Dressed in clerical garb, the minister traversed the campus illuminated by the soft glow of the sunrise, unlocked the door to his office, and prepared for another day of helping students grow within their own faiths.
Reverend David Keck, a Presbyterian minister, began serving as the Chaplain of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in the fall of 2014. From the beginning, Keck began to transform student opinion on religious diversity by changing the atmosphere created by the former chaplain, Reverend Melynn Rust.
According to Jameson Pietrowski, a Roman Catholic junior at Embry-Riddle: Rust – who resigned in Dec. 2013 – created an atmosphere of general spirituality; finding elements that everyone had in common while discouraging specific religion. Although Keck understood the reasons behind her desires, he said he felt that this was the wrong approach to religious life on campus.
Keck, who previously served as the chaplain of Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, felt that engaging in interfaith dialog rather than promoting a general spirituality would better benefit the student body as a whole.
“I think it’s better to be honest about who we are, rather than trying to be something generic that we’re not,” Keck commented. “Inevitably there is going to be conflict, and we have to prepare for that.”
Keck, although his desire was to create a diverse atmosphere within the Center for Faith and Spirituality, did not want to change the systems set in place by Office Coordinator, Heather Murphy, during the semester when there was no chaplain.
“Heather handled and prepared the Center for Faith and Spirituality for the climate that could lead to interfaith dialog,” Keck commented. “My first thought wasn’t to change anything, but to support the existing clubs and organizations.”
Brendan Parnagian, a graduating senior who is not involved in religious life on campus noted the growing understanding of religious diversity on campus.
“Every once in a while, I will get an email explaining religious holidays, which is nice,” Parnagian noted. Parnagian also said he felt that it was good to be able to have this information so that at least people could be knowledgeable about why certain people are doing certain practices.
Pietrowski said that he felt Keck’s approach to interreligious life was “interfaith in the true sense.” Pietrowski, having experienced both chaplains, also noted how extremely pleased he was with Keck’s performance.
Other students, such as Anna Aznam, a Muslim graduate student, also held a favorable opinion.“Working with David is a wonderful experience,” Aznam said. “I enjoyed our weekly discussion especially exchanging opinions from different religious perspectives. He helped me to respect and appreciate the value of religious diversity a lot more. “He is very concerned and sensitive to other people’s need regardless their faith and religion.”
Keck is always busy, counseling students or visiting students around campus. However, he is always available to talk to whenever needed. Keck has set up many different interfaith dialogs in which students were able to learn about different faiths and enjoy fellowship with students of different cultures. “Not every undergraduate has the ability
to provide a reasonable explanation of his or her beliefs to someone who is outside the religion and doesn’t understand its history or tradition,” Keck noted. This is part of the reason why Keck wanted to provide a diverse atmosphere; to deepen our understanding of our own faiths and others.
“The University has a responsibility to educate citizens of the world because we receive students from all over and prepare them to serve all over the world,” Keck explained. “When we talk with other people and learn about other faiths, we deepen our own faiths. We both benefit.”