Today is the day when I participate in a panel discussion on how the Chaplaincy works. It will be an interesting presentation with me being one of four speakers, an interactive art portion, and a question and answer period on what works well and where are the pitfalls of what each of us four chaplains do in our day to day work.  It will be interesting to say the least but there is much to talk about before that time comes.

I have had conversations with people from all over the world: an American man who at a University in Ghana with only 700 students, a Hungarian woman who works in the Netherlands, multiple Australians and New Zealanders, an Englishman from Sheffield and a Scot from St. Andrews.  There are the Catholic priests from different countries in Africa, a Buddhist monk from here in Bendigo and this is just touching the tip of the iceberg.  The one thing they all have in common, we all have in common, is that we are all Chaplains and we all serve the greater good of the students, faculty and staff that make up are representative campuses.

The last two days I have had open discussions with a Catholic priest who wanted to know if Pagans still harbored resentment for the 2000 years of atrocities that the Church had done to them.  I answered honestly – yes, many do.  He was surprised, truly surprised, but I explained that wounds sometimes heal slowly, but they do heal. I don’t know, my thought is that maybe, just maybe, having a priest ask a Pagan such a question will be acknowledgement enough for some to speed that healing process along.  We talked more through the evening and he and a Lutheran Chaplain who had joined the conversation, were truly interested in the theology of paganism or more specifically my theology and beliefs as a Druid. There was no subject left untouched as they tried to find similarities and understanding between the monotheistic Christianity that is theirs and the polytheistic Druidism that is mine. Sin, salvation, redemption, moral codes, texts, the sacredness of nature, the destruction of groves and so much more was discussed and absorbed.  It wasn’t until we got to the subject of marriage did the conversation end and only then due to a need to leave the restaurant.  At the conclusion I was told “you are the only Druid, the only Pagan I have ever talked to. Thank you.”

The next day found me in workshops on multi-faith, interfaith and dealing with the death of students. In each one the discussion never focused on exclusion but how to have students work together for mutual understanding of each other and how to respect each other’s beliefs and practices.  Lunch found me in another conversation with a gentleman from Helsinki, Finland.  A devout Christian we talked about a few things and I could see that he was struggling with something from our conversation. I didn’t know if it was the topic or language since English was not his first language. Finally it came out, he did not understand polytheism or Paganism and wanted to know more – he wanted to understand.  As he explained there were new religious movements within Finland one of which is called the The People of the Bear. He explained that the bear and the moose are sacred animals in Finland and this is a reconstruction of pre-Christian beliefs. He wanted to know more. So we have exchanged information in order to keep in touch and converse, exchange ideas and help each other understand new and emerging faiths that may be in formation.

Last night found Bill and I at the final dinner, a more formal and altogether fun event.  Wine and beer for those that wished to partake with an amazing dinner and dancing that followed.  We were invited to sit at a table almost as soon as we walked through the door.  The Chaplain from Ghana, Steve, was asking us to join in at their table and as he did so he apologized that they were all Americans. As it turned out the Chaplain from Sheffield joined us and it was an amazing evening.  A young woman from California asked if I was going to another conference in Florida this coming February.  I don’t belong to the association whose conference it is and I informed her of that.  What happened next I can honestly say is the summation of what has happened here in Bendigo.  She told me to join the association and to please come to the conference because “we need non-Christian voices to be heard.” It was at that moment I knew things were different.

Things have changed in four years, I have offers of continued dialogue and true interest from individuals wanting to know more and understand what it is I represent and how does that fit into the landscape of university life, and more specifically beyond university life.  To me that has made this trip more than I could have expected.