The room seems almost perfectly calibrated to fit the idea of a “spiritual but not religious” service.
Dimly lit, with the warm piano tones filtering out of the speaker and seating pads strewn around the floor in a loose circle, the space is intimate and inviting. At the head of the room sits the Rev. Craig Kocher, the University of Richmond chaplain, perched behind a small table with five candles adorning it.
“We gather in this space and in our gathering we mark it as separate, sacred and set apart,” Kocher said. “Here we already have all we need to reflect on the sorrows and the hopes of our world. Here we have the space to consider the sorrows and hopes in our own lives. Here we are offered reset and renewal.”
This scene, or something like it, is what one should expect from the Office of the Chaplaincy’s latest initiative, a nonreligious service for reflection called “Sacred Pause” that meets in the Wilton Center every Friday from 4 to 4:30 p.m.
Sacred Pause – introduced this school year – is a result of the chaplaincy staff’s desire to promote a forum for students to react to difficulties both mundane and extraordinary. It arose out of the discussion surrounding how the chaplaincy should best react to tragedies such as the Pittsburgh and Christchurch massacres during the 2018-2019 school year, Kocher said.
Upon reflection, chaplaincy staff made the decision to introduce a nonreligious service that would be open for all to come and share, thereby offering participants support from their community, Kocher said.
Joe Boehman, dean of Richmond College, echoed this sentiment.
“Sometimes it’s helpful to just be in the presence of others when a horrible thing has happened to you,” he said.
Boehman added that as he contacts students to check in on them when tragedies occur near their homes, he is certain to mention Sacred Pause as a potential resource students can use.
But it would be a mistake to view Sacred Pause only as a forum for sharing grief and sorrows.
Kocher explained that the goal of the Sacred Pause was to provide all students with an avenue to talk through the trials they may be going through, great or small, while not neglecting to acknowledge their triumphs.
“We honor heartache, but we celebrate joy, and life is both,” Kocher said. “Sometimes it feels like it’s all heartache, and sometimes it feels like it’s all joy. But within our community, and this is for our community, it’s always both.”
During the service, moments of silence are observed for national or international tragedies that may be ongoing. But attendees are also given the opportunity to share from their own lives, if they so choose.
For now, student attendance is still sparse. Other than a few members of the chaplaincy staff, the only other attendee was Turki Al-Shammari, a student pursuing his Master of Laws at the T.C. Williams School of Law.
Al-Shammari said he had come to show his support for members of the staff and that he wanted to learn what Sacred Pause was all about. Although he said he did not completely understand the experience, he could see what the hope for it was and was open to attending again in the future.
Both Boehman and Kocher expressed hope that the program would grow in the coming months. It will continue to evolve and change as more people provide feedback on the process, they said.
Ultimately, the goal of the service is to fill a need.
“Some weeks an individual might need it, and other weeks they don’t. And that’s OK,” Kocher said.
Contact contributor Aquila Maliyekkal at firstname.lastname@example.org.