Life: Personal contributions to the world

Up two flights of stairs, tucked in the back corner of the third floor of Allen House, is the office of one of UVM’s hidden gems: UVM Campus Chaplain Reverend Harrison Heidel.In an in-depth interview with Heidel, an Episcopal priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont, with a part-time commitment to the Cooperative Christian Ministry (CCM) at UVM for the past two years, The Vermont Cynic helps provide insight into his values, life and mission.The Vermont Cynic: What is the main message you want to get out?Harris Heidel: I think the most important thing is for the campus to be aware that there is a ministry of help that is available to them.We’re present, available and ready to offer any type of safe environment pastoral care — totally inclusive, open and welcoming to everyone.I just try to be available.This type of work is done on a one-on-one basis. I’ve had some folks come by with some pretty important questions and situations and they just want to talk, and that’s a good thing.VC: Do you strictly offer religious guidance?HH: You don’t have to be religious or spiritual in nature and we don’t have to have that talk at all.That usually doesn’t come up in the sorts of conversations I have with anyone — it’s about life issues.VC: How long has religion been a part of your life?HH: All my life. I first sensed a call to serve in the church when I was 19. I was raised in the Lutheran Church and I really felt it.I visited the seminary and decided not to attend. I went to the seminary in 1969 and left there thinking, “No, this isn’t it.”So I went into a career in nursing and I was a nurse practitioner and worked in surgery.I was on an open-heart team and fixed [my childhood Pastor’s] heart twice.He said when I was younger that if it [were] a real [calling], it wouldn’t go away.    So when I was 48 years old, I set that career aside and entered seminary.It gave me an opportunity to live a full life and I think it helps me look at ministry and an approach to spirituality like I do — it’s in service to the community, it’s in doing for other people.VC: Why do you think religion is not a major issue on the UVM campus?HH: In this day and age, particularly your age group, folks separate themselves from spirituality and religion — a less dogmatic approach — and take on matters of spirituality and spiritual growth.My experience is that persons in the age group of 15-35 express their religion and spirituality through community service and that’s a great thing, because it’s out there in our community where we express our spirituality.VC: How do you think the CCM fits into the UVM community?HH: I see the University as a city within a city.It’s got its own police department, house facilities and feeding — all those pieces are there.But at the same time, you’re here for a different purpose.It’s not a religious-based school, it’s not a seminary and it’s not supported by mainstream religion.But offering a little of it I think is a good thing.