This past November, faculty and staff considered the proposal of a new co-curricular body that would foster campuswide engagement with the college’s tradition and mission. This body, provisionally called the Lutheran Commons, is still a work in progress. A formal proposal for the body developed by the working group will be reviewed by the end of the year.
The Lutheran Commons can be split into three different areas of programming. The first area of programming aims to facilitate a dialogue among students, faculty and staff of all creeds to bring the St. Olaf community closer together.
“It’s just an opportunity for maturing young adults to be around older adults who are a little further along in life. But those opportunities don’t naturally happen outside the classroom. So that’s an example of something that Lutherans are really big on as a faith tradition. We are a Lutheran institution so we want to borrow some of those things from that faith tradition and use them to enrich our community,” Vice President for Mission Jo Beld said.
A second proposed area of programming aims to create a home for interfaith conversation exploring different faiths and values that exist at St. Olaf and in the outside community.
“As a Lutheran institution, both exploration of one’s individual faith [and] values interfaith conversation is really important. But again, we don’t really have a home for that on campus. There’s not a particular structure that makes that available,” Beld said.
The third section of programming is focused on conversations about vocation and service for students, faculty and staff.
A main emphasis for all of these areas of programming would be on scholarship and production of scholarship for outside audiences as well as St. Olaf audiences.
“We’re imagining having either faculty members or students within the community who could be fellows of the Commons and be producing scholarship and writing that supports one or more of these things. We are also imagining the outside audiences, so scholarship that would serve other colleges and universities and faith communities, particularly the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America but other denominations as well. So there’s also an external engagement,” Beld said.
The Commons hopes to obtain funding from both alumni and members of the outside community of all faith traditions who are interested in the overall goal of the Commons. They will not be able to start the process of fundraising until after the proposal is approved. It is possible that some programming could be implemented as early as spring of next year, but the whole project is still in an early stage.
There has been some controversy over the name “The Lutheran Commons” and if the Commons will discourage religious diversity on campus. However, Beld believes that having this name is central to the overall mission of the body.
“I think we do need a name that signals in some way that part of why we’re doing this is because of who we are as an institution, and part of who we are as an institution is that we’re guided by these values,” Beld said.
Recently, there has been a proposal to edit St. Olaf’s mission statement and possibly express the college’s Lutheran tradition and mission in a different way. Some wonder whether this would affect the Lutheran Commons and how the mission statement and the Commons would interact if the mission statement were changed. The creators of the Commons hope to increase the extent to which the mission of the college is carried out, so the question of whether or not the mission statement should be changed directly affects the Commons.
“It’s been interesting and helpful to have the conversation about the mission statement unfolding at the same time as this planning process for the Lutheran Commons. Because in the end, the ideal thing will be if the mission informs how the Commons works and if the Commons strengthens the way we carry out our mission,” Beld said.