|Mira Hewlett (left) chats with Marissa Cho '09 between meetings.
One look at her daily schedule would leave most people speechless. But the Rev. Mira Hewlett, interim director of religious life & community service, always makes time for a chat. Her office is a hub of activity, and Hewlett’s door is never closed.
Since transitioning in October 2007 from full-time pastoring at Allison United Methodist Church (UMC) into the interim position for John Miyahara, who is on military leave, Hewlett hit the ground jogging and now seems to be sprinting. The Princeton Theological Seminary graduate has multiple meetings a day, mentors and counsels students, plans campus events, preaches at Allison UMC, goes on service trips and still has the energy to work out every morning at 6 a.m.
“I love my job because it’s a complete variety of things,” she says. “It’s also a struggle because it’s a complete variety.”
Students frequently and spontaneously stop by to talk about classes, relationships, family and campus happenings. “I work with so many students, and I always start by asking what’s going on in their lives. Students need to know that someone cares about them beyond the classroom.”
Some people would be frustrated by constant interruptions, but Hewlett can focus and multitask simultaneously. While sending an e-mail, she answers a visitor’s question and continues a Web-design discussion with a student. When the phone rings a second later, she seamlessly deals with the call while waving to a friend passing by her door. She accomplishes all of this while sitting serenely, foot tucked beneath her petite frame, looking as though nothing could fluster her. “There’s no rhythm to my job that might make it boring,” she says, citing a good memory as being a key to her success.
Hewlett’s office is inviting. She has bowls of M&M’s for those suffering stress-induced chocolate cravings, a whiteboard for brainstorming sessions, posters promoting interfaith beliefs and shelves of books on religion and spirituality that visitors may borrow.
“In my profession, it’s important to provide a space that’s comfortable and conversational,” she explains. “I know the students well, and they know me.”
Hewlett also works to create an environment where students can connect. “I’m trying to build a space where students can get to know each other and each other’s faiths,” she says. “We need to break down boundaries and help students see each other’s beliefs in new ways.”
Last year, for example, she led an interfaith trip, traveling with six Jewish students and six Christian students to Philadelphia to spend a weekend serving a low-income community. On Friday night, they attended a synagogue. On Saturday they worked on a house for Habitat for Humanity, and on Sunday they attended a Christian worship service.
“It was fascinating,” Hewlett says. “They had great in-depth conversations and really learned to respect each other’s traditions and beliefs.” Another trip is planned for the spring.
On campus, one of Hewlett’s biggest responsibilities is the Religious Life Council (RLC), which brings together the leaders of all of the religious groups on campus. They meet every other week to discuss the activities their individual organizations are planning, share and consult on religious issues and plan campus-wide events. The most recent event, A Taste of the Holidays, focused on religious beliefs surrounding various holidays. Each group hosted a table that offered food, information and open dialogue. The organizations in RLC are Pre-Seminary, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Dickinson Christian Fellowship (DCF), Hillel, Muslim Student Association and Newman Club. The campus’ largest student religious organization is DCF with 60 members.
The other component of Hewlett’s job is community service.
“It’s interesting to mix community service and religious life,” she says. “I enjoy working with both, but I see the strong connections because religion seeps into a lot of different areas.”
One lasting connection between Dickinson and the United Methodist Church is the $80,000 provided anually by the Baltimore-Washington Conference, which covers Hewlett’s salary and funds some religious activities on campus. (For more on the UMC connection, see Page 21.)
Whatever Hewlett is doing from one moment to the next, her goal is simple. “I want to empower students. I want them to articulate their values and share their faith with others. I want them to go beyond tolerance and foster knowledge and understanding on and off campus.”