Interfaith campus Minister Brings Students Together

Felicia Whatley

Reverend Adrienne Berry-Burton, UMass Boston’s interfaith campus Minister, said that because religious freedom is important to the college experience, UMB students who visit the ministry have a license to be themselves.

“It is important to learn about religion and practice it in college to be a whole person; mind, body, and faith,” said Berry-Burton.

What makes UMB’s Interfaith campus Ministry program unique, Berry-Burton said, is that every person brings a different piece of culture to the program. In the past, the UMB Hillel club has sponsored events for the high holidays, prayer rugs have been made available for Islamic students, and different denominations of Christians have come together to celebrate winter holidays.

Since federal bylaws ban establishing places of worship on campus-of any kind-there has been no church, temple, or mosque at UMB both before and since the inception of the interfaith Chapel in 1982. Instead, the interfaith campus Ministry includes all religions and Berry-Burton said she works to include everyone.

“It is the human interchanges that matter most,” Berry-Burton said. “The worth of the work is creating the beloved community, asking students to consider new ideas and old values, encouraging respect for self and other, watching leaders be formed and inspire other students to become people of confidence, and fostering the concept that a whole person is one of faith and intellect of mind, body and spirit.”

In explaining what attracted her to UMB in 2000, Berry-Burton said that UMB reminded her of the University from which she graduated-Georgia State University-where the school lacked dormitories, the student body was diverse, and many students were also part of the work force.

“Most of the students worked; sometimes full-time. Most of the young women were not supported by parents and had to work to pay their tuition,” she said. “There were no dorms at GSU until recently,” said Berry-Burton.

These similarities made Berry-Burton feel so at home at UMB that she decided to join UMB’s Interfaith Ministry program.

“I had been told that UMB was a diverse community with students who were living a college experience that was similar to my own. I could relate when a student talked about how hard it is to be a working student with multiple responsibilities,” Berry-Burton said. “I could say that graduating with responsibilities is possible; I am living proof.”

When asked what makes UMB students one of a kind, Berry-Burton said that overcoming challenges is specific to the makeup of most students attending UMB.

“UMB students are commuters with varying amounts of leisure time. Planning activities with UMB student requires paying attention to their needs, their traditions, their schedules, and their geography. Our students have great energy and ideas,” she said. Somehow, UMB students manage to do great things in spite of their reality.”

Berry-Burton currently preaches for congregations who have a Sunday morning need and leads a bible study session called Faith Alive! Interfaith Counsel on Wednesdays at 3:30 P.M. in the Ryan Lounge. The prayer groups focuses on current events and community issues.

“Students talk about their religious traditions with faculty and staff; fellowships are made where they maybe wouldn’t get along otherwise,” she said. “Bible study is open to anyone.”

Berry-Burton-who was ordained at the American Baptist Church in 1997-is employed by the Boston Cambridge Ministry in Higher Education; an ecumenical, non-profit organization led by a volunteer board.