The gag goes that when a fire alarm goes off in church, Presbyterians form a committee while Episcopalians laboriously don complex vestments before lining up for a stately procession and heading for the exit. This afternoon at Chapman University in Orange, California, we of many faiths processed for gracious scholar and Presbyterian pastor the Rev. Dr. Gail J. Stearns in celebration of her installation as dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel -- a moving ceremony in which Chapman's undergraduate Christians, Jews, Muslims, Baha'i, Hindi, Sikhs, and Wiccans played ceremonial roles. The University Singers, under the direction of Stephen Coker, ringed the vaunting Wallace chapel and lifted our hearts with two anthems. The keynoter, USC Dean of Religious Life Varun Soni, gave a spirited talk about the anti-institutional, post-denominational Millennials whom all us liturgically-disposed mainliners would give our stoles and souls to get into our pews with prayer books and hymnals in their laps.
Before offering a pacific benediction, Dr. Stearns (who preached at St. John's during Advent and is shown meeting with our members) listed three goals of her deanship: Nurturing students' spiritual lives in all their diversity, promoting dialogue among campus theologians and other disciplines, and deepening relationships with local religious leaders.
As he prepared to intone the words of installation, Chapman's dynamic chancellor, Daniele Struppa (rocking the biretta, above), a St. John's member along with his colleague Lisa Sparks and their children, mentioned his and Chapman president Jim Doti's bidding war with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange for the bankrupt Crystal Cathedral, in which Bishop Todd Brown and the diocese prevailed. "To provide a larger venue for today's ceremony, President Doti wanted to buy us a new church," Daniele said. "But Bishop Brown felt it would be better to have it here in the All Faiths Chapel." Daniele told me afterward that the bishop (shown chatting with Rabbi Heidi M. Cohen of Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana) smiled beatifically.