Students arrived on the University of La Verne campus Monday toting backpacks and hot coffee, some still sleepy-eyed from months of summer relaxation and others raring to go for the first day of t...
As university chaplain, Zandra Wagoner has answered a calling and will work to bring people of many faiths and beliefs together in an atmosphere of cooperation and tolerance.
You might say this is Zandra Wagoner’s dream job.
The former assistant dean and assistant professor at University of La Verne boasts a resume steeped in academia. The La Verne alumnus, who majored in psychology and minored in religion, may hold a master’s degree and a doctorate but she is not just a scholar.
“My heart has always been in ministry,” said Wagoner, an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren.
So when the university revived its chaplaincy post, Wagoner, who served as the assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, jumped at the opportunity.
“When this position came open and especially with it reconceived with a broad, interfaith perspective, it just seemed like coming home,” she said.
La Verne has always had some form of a religious life director. But the new university chaplain post, which became Wagoner’s official title on April 1, has been reconceived to be an interfaith religious leader who will develop programs for students and the wider community to celebrate diversity in spiritual life.
Provost Greg Dewey said Wagoner brings many talents to this position.
“We are pleased that Zandra has taken on the challenge of revitalizing this important function at the university and welcome her into this new role,” Dewey said
Today, La Verne students are Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and many other religions. Some may consider themselves spiritual but not necessarily religious. Wagoner said she wants to set up an Interfaith Student Council to spearhead dialogues and activities across the myriad faiths.
“One thing we do know,” Wagoner said. “When students make connections across differences — in terms of religious traditions and spiritual traditions — bias and prejudice go down.”
Speaking from her office at Miller Hall, Wagoner outlined her goals as head of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. Some are lofty ambitions; others are a continuation of existing programs.
Wagoner wants to start a leadership program — one in which interns or fellows will commit to community service and organize activities around peace and social justice. She wants to initiate a speaker series and integrate intellectual and spiritual inquiry. She envisions an annual interfaith event, such as a candlelight vigil allowing students and others in the community to memorialize a loved one.
“My vision for this program is for the University of La Verne to become a model campus for interfaith cooperation and religious pluralism,” Wagoner said.
The office of the chaplaincy will continue the tradition of the interfaith baccalaureate service during graduation season, and the Summer Service program, in which Wagoner took part as an undergraduate student. Wagoner is planning an alumni event for next fall for past Summer Service workers.
As a spiritual leader building an office of programs from the ground up, Wagoner’s plate is full. But the La Verne native continues to be active in the Church of the Brethren, the church she attended while growing up. Wagoner heads the La Verne church’s peace and justice commission.
An animal lover, Wagoner also trains her dog, Papillion, in agility exercises, and once a week she can be found in the middle of a drum circle. For the past two years, Wagoner has been playing African drums under the tutelage of music department coordinator Steve Biondo.
Mostly, Wagoner will be crossing off items from a long list of hopes and goals she would like to accomplish in this new role. It’s no easy feat but Wagoner says she wants to help students build a strong sense of religious identity and encourage them to see the legitimacy and integrity of traditions outside their own.
“For now,” she says, “that’s what’s guiding everything I do.”