For decades, under varying names and leaders and participating churches, the McGill Ecumenical Chaplaincy has been a ministry connecting young people with their faith and with one another. A chaplaincy by definition is the church’s outreach into the world. A chaplain is a pastor outside of the church. Of course, most people I have met both in and out of the church do not necessarily know that. Ecumenical means denominations working together. And again, even within the churches who generously support our work, people do not always know that, nor do students who grew up in a church community with a specific name know that “Ecumenical” means them. And finally, "McGill" implies we only accept students from one university or that that university itself funds or directs our work. And that is simply not the case, either!
So we have decided that we need a new name to communicate who we are and what we do. And after brainstorming many things “new” we fell in love with something old. In the past, long before my time as chaplain, our Bible study was once known as “St Martha’s in the Basement.” I know this name because of how dear it is to so many alumni who have told me their stories of being at St. Martha’s in the Basement.
My interfaith colleagues at McGill at the Newman Centre and Hillel House have shown me that a distinct identity does not mean the Catholic or Jewish students won’t find them. Alumni have shown me the staying power of the old names. And today’s students had enthusiasm for a name that does not limit us, a name that calls us across denominations and schools to unite and emulate someone we admire.
St. Martha is described in the Gospel of St. Luke as distracted by all she has to do. Jesus himself says she is worried and upset about many things. She boldly questions Jesus in Luke, and in the Gospel of John even more boldly
says, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
In St. Martha, I see a holy example of one who is commited to hospitality, who is commited to justice, who is commited to working hard, who is commited to accountability, and who is fiercely honest in her relationships, including with Jesus, God incarnate.
As St. Martha proved one could be engaged in holy work while hosting, while cooking and cleaning and socalising, the word "chapel" to describe our student centre underlines the holiness comes from what we are doing and with whom we are doing it.
In St. Martha, I see a Biblical saint recognised as an example in all our sponsoring denominations who embodies so many of the best traits in our young adult community. We can distracted by our studies, by our relationships, by our work, by what we see as wrong and unfair in the world, but we are n
ot going to stop working hard, loving our sisters and brothers who have different approaches to Jesus, or stop asking God the honest questions in our study, worship, and prayer.
We are still committed to being an ecumenical chaplaincy to McGill students. We are multichurch, and we go out of the church doors to where young people are. And we love students at McGill and all other Montréal students and young adults who who wish to join us.
We are still who we have always been, but we are now called St Martha’s Chapel (in the basement).