Fellowship to Fellowship: Growth in faith takes many forms – Eryne Jenkins

As the Center prepares to welcome the next class of Interfaith Fellows, I have spent time reflecting on how I made the initial decision to apply to the Center, and how I think I will continue to benefit from the experience.

In the spring before I began my freshman year of college, I became a Roothbert Fellow. The Roothbert Fund, established in 1958, fosters fellowship among individuals motivated by spiritual values through retreats, mentorship, and collaboration. Through this fellowship, I met a variety of different individuals, all contributing something unique to society in the context of their faith. The Roothbert fellowship served as a catalyst for me to get more involved in the pursuit of religious pluralism for all citizens, and has brought clarity to my future goals. 

As a Roothbert Fellow, I developed a responsibility to fulfill my spirituality in thought and action. I applied to be an Interfaith Fellow to try fulfilling my responsibility in thought on campus. I was able to engage with peers over the last year to discuss our religious backgrounds, and ensure others have space to express their values. However, as we engaged more and more as a cohort, it became clear that there was a common connection between spirituality and health—mental, physical, or otherwise. While my interest in science and people is long established, the Roothbert Fellowship, followed by my interfaith involvement, has deepened my interest in pursuing a career in medicine in a way I never expected: it clarified a link between spiritual well-being and physical well-being that I had always felt.

Ultimately, I seek to increase awareness and sensitivity training for people interested in the medical field and other allied health related pathways. As we move towards a more inclusive society, there needs to be an appropriate shift occurring in our healthcare system. More needs to be done to level racial disparities in healthcare, and I believe it is important to accommodate faith practices in awareness training for clinicians too. Until I am qualified to do this, I am actively seeking opportunities to engage in effective action at the crossroads of health and faith.

In one of our final Interfaith Fellows’ meetings, we engaged with Dekila Chungyalpa, director of the Loka Initiative. She discussed her faith-led environmental efforts, both locally and around the world, which included collaborations with faith leaders on environmental and global health issues. In a way, this served as a platform to consider the next steps in my journey, especially as my time as a fellow comes to a close. Effects on the environment, such as pollution and climate change, disproportionally affect communities of color. Houses of worship, and more specifically the Black church, is at the center of these communities, putting it on the front lines as environmental change affects the health and wellbeing of so many individuals. The interaction with Dekila encouraged me to identify a specific problem I want to address, and with her advice I plan to put my plan into motion; this has given me an opportunity to fulfill my responsibility in action (which, if you remember, was the other piece of the Roothbert Fellowship’s directive).

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve tried to devote more time to devotions, reading the Bible, and engaging in prayer, especially because I have more time on my hands. However, devoting time to reflect on my Interfaith and Roothbert involvement over the past few years, has allowed me to track growth in my faith that I had not realized. By spending more time conveying my faith to others and delineating the difference between other practices, I have gained some clarity on my short and long-term goals, as well as strength in my own faith practices.

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