Religious diversity in Trinity

Rev Steven Brunn speaks to Trinity News about the introduction of new ‘faith representatives’

Tuesday lunches in the college Chaplaincy have been a staple of student life in Trinity for years; up until the Covid-19 pandemic led to the closing of Trinity and the postponement of in-person services. The effects of this have not only been felt by students, as Covid-19 has also interrupted the opportunity for the college chaplains to meet and get to know the students. 

Speaking to Trinity News, the Reverend Steven Brunn said: “In chaplaincy it’s an odd thing, we experience students over four years and it’s great building relationships, but it’s a weird experience because after the four years we would bring in new students and get to know them. For me as a chaplain it’s been very strange to get to know people on Zoom in the Choir services and yet I’ve never met them – it’s been great. I’m looking forward to when in-person is resumed, services are resumed, lunch in the chaplaincy is resumed.”

However, Covid-19 has not stopped the work of the chaplaincy, with efforts to broaden the chaplaincy’s faith appeal ongoing. “The chaplaincy from my point of view”, says Reverend Brunn, “is there for all faiths and none. We get students of all faiths on Tuesday for the free lunch in the chaplaincy. I have become friends with many people of the Hindu faith because I’m a member of the Indian Society and from my time in India. It’s one of those spaces where you can sit down, have a coffee, have lunch and be at peace. It’s quite a unique space.” He also acknowledges that while some students are just happy with talking to a chaplain, others want to speak with someone of their own faith.

This led to the creation of a proposal that would look to members of the Trinity staff to become “faith representatives”: “People who are of a different faith to the Christian faiths, and who are supported by their local, ordained faith to give support to students who are coming to the college, and who would be able to advise them and help them.” 

Reverend Brunn says: “You might have a Sunni Muslim representative, a Shiite representative, a Hindu representative. So they could be points of contact… existing Trinity staff who would be able to help students with their understanding of their faith and to support them in their faith.”

The plan was introduced two years ago by the Reverend: “The proposal started with the realisation that all colleges in Ireland have changed significantly over the last few years in terms of their religious identity. Given the last two years we have had more Hindu and Muslim students coming to the college than even Protestants, it seemed like something we needed to look at. Particularly from a college religious organisation.”

When the plan was unveiled back in 2019, the aim was to see it implemented the following academic year. However, the process was delayed “mostly because of Covid, however, the proposal was accepted initially and is still in process. The ins and outs of the selection process is still under review, but the interview process has been accepted in terms of people from the college being accepted by their religious leaders and going forward as candidates for faith representatives. It’s obviously something that would be really helpful and beneficial for people of different faiths and from different countries.”

A number of people have been involved, with the Inclusion and Diversity office playing a major part, alongside the Provost and secretaries’ office. The Reverend notes that the Dublin Church Council and Dublin Interfaith Mission have also been involved in the initiative.

“Ireland has a history of Christian religion which is unique, however the whole land has changed, in that we’ve got people coming from all over the world that celebrate different faiths”

According to Reverend Brunn: “While Trinity is represented by the traditional Catholic traditions, as well as two Muslim prayer rooms, it was clear we needed to understand and appreciate the religious diversity of students coming to Trinity for two to four plus years. So we wanted to create a community of people for all religious points that could be a point of call for people from other faiths. To communicate to someone in the college who understands their faith.”

In terms of different faith groups in the college, Reverend Brunn noted that Trinity “is majority Catholic, the next is probably Church of Ireland, then Muslim then Hindu, then others faiths.” He points to the increasing number of Hindu students, and a strong Muslim population for whom there are two prayer rooms. “I am working on getting new signage for the prayer rooms, because they’re in Goldsmith and a lot of people might not know about them.”

The Reverend believes that awareness of other faiths plays a deeply important role in college life. “Ireland has a history of Christian religion which is unique, however the whole land has changed, in that we’ve got people coming from all over the world that celebrate different faiths, and as a college I think we should celebrate this. And it’s great to see festivals like Diwali being celebrated in the college.”

The Reverend does not envision any problems going forward with the plan, pointing to the fact that Trinity is a multi-religious as well as an international education centre: “I think the idea of a faith representative is really important. It’s still there, with Covid putting it on the back burner for a year and a bit, but we’re pushing ahead. Obviously we’ve got a new Provost coming on board who will get things going. My hope was that it would have started last year, but it hasn’t because of Covid.” 

“I don’t think there’s anyone who isn’t enthusiastic about seeing this plan realised. Hopefully in the near future, when we’ve gotten back to some normality, that we can implement this project as soon as possible.”

Sean Gordon Dalton

Sean Gordon Dalton

Sean is a Deputy Features Editor at Trinity News