Providing a unique perspective

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Students looking for spiritual guidance without religious affiliation now have a place to go on campus as UW has welcomed its first ever non-religious chaplain.


Keith Martin will be on campus one day a week to “assist students who are or want to be spiritual but not necessarily religious.”


Martin thought UW was in need of this service after writing a book about his own spiritual journey from evangelical Christian to non-religious.


“There must be all kinds of students who are going through that shift while they’re in university now as adults, if they already haven’t gone through it in high school,” Martin said.


Martin approached the university’s chaplaincy association with his proposal to bring a non-religious chaplain to campus and was told he’d need a faith community to sponsor him before moving any further. After being turned down by the Toronto-based Canadian Center for Progressive Christianity, Martin decided to try his local United Church.


“To my surprise and joy, the minister was very receptive. He took it to his board and they approved it unanimously,” Martin said. His application proceeded with UW’s chaplaincy association, ending with another unanimous vote to approve Martin’s proposal of becoming a non-religious chaplain on campus.


Brian Bork, chair of the UW chaplaincy association, said “the association is aware of the amazing spiritual diversity on campus, and that it isn’t always expressed in the boundaries of well-defined traditions. Given the number of people searching, asking questions, and looking to explore their spirituality, we thought it was appropriate to have someone with Keith’s perspective as part of our association.”


There are two types of students Martin expects to knock on his door looking for guidance. The first are students like him, who were raised in a particular religious environment and find themselves moving away from it.


“I want to show them that you can hang on to the values that are religious, that you can continue to be an instrument of goodness and compassion, which is what our world needs,” Martin said.


The other kind of student is the one who has tried believing in religion but couldn’t “buy into it.”


“Too often if you grow up in a religious tradition or can’t relate to religion in the first place, it seems like your only alternative is spirituality,” Martin said.


Martin was raised in an evangelical Christian home, where the Bible was considered the literal word of God and Jesus, the son of God. Now, Martin doesn’t define himself.


“I’ve gone from that kind of a faith, to where I don’t experience and can no longer believe in a higher being, but I do see God as a metaphor for a higher ideal,” Martin said. “Though I struggle to find the right term, I believe ‘goodness’ is the right word to represent God, and by that I mean that everything like justice, mercy, kindness, and all the dimensions of goodness.”


Martin said some days he considers himself a humanist, and other days he considers himself a Christian humanist.


“You don’t have to give up the values you were raised on as a Christian to be a humanist. I’m not a Christian in my theology and my doctrine, but I am in my values,” Martin said. “The idea is that you can be spiritual and not religious. I’m kind of that bridge in between the two and that’s what I’m offering on campus.


“Another way to describe me would be ‘a chaplain to the nones.’ To me, everyone has a spiritual journey. I just love to hear about where people are at, what’s influenced them, and what makes sense for them.”


Martin can be found in the UW chaplaincy office, SLC 3108, on Tuesdays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
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