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Religious & Spiritual Life at NMH
Northfield Mount Hermon is a secular institution that affirms religious diversity.
Founded by D.L. Moody, the renowned American evangelist, NMH is now home to a spiritually diverse community that focuses on finding meaning and purpose, connecting with compassion across differences, and living lives of balance. The school’s mission — to engage the head, heart, and hand and to empower students to act with humanity and purpose — is the unifying ethos that encourages the religious and spiritual pluralism of NMH.
At NMH, we work to enable students to follow the spiritual journey of their choice, whether that means supporting the traditions they come from, allowing space for the exploration of new faiths, or simply acting as a sounding board when needed. There are regular opportunities for religious practice, contemplation, and discovery, such as the “Moment of Silence” messages offered during all-school meetings, the “Wednesday Moments” that the chaplain distributes to the community, the chaplain’s blog, and gatherings of our numerous religious/spiritual life groups.
These gatherings include Catholic confirmation classes; food, fellowship, prayer, and inspirational singing at the Friday night Breakaway group; High Holy Days services; Passover Seders; the Muslim prayer room in the O’Connor Health Center; transportation to local churches; and meditation sessions on campus. Students are also able to register for a Mindfulness Meditation co-curricular co-sponsored by the Spiritual Life office and the Health Center. Support and guidance for all groups comes from Rev. Dr. Lee-Ellen Strawn, school chaplain, in conjunction with the religious/spiritual life group leaders.
- Mindfulness Meditation
- Jewish Student Alliance
- Muslim Student Association
- Nature-Centered Beliefs Group
- St. Edmund Campion League of Catholic Students
- Interfaith Council
- Atheist/Secular Humanist Students
- Chaplain Lee-Ellen Strawn
Breakaway is a weekly, student-led, music-saturated, high-octane worship hour. Everyone is invited, even those uninterested in questions like, “If there is a God who loves me, would I want to know Him?” Held on Friday nights, students in Breakaway discuss issues like faith, friendships, and living through it all.
The Mindfulness Meditation Group meets regularly to practice various forms of mindfulness meditation in order to cultivate more presence, awareness, compassion, and gratitude in our daily lives. The meditations are non-sectarian and are open to students and employees of all religious persuasions as well agnostics and atheists, and open to experienced meditators and beginners. The sessions start with gentle yoga stretches and are followed by discussion and refreshments so that we end and begin our week with a renewed sense of peace and focus.
The Muslim Student Association provides an opportunity for Muslims to gather for fellowship, dialogue, and prayer. The association also works with the chaplain to make arrangements for fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. The main goal of the Muslim Students Association is to enable Muslim students to stay connected to their faith and to the local Muslim community. The group meets as often as possible to discuss different aspects and rules of Islam, and to travel to the Hampshire or Springfield mosque. During the holy month of Ramadan, group members support one another.
The Nature-Centered Beliefs Group gathers to appreciate the spiritual power and creative force that is particularly present in nature. The group acknowledges that a connection to nature helps bring health and wholeness to our lives. The group honors the turning of the year by celebrating the solstices and equinoxes as well as four other holidays and the cycle of the moon. In conversations and social gatherings, this group allows students an opportunity to explore their spirituality in a comfortable atmosphere.
The St. Edmund Campion League of Catholic Students is a diverse group of students who identify themselves as Roman Catholics, and includes those who perhaps are not Catholic but wish to be affiliated with students who are. League members attend Mass on Sundays at one of several local parishes. A confirmation class is offered on campus. We also try to observe all holy days of obligation by attending Mass together. We seek to understand the Catholic faith better by practicing devotions and disciplines. One tradition we have, for example, is to walk to a local cemetery in early November to pray the rosary for all souls. The league also raises funds for Food for the Poor, which provides housing, medical care, and education for destitute families and children in the poorest Caribbean countries. At Christmas, we sponsor gifts for local families in need.
The Interfaith Council is a group of students representing the various religious and spiritual traditions at NMH. They take leadership at NMH in providing safe spaces and opportunities for students to share their diverse stories in nonjudgmental ways. The council looks for ways the NMH community can come together in action or service to promote common values such as peace and justice. Students speak from their own traditions without a need to defend or persuade.
NMH Chaplain Lee-Ellen Strawn is a clergyperson in the United Church of Christ and had been working in educational institutions internationally with her husband, Tim Relyea, before coming to Northfield Mount Hermon.
Lee-Ellen earned a master of divinity degree from Harvard University and a doctor of philosophy degree in modern Korean history from Yonsei University. Her primary area of academic research is the role of the Korean Protestant church in the empowerment of women in early-20th-century Korea.
In addition to serving as school chaplain, Lee-Ellen teaches courses in the religious studies/philosophy department.
As a chaplain to a secular school, Lee-Ellen strives to affirm and support all students regardless of religious background. She sees the role of chaplain as significant in creating space for religious and spiritual diversity to flourish, and in facilitating conversation across religious traditions to build empathy and understanding.