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New interim chaplain affirms Protestant community

Published: September 13, 2012
Section: Features, Front Page


The new Interim Protestant Chaplain Matt Carriker recently took the job previously held by long-time friend Alexander Kern and is embracing his new position on campus.
Hailing from Natick, Carriker attended Bates College before entering the seminary. He spent three years in Belize and then traveled to Haiti, welcomed by Jesuit volunteers.
Now an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, Carriker plans to serve part-time at Brandeis with the rest of his time spent as an associate pastor in South Natick. Carriker admits that his is serving an interim post.
“I had known the previous Protestant chaplain for a number of years; we ran a Christian camp together. I was familiar with the mission and vision of Brandeis, and when Alex left there wasn’t quite enough time to do a more formal search process.”
Long-time Catholic Chaplain Father Walter Cuenin also comments on Carriker’s status as an interim. “We do need to have a search committee to define the job and involve students in that process as well.” Serving at Brandeis for eight years, Cuenin certainly has a presence on campus. Carriker is hoping for the same, in terms of gaining a more permanent position. “I would love to stay here. When they do a more in-depth, formal search process I’ll put my name in the hat. If they think I’m a good fit I’ll be delighted.”
Carriker’s plans for Protestant services and fellowship are both traditional and open to new ideas.
“Part of what I’m doing is continuing what has been done, not trying to reinvent the wheel but preserving the traditions and then asking students what would serve them the most,” Carriker said. “I want to preserve what we have and look at the meaning and value in it, and see how we can make it more meaningful and serve the Protestant community in other ways.” Currently, Carriker’s services, titled “Soul Feast” are held every other Wednesday night. “I think there’s a sense that you would want any kind of spiritual community to ‘fill your cup.’ There are a lot of different ways to do that through worship, prayer and song, so we do a combination of that.”
Carriker admits that leading services applicable to all sects of Protestantism is a challenge. “Protestantism is a very different breed of religion from Catholicism. When I was in seminary they said there were about 37,000 estimated numbers of Protestant denominations. Catholics can go anywhere in the world and have a Catholic service, but every single Protestant denomination is different.”
Cuenin added that there are other obstacles. “I think college is a time when you explore your roots and who you are, and do you want to stay with the religion you were raised in, or explore something different,” he said.
Carriker’s plan is to focus on what the different sects have in common. “Interfaith means many faiths coming together, we can celebrate what we have in common and have dialogue about the places where we disagree. There’s a huge spectrum of Christianity and it is difficult to meet everybody’s spiritual needs, but that’s what a Chaplain tries to do.”
When talking about “centering prayer,” Carriker firmly believes in the ability humans possess to communicate with God. “When people think of prayer they think of a pastor talking out loud, but I see it as more of a conversation, talking to the divine. Then there’s the other part, which is listening, which is just as important. I think centering prayer and meditation creates a really sacred place where you can listen to God and fill your own cup.”
Cuenin believes Brandies wields a certain draw because “the commitment to religion on this campus is very strong. I think the interest in exploring religion is really strong here.” Carriker also comments on how “it is nice to get to know a lot of the students and the staff. It is a wonderful community.”
Both comment on how Brandeis’ roots in Judaism are not a challenge or obstacle to being Christian on campus. Cuenin believes that the Brandeis chapels are a “beautiful sign of Brandeis commitment to the Interfaith Chaplaincy,” and jokes about how some students call him “the chief rabbi.”
Carriker understands that “each university has their own unique history and a Christian university would have their own challenges, as does Brandies, but it is a beautiful thing that it is historically Jewish.” He comments, “In the early Christian community, Christians were the minority. It makes it more intimate.”
Brandeis may be facing challenges in the future in regards to students whose religions do not fall under the Abrahamic traditions. Cuenin questions, “How are we going to deal or support kids from other religious traditions we are not familiar with? It is one thing to talk about Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism but we are moving into an era where there is more than that.”
Cuenin mentioned that when he had to say Hindu prayers in Akshay Venkatesh’s honor, he first had to look up Hindu prayers on the Internet. Carriker also mentioned Venkatesh. While Brandeis may have to expand its offices and staff in regard to other religions, Carriker insists that the community joined together to mourn and celebrate Venkatesh’s life. “Our theme last week was supposed to be gratitude, but when we learned about the death we decided to switch it because gratitude wasn’t really in peoples hearts and minds. We changed it to a theme of when storms come, as storms and challenges always do come in life, and how we together deal with those storms and challenges.”
Carriker insists small Christian meetings can have large benefits. “It’s a more intimate service, which was good I think because we all do some sharing. Given the structure we have now, the more intimate nature works well.”