ABC News on Campus reporter Matt Markham blogs:
Syracuse University has tapped Mary Hudson (at left) to be the school’s first pagan chaplain.
That makes Hudson, 50, the second pagan chaplain appointed at a U.S. college. The only other known school to have a pagan chaplain is the University of Southern Maine. Internationally there are a few in Canada, Australia, and the UK.
But, what is a pagan? "It's not an easy word to define," said Rachel Ousley, a senior at Syracuse University and practicing pagan. "'Pagan' is basically an umbrella term meaning anyone who follows a polytheist religion, so you can have a whole load of religions or paths or faiths under that. Generally, pagans are polytheists that have more than one deity, or animal spirits, and they're also nature-based."
The pagan religion includes many different branches, such as Wicca and druidism.
There are 11 pagans registered with Syracuse University as of 2009.
“Now that we have the chaplaincy, we should get a little more support, and have our voices heard,” said Jessica Mays, president of SPIRAL, the Student Pagan Information Relations and Learning group
Hudson said education is her primary goal. “This involves both education of non-pagans as well as helping student pagans find their spiritual path,” she added. “That can mean something different to each student.”
As chaplain, Hudson said she hopes to bring guest speakers to campus and catalogue resource information for students interested in understanding different aspects of paganism. But also, Hudson wants to “dispel the misinformation and fear that many people have about who and what pagans are.”
She says some claim paganism isn't a "real" religion, but rather a sect that engages in magic, idolatry, and witchcraft.
Hudson worked in information technology at SU for about 10 years, and has been with SPIRAL for the last eight of them. After leaving her job with IT, she said she realized she had the qualifications to become a chaplain. "It was just the next natural step," said Hudson. She discussed it with the interim dean of Hendricks Chapel, the Dean of Student Affairs, and board members at the Church of the Greenwood, of which Hudson is a member.
Mays said that education is Hudson’s strong suit. “She’s good at that, and mentoring -- that’s a big thing, especially working with a group of college students. That’s a leap of faith.”
Promoting diversity is another goal pagans and their chaplain hope to accomplish. “Hendricks Chapel is dedicated to continually recognizing the diverse world that we live in. In this case it happens to be diversity within religious belief. I also hope that it gives people (non-pagans) the ability to ask questions about a set of beliefs which they may have a very little information about,” Hudson said. She said her door is always open to anyone who wants to stop by and just talk. “Conversation is the only way to create understanding,” she said.
Mays praises the university for making the appointment, saying that “any step that’s away from the mainstream is a step in diversity, and Mary’s another resource for students, another person to be able to talk to on campus.”