Anselm House helping University of Minnesota’s Christians live integrated lives

| April 24, 2018 | 0 Comments

Students walk April 20 to Anselm House, a Christian study center at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

It was St. Anselm of Canterbury who described theology — the study of God — as “faith seeking understanding.”

This 11th-century saint and doctor of the Church got a nod in 2016 with the renaming of a long-established Christian study center at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, now known as Anselm House.

St. Anselm’s prayer — “lest I believe I shall not understand” — is central to Anselm House’s work, said Executive Director Bryan Bademan. The ecumenical center aims to serve Christian students and faculty at the U, helping them overcome what Bademan calls “the divided life.”

“We think the most important thing about the world is that it’s creation,” said Bademan, who has been head of Anselm House since 2009, when it was known as the MacLaurin Institute. “To try to understand the world apart from God is to misunderstand the world at some fundamental level.”

Anselm House is just what its name implies: a white stucco bungalow, situated near the intersection of Cleveland and Carter avenues across from the U’s St. Paul campus. A red Dogwood Coffee Company sign hangs in the front window, and an orange sign in the yard matches the house’s front door. Inside is a welcoming space where students and faculty gather for lectures, book discussions, meals, prayer and study.

“We like to think of our mission, connecting faith and knowledge, as sort of moving along two parallel rails, where one of them is contending publicly for a Christian vision of reality, which has an evangelistic component, and then one nurturing a community of faithful presence and practice that really has a more discipleship component,” Bademan said.

In 1982, Anselm House was founded as the MacLaurin Institute by William Monsma, a theologically-trained physicist. He was working for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship when he felt called to begin an outreach to graduate students and faculty. Over the years, what is now Anselm House has hosted small groups and lectures focused on helping students, both undergraduate and graduate, and faculty members integrate their faith and studies.

“The divided life — as so many people within a university context, both students and faculty [experience] — is the consequence of hundreds and hundreds of years of the process that scholars call ‘secularization,’” Bademan said. “And one of the fallouts of that process is that our faith lives and our public lives occupy different spaces. … And so our faith and our public lives often don’t speak to one another.”

Bademan said he sees this troubling divide as especially advanced at public universities, and it wears on Christians working and studying at them.

“People of faith feel a sort of exhaustion from the artificiality of the division,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is form a community and create spaces where students and faculty can ask questions about how their faith speaks into what they’re learning in the classroom, or informs their research agendas and so forth. And so, in that context, the Christian intellectual and theological traditions are hugely important, because there’s thousands of years of wisdom and intellectual reflection on the implications of the faith for all sorts of inquiries.”

While some students connect with Anselm House — and each other — over book discussions or stop-in programming, such as its Fridays @ 4 lecture series, others dig in deeper through the MacLaurin Fellows Program, which brings together undergraduate and graduate students to share meals, pray and discuss texts in small cohorts.

Anselm House’s programming is designed to complement, not replace, the work of fellow Christian ministries, such as St. Paul’s Outreach, Bademan emphasized. It works closely with the other ministries on campus, and it sponsors Gopher Christian, a network of the various Christian ministries at the U.

“We’re the community that is working alongside the Church, and alongside campus ministries, to help students order the knowledge they’re gaining to the love of God and neighbor, and we do that as a community of people from a variety of Christian traditions and denominational backgrounds,” he said.

Anselm House’s ecumenical identity is important for its witness of Christian unity, Bademan said, but engaging the different traditions also allows students to appreciate and draw from each tradition’s strengths, such as Orthodoxy’s emphasis on patristics, the Catholic Church’s social teaching and Evangelicals’ passion for evangelization.

Laura Rothgeb and John Hill Price, both 25, discovered Anselm House as doctoral students and joined the Fellows Program. Price, who studies applied plant sciences, said he first joined a C.S. Lewis reading group at the house and then “fell in love with the kind of discourse that happens here and the kind of community that we have.”

Rothgeb, a Catholic studying English, said she felt a connection to the Anselm House community as soon as she walked in the door. “It was everything I was looking for, in terms of an intellectually engaged faith community,” she said. “I dove headfirst into all of it.”

With his Fellows cohort, Price is digging into the idea of what it means to be a Christian in the plant sciences. Rothgeb, who is in the first year of the Fellows program, is exploring the narrative of Scripture. She’s appreciated Anselm House’s approach to “unity of vocation” — “that you have one ‘capital V’ vocation, which is holiness — sanctification, to be a saint — and that’s lived out in several little vocations. And what Anselm House really does is to give you the tools to follow all of those calls, and to support you in the following.”

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