Moderator Sharon Hollis joined UCA chaplains and representatives from a broad range of faith traditions to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Monash University Religious Centre last week.
The Centre, a heritage-listed circular building on Monash’s Clayton campus, is the first such dedicated religious facility on an Australian university.
Monash Uniting Church minister Rev Ray McCluskey is a chaplain based at the Centre and he joined Ms Hollis and UCA chaplains Jay Robinson and Mandy Lake, who are based at other Monash campuses, for the anniversary event, with the other member of the chaplaincy team Kelly Skilton unable to attend.
Mr McCluskey said the event was well attended by senior representatives of the founding churches, which along with the Jewish community, approached the university and were granted the land for the building for its opening in 1968.
“It was fantastic. We had two catholic bishops, we had an Anglican bishop, we had some other representatives,” Mr McCluskey said of the event.
“For the heads of churches to come together 50 years ago and working with the Jewish Council of Victoria in putting up this space was pretty incredible really.
Mr McCluskey said the Centre was impressive for other reasons.
“One of the really pleasing things was the university’s recognition of the importance of the religious centre in the life of the community,” he said.
“It sits geographically almost right in the centre of the Monash Clayton precinct of the university. It was a pretty incredible thing to have a purpose-built religious centre in the middle of a highly secular university.”
The Centre, which in its main part has no symbols identifying it with any specific faith or creed, is used by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu devotees along with other religious and secular groups.
There is a Christian chapel where services of different traditions are held along with rooms dedicated to Jewish and Muslim observances.
Ms Hollis, who studied at Monash, said as a student she often attended the weekly Protestant Eucharist held at the Centre.
“The Monash Religious Centre provides a space where people from a diversity of faiths and no faith can meet, talk, practice their faith and contribute to cohesion, harmony and the search for meaning,” she said.
The Centre has offices for a diverse set of chaplains including Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, Islamic and Jewish.
In his address at the anniversary event, Monash University Pro Vice Chancellor Professor David Copolov called the chaplains the “heart and soul of the centre”.
“They are expert, faith-based professionals who are emphatic and caring, who welcome students here on their own terms and who are tuned into their hopes, aspirations and needs.”
Mr McCluskey, who works at the campus one day a week, said the university chaplaincy is a great example of interfaith and inter-denominational collaboration.
“One of the things that really stands out is that you have really diverse chaplains from quite conservative backgrounds to what I would call a more liberal background but who work extremely well together,” he said.
Mr McCluskey said he saw chaplaincy as being about having interaction with the student community and staff.
“It’s seeking to offer pastoral care and a safe place where people can come and talk about if they have struggles personally or problems in other areas in terms of their on-campus life,” he said.
“The thing I would say about the chaplaincy team is that it doesn’t matter what denomination you are, whether you have a faith or don’t. Whether you classify yourself as spiritual makes no difference whatsoever, the chaplains’ motto is ‘we are here for you’.”