious and cultural observances---for a holiday gathering at their home.
And while none of our Muslim students went on the hajj (the annual pilgrimage to Mecca), my office received an invitation to attend a children's re-creation of the hajj at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Mich. Albion has been intentionally drawing closer to the Jewish and Muslim communities (and others) in the region. And so our campus understanding of "the holidays" has been evolving to include more diversity.
This year's annual Kwanzaa observance seemed particularly meaningful to me. Our Black Student Alliance (Takeshia Williams, '09, and Charles Green, '10, co-presidents this year), puts on the program. Always a celebration of African-American culture, this year's campus Kwanzaa featured great food, prayer, African dancing and drumming, and a speaker. Kwanzaa at Albion has been a special opportunity for those of us not from an African-American background. We are welcomed into the culture, and we experience this important holiday with peers who are black. This kind of sharing has been a great aspect of the Albion experience. As members of an educational community, we consistently invite each other into our sacred moments, our most important rituals, and our diverse cultures and beliefs. We make friends across lines of difference. Kwanzaa at Albion seems to embody this spirit year after year.
And beyond all the events, I was also moved by the compassion of our students during this holiday season. Meaghan Walters, '09, helped the Student Volunteer Bureau organize gift baskets for over 50 local families. The weekend before Thanksgiving, over fifteen volunteers from the College gave their time and sweat to hang drywall at a new neighborhood outreach center, in one of the most difficult neighborhoods in Albion. And for the third year in a row, Katy Van de Putte, '09, has once again organized another winter break service trip to the New Orleans United Methodist relief project. More than 30 students and staff will spend two weeks restoring housing in the area devastated by two hurricanes (Rita and Katrina).
"The holidays" at Albion are a rarified time. Like Harry Potter at Hogwarts, students blaze through their papers and exams, all the while surrounded by the sights and sounds of the season. But they are also surrounded by a diverse learning community, so that even if they are meeting in the Kellogg Center Living Room to finish a final group project, they will see a Christmas tree, a menorah, and a kinara on the mantle. They will likely know peers and professors who are observing the holidays in different ways. They will have been invited to participate in a host of alternative celebrations.
As their chaplain, I can not think of a better context for students to engage the soul and explore the realm of the spirit!