Michael Wagenman wanted to offer students an ‘alternative to the alternative.’
This year, the Western Chaplain will lead Alternative Spring Break (ASB) participants on a trip to Bristol, U.K., where students will explore the role of Christianity in sustainable cities, urban development and cultural renewal. Unlike other ASB destinations, this one functions within a religious framework – specifically a Christian one. However, all students are welcome to participate.
“The world is very religious. When these students from other parts of the world come to Canada, come to Western, they’re not prepared for our staunch secular approach to life. I’ve always wanted to increase the offering the university has in terms of faith and spirituality support,” said Wagenman, who was an ASB Staff Leader in London five years ago.
ASB is a week-long, hands-on, service-learning experience run through the Student Success Centre. From its early days in 2003, when five students made the first trip to Pittsburgh, Pa., to work in homeless shelter, this coming year can expect close to 200 students lending a hand in 13 communities, including the Dominican Republic, Panama, Peru, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Jamaica and New Orleans, among others.
The Bristol trip, however, is the first “unapologetically religious ASB” offering. And its time has come, Wagenman stressed.
Today, half the world’s population lives in cities – that number will rise to 60 per cent by 2030. At the same time, almost a billion people live in slums. Urban expansion, consumer waste and environmental pollution are on the rise, as well as cultural upheavals due to increased mobility and migration. Cities such as Bristol, Wagenman said, have managed to confront these challenges while celebrating diverse peoples, cultures, and technological innovation.
“They (Bristol) have taken steps to be a green city, but they are also a medieval city. We’ll be looking at it from its medieval origins to the present, walk through that history and see who the players have been historically in making Bristol a city that is vibrant in its community nature and its sustainability,” said Wagenman, who earned his PhD at the University of Bristol.
Students will meet with city council, visit museums and see where the African slave trade ships left England.
Wagenman continued, “How has Bristol changed their thinking around that? Their religious history is intertwined with the political history. We want a wide-angle lens that includes this religious element, especially with the deep history of Bristol.”
Also as part of the trip, students will also spend one of their days working at a community agency. Wagenman hopes the students will come away not only with a better understanding of the social issues facing the Bristol, but being able to compare and contrast the religious and secular contributions to cultural renewal in the southwest England city.
Wagenman hopes this trip will inspire others centred on other faiths.
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GIVE THEM A BREAK
For details on how to become an Alternative Spring Break Staff/Faculty Team Leader, attend an information session held at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 14 and 18, both in University Community Centre (UCC) 147A, or visit asb.uwo.ca. Application deadline is Sept. 20.