‘Look around,’ Dean Tiffany Steinwert urges the Stanford community
As dean for religious life, the Rev. Dr. Tiffany Steinwert provides spiritual, religious and ethical leadership to the Stanford community and serves as minister of Memorial Church.
During her first sermon in Stanford Memorial Church, the Rev. Dr. Tiffany Steinwert posed what she called “life’s central question” to the congregation sitting beneath the church’s domed skylight: Who am I and who do I want to become for the sake of the world?
“It is a deep introspection that leads to outward action,” Steinwert told the congregation gathered for University Public Worship one recent Sunday morning. “It is evoked by community, in community, through community – always for the sake of community.”
Steinwert, who became dean for religious life at Stanford in February, said the university has a big mission to fill – to promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization.
“To do this, we call one another into being,” Steinwert said. “We reflect back to each other, in and through community – the image of who we are and might become. We notice one another. We affirm one another. We are vulnerable enough to share our deeply held doubts, desires and dreams with one another.”
Steinwert asked the congregation to look around. When not a single head turned, Steinwert said with a warm laugh: “I really do mean it. Side to side. Backward. Forward. Look around. If we are to do this, if we are to call each other into being, it requires all of us to do this. It requires it of you and you and you and you. In fact, it requires all of us.”
During the sermon, Steinwert, an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, also referenced Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Islamic teachings, as well as stories from a book about people who found the determination to pursue the work they were meant to do.
At the end of the talk, Steinwert, who served as dean of religious and spiritual life at Wellesley College before coming to Stanford, urged the congregation to look around again.
“Don’t think if you’ve done it once you don’t have to do it again,” she said, with an encouraging smile. “Who do you see? Who will you call? Who will call you?”
Her sermon is available as an audio podcast on iTunes on the Office for Religious Life website.
‘We are only Stanford together’
During a recent interview, Steinwert said she will invite people to “look around” at Stanford – not just in church, but also around campus and in the community. It was such a familiar practice at Wellesley that students reminded her of the tradition if she forgot, she said.
“By inviting people to look around, I’m helping people to build bridges, form relationships and take responsibility for who we are together,” she said. “We can only be Stanford together. By connecting to and with one another we make Stanford what it is and might become.”
As dean for religious life, Steinwert provides spiritual, religious and ethical leadership to the university community and serves as minister of Memorial Church. She oversees the Office for Religious Life, which promotes enriching dialogue, meaningful ritual and enduring friendships among people of all faiths – or no faith – at Stanford. The associate deans – Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann, the Rev. Dr. Joanne Sanders and Sughra Ahmed – work nearby in the Center for Inter-Religious Community, Learning and Experiences – The CIRCLE – in Old Union.
The office has three primary responsibilities:
- To ensure that members of the Stanford community – students, staff and faculty – are able to practice the religious, spiritual or philosophical tradition of their choosing, either by offering services on campus or by connecting them to services off campus
- To help students form meaningful relationships and collaborations with people who come from widely different traditions, cultures and religious communities
- To help members of the Stanford community answer life’s central question: Who am I and who do I seek to become for the sake of the world?
‘It’s important for me to listen deeply’
Steinwert looks forward to getting to know the yearnings of the Stanford community.
She wants to know what students, staff and faculty desire for a vibrant, full meaningful life at Stanford, and how the Office for Religious Life might help them on that journey.
“What does that look like for them? Where are the sites of creative and transformative flourishing? Where are the places of challenge and struggle? And how might the Office for Religious Life accompany them as they navigate life at Stanford amidst the highs and lows that inevitably come? Every institution is unique and so it is important for me to deeply listen to the dreams and difficulties of our shared community.”
Steinwert, who holds a doctorate in practical theology from Boston University, said she will begin her listening tour by reaching out to Stanford Associated Religions – religious organizations overseen and supported by the Office for Religious Life. Currently, the groups represent students of the Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish and Sikh faiths.
In the meantime, she is ready to receive visitors in her office, located in the Round Room of Memorial Church.
“I have an open door policy and I encourage students, staff and faculty to use it,” she said. “When my door is open, you can always walk right in.”