The Princeton Review, which in its infancy once neglected to hire Father Anonymous, confects (or confabulates) any number of college and university lists -- for example, "biggest party school." (Hint: It's not Swarthmore). One of these, it turns out, is a list of America's most and least religious campuses. And the 2010 results are in. Naturally, we are breathless with anticipation.
Drumroll. The envelope, please.
Readers will surely be shocked to discover that the most observant campus in the country is Brigham Young University, a powerful reminder that not all religious observances are created equal. Its counterpart, the least religious school, is Sarah Lawrence.
No Lutheran school is on either list.* Aquinas College, at #2 on the "most" side, is the most devout college of an authentically Christian church body. (There, we said it; Mormons may take all the offense they like). Comically, #8 on the "least" list is Macalester College, affiliated with the Presbyterian church. That must be embarrassing for somebody, huh?
Our own alma mater (and that of about half our living relations, including one in holy orders) comes in at #3 on the "least religious" list. This makes us rather happy, all things considered, if only because there is nobody to whom we love preaching quite as much as the pagan, apostate and unconverted. And it reminds us of a funny story.
Some years ago, we were invited to preach at our class reunion -- and not just our own class, but many others. It was the largest of the chapel services that weekend, but by no means the only one. There had been a Jewish service the night before, and a Romish mass that morning. Our service was designed by a team of alumnae and alumni, and intended to be an ecumenical Christian service. At least, that was how the organizing team intended it; we're not altogether sure the message got out.
A choir sang at the service, and we were delighted to see that it included one of our many relations, a Quaker. We invited her to read the epistle, and while she agreed, we couldn't help but notice that she wrinkled her nose a bit and muttered, "This is Christian." Er, yes, it is, we averred, adding silently, Keenly spotted, Quaker Relation.
Songs were sung, prayers were said, and a homily was preached. The microphone failed mid-sermon, which may be just as well. As you may imagine, Father Anonymous is not prone to bland niceties; it was a real sermon. The absence of an alb, and presence of a coat and tie (yes, in the school colors), did not throw us as badly as we might have expected. The text is missing from our hard drive, but we assure you that Christ was proclaimed, both crucified and risen. The Trinity was adverted, albeit no details were given. Repentance was called for, and grace offered. That's the name of the game.
And, as we recall reading somewhere might happen, it proved to be a scandal, at least for one or two people. On the way to brunch, the Quaker Relation explained, in the tight-lipped but reasonable tone which disguises WASPy rage, that her Jewish friend, singing in the choir, had been deeply offended by my sermon. Because it was ... Christian.
There wasn't much one could say to that, so little was said. We brunched instead, and talked about politics with the QR's classmates. They were a jolly and acerbic bunch, with whom we found a great deal of common ground. One of our own classmates and one of the QR's had a lively discussion about Air America versus NPR, concluding together that both were being co-opted by the Right. If anybody was secretly nursing a cauldron of bile, either about our sermon or about the distinctly Christian hymns we had so callously helped choose, she said nothing. Nor did we ask.
Anyway. Third least-religious college in America, but the place still has a chapel, a chaplain, and three different religious ceremonies at its class reunions. (And two Lutheran churches within walking distance.) All of this speaks to the remarkably prominent role of religion in American life. Including Christianity.
* No Lutheran school, despite the humongous bribe we offered Princeton Review to put any of the Concordia system on the least-religious list. Same terms apply next year, guys.